Golf7′s ‘boring’ design explained

5 February, 2013 | by Lance Branquinho

VW Golf: evolution of the species.

Allow me, if you will, to paraphrase why you are not much taken by VW’s new Golf7: because it looks too evolutionary, very much like an upsized Polo.

Sure, you respect the engineering integrity of Golf7. Those small-capacity, direct-injection, forced-induction engines and range of dual-clutch transmissions are crafted to decimal tolerances of perfection. But, fact remains: Golf7 looks far too much like what has gone before it.

Why is that?

This is exactly what I was mulling at the local launch of Golf7 last week, in Port Elizabeth, when the choice person to answer to these vexing issues about Golf7’s design (or lack thereof) strode onto stage. Name: Andreas Mindt, head of exterior design for Golf.

In a world of egotistical auto designers Mindt immediately struck a chord with the audience due to an affable, self-effecting manner. Surprisingly quick witted and humorous (especially, for a German), Mindt orbited and swooned around his creation on stage, explaining every curve of sheet metal surfacing, each pinch-line, crease and proportion.

A particular sentence amongst his opening remarks I found most illuminating. “Remember, the Golf is one of only three truly iconic cars still being produced today, the other two being Land Rover’s Defender and Porsche’s 911. And by iconic I mean a design which is recognisable in all markets by nearly all people at 100m.” Interesting.

Let that idea resonate with you. An icon. Think about it: how many cars are instantly distinguishable at a distance of 100m in your field of view?  And therein is the irony of Golf7’s seemingly generic design: to preserve an iconic status you need to keep the design achingly simple. And that’s not easy.

When quizzed about a possible definition of Teutonic design, Mindt was clearly prepared for the question: “German design is characterised, foremost, by a sense of overriding quality. Precision. To show that visually you require a very simple design, one that illustrates the integrity of the engineering underneath. This is very difficult to achieve.”

KEEP IT SIMPLE – STUPID

Mindt’s logic can hardly be faulted. Styling trinkets, almost to a fault, age rather badly. Think PT Cruiser, for instance. Another example is Nissan’s Juke: it had fantastic initial market presence, but will it age well? And how can you possibly evolve such an outlandish design into a second-generation whilst retaining some definitive, recognisable element of what a Juke should look like if it’s a collection of madcap styling components? In short: Juke can never be an icon. The design is too messy.

Is VW’s design position that easily defensible? Do the proposed limits imposed on Golf7’s design, by it iconic status, sufficiently parlay criticism of the new car not having evolved adequately over Golf6? Well, social media sourced critics would debunk Mindt’s ‘the-icon-as-sacrosanct’ argument. Unpack the details, though, and there are a few notable counter-points creased into Golf7’s sheet metal…

Take in the design as a whole and most notable are its rather short overhangs, a result of VW’s new MQB platform, which has moved wheel spacing 56mm further apart (increasing wheel base and cabin space) and made Andreas Mindt’s job a lot easier. “Horizontal elongation is a critical part of making a car appear premium,” Mindt stated as he pointed to Golf7’s front wheel. “Think of any luxury car, it has short overhangs and lots of side-profile presence.”

Thanks to VW’s engineers increasing the car’s wheelbase, Mindt’s (design) hand was forced, most fortuitously, to craft a shorter front overhang whilst benefitting from the nearly counter-intuitive asymmetry afforded by Golf7’s elongated bonnet. Instead of a characteristic compact hatchback, wedge-like shape – reminiscent of the original Golf1 and Renault5 – Golf7’s premium feel benefits from its stretched front third proportions.

Other clever bits are the industry leading character lines pinched into the car’s surfacing, along the bonnet and across the flanks. It’s not easy, even for German industrial engineers, to master these three-part machine pinched pressings, but VW’s personnel have managed. And managed to do it rather well.

When we saw the cars parked outside the morning after Mindt’s presentation, it all started making sense. Their metallic surfaces resplendent in glorious Eastern Cape sunshine, the interplay of shadow and highlighted areas were remarkable, just as Mindt had promised it would be during his presentation the previous evening, thanks to the precise metal pinch line VW’s engineers have managed to craft into Golf7’s surfacing, each line featuring its own shadow and highlight area.

Critics, many who have not seen the car in natural light, or on the move, say it’s too boring, generic, Polo-looking. After seeing, driving and having Mindt explain it to me, I think it’s a strikingly simple design, exuding engineering integrity and devoid of aesthetically questionable exterior surface accoutrements.

Once Golf7s start populating South African roads, it’s going to be rather fascinating to see how opinion changes.

Golf7, then. Instantly recognisable at 100m? Definitely. Iconic? Well, that’s what proximity recognition is, isn’t it?

 

 

     

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