Volkswagen continues to blur the line between premium and mainstream vehicles with its seventh-generation Golf.
This first new-from-the-ground-up Golf since the 2003 Mk 5 is a sophisticated hatch that integrates premium-class assistance systems into the small- car segment.
It is not only capable of detecting when the driver is tired but will take over functions such as braking and steering to keep people out of harm's way. It also is bigger but considerably lighter - by up to 100kg - than the Mk 6 it replaces and is powered by a range of new fuel-efficient engines with stop-start and cylinder deactivation technology.
The newest Golf is available with features like active cruise control, lane assist, fatigue detection, city emergency braking and the latest park assist system.
It also has what VW calls multicollision brake, technology that automatically applies the brakes after the car has been in a crash to stop it from rolling into another lane, on to the wrong side of the road or down an embankment.
Inside, the bar has been raised even further with a sophisticated interior that would not be out of place in a far more expensive vehicle. While the layout has a familiar VW feel, the choice of materials is more up-market than its predecessor (which is already good) and features have been improved.
The highlight is an audio system based on a computer home page that allows occupants to "pinch" the screen to either enlarge or move various icons.
And yes, it still drives every bit as well - maybe even better - than its predecessor, which was already a class leader.
According to VW the new model has no common parts with the Mk 6 it replaces but there is no mistaking it is a Golf.
Head of exterior design Stefan Wallburg said the Mk 1 was used as the inspiration for the design of the latest model, which remains visually faithful to the past.
With the European launch of the Golf still a few months away, the German car maker has already made a commitment that pricing of its biggest-selling model will not increase.
Volkswagen Australia is not being quite so bullish about pricing of the Mk 7 when it arrives here in the middle of next year, but spokesman Karl Gehring said it would be "very close" to 2012 prices.
This means the range will start near $22,000 and top out somewhere in the vicinity of $35,000 before the iconic GTI arrives here late next year.
The new Golf will be available with three diesel and three petrol engines but at this stage the only ones confirmed for Australia are an all-alloy 1.4 TSI petrol and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel.
All will be available with the choice of a six-speed manual or six or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (DSG) transmission depending on the engine.
Both are new engines and were available to test drive at the international launch in Sardinia, Italy, last week.
While the 103kW 1.4 TSI is considerably less powerful than the twin-charged 118kW 1.4 it replaces, there is not a noticeable drop-off in performance because of substantial weight savings. Equally important, it uses up to 23 per cent less fuel thanks to a range of new technology which includes cylinder deactivation that is virtually imperceptible when driving.
The only clue that the Golf was running on two cylinders, instead of four, was an indicator light on the dashboard.
The official fuel consumption figure for the seven-speed dual- clutch automatic transmission Golf variant is just 4.7L/100km.
The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is part of VW's all-new EA288 modular diesel family. Power is up slightly (110kW at 3500-4000rpm versus 103kW) but the torque stays the same as its predecessor at 320Nm from 1750-3000rpm.
The six-speed manual version averages an exceptional 4.1L/100km while the six-speed DSG version is only slightly thirstier at 4.4L/100km.
The smaller 1.6-litre TDI - which you can bet with some certainty will be made available in Australia - is even more economical, with an official consumption figure of 3.2L/100km, making it as frugal as most hybrids on the market.
On the test drive there was a noticeable reduction in cabin noise in both variants.
VW said this had been achieved through a combination of things, including quieter engines, additional sound-deadening material and new production methods that reduced the amount of wind noise around the external mirrors and panels.
While the 2.0-litre TDI - with its strong acceleration and punchy mid-range power - is probably the car that will excite the enthusiast the most, I enjoyed driving the 1.4-litre FSI more.
It just felt a little more refined and the slightly lighter front end gave it a livelier feel. Overall it was hard to fault either engine.
With more room (for passengers and cargo), more features, more economical engines and more safety features, plus either a very small or no price increase over the current model, the Golf Mk7 is going to be a hard car to ignore.