PINCKNEY, MI – Volkswagen is updating infotainment systems in U.S. models, with the Golf lineup the latest with better, faster touchscreens.
“We went from a 5-in. (13-cm) display for the entry-level radio to a 6.5-in. (17-cm) screen,” Golf U.S. Product Manager Megan Garbis tells WardsAuto at a media event here for the car. “And then the mid (-grade models) and (those with) navigation go from 6.5 ins. to 8 ins. (20 cm).”
VW is stepping up touchscreen sizes to keep up with the “democratization” of touchscreens, she jokes, as advanced technology is filtering down into relatively basic B- and C-segment cars in the U.S.
Screens in refreshed ’18 Golf models, on sale later this year in the U.S., also get higher resolution and respond faster thanks to a more powerful processor, she says.
Menu structures also are changed to be more intuitive and user-friendly, while different color schemes indicate what part of the infotainment system is being used, such as audio, navigation or climate.
In a test of mid-grade or higher GTI, Golf R and Alltrack wagon models here, the most obvious benefit is the larger virtual buttons made possible by the bigger 8-in. screen. While the virtual buttons for SiriusXM satellite radio channels still are placed too close together, their larger size makes it less likely a driver or passenger will accidently select the wrong station.
The colors of many of the channels’ logos also are more vivid than before.
Mid-grade and higher Golfs, essentially those with the Composition Media and Discover Media infotainment systems, still have a hand-sensing feature. For those capacitive-touch-based screens, a set of sensors near the bottom of the screen can detect a hand approaching and reveal buttons or render buttons bigger as a driver or passenger reaches for them.
While U.S. Golfs lack the gesture control featured in European models with the Discover Pro infotainment system, Garbis says Volkswagen of America is working on getting gesture control in the U.S. market e-Golf, which has a 9.25-in. (23-cm) touchscreen.
“It’s larger, all glass, and it can allow you to do Star Wars-y-like moves, to gesture menus this way or that way, and select a different mode. It allows you to more easily change some menus while driving,” she says.
Thanks in part to its infotainment system, VW's Atlas large CUV was a Wards 10 Best User Experiences winner for 2017.
Other changes to the refreshed ’18 Golf lineup include new bumpers with chrome accents (Golf), standard LED daytime running lights and taillights (Golf, GTI and Alltrack models); standard cloth plaid seating with a sunroof (mid-grade GTI); and standard Digital Cockpit customizable gauge cluster (Golf R). The Golf R also gets a 7-speed DCT with stop/start in addition to the car’s standard 6-speed manual transmission.
The Golf R becomes the only U.S. VW to get the 7-speed DCT, which is a rework of the 6-speed DCT on the ’17 Golf R, not the same as the double dry-clutch 7-speed DCT on the defunct Jetta Hybrid, Garbis says.
VW would like to use the new 7-speed DCT in more U.S. Golfs, particularly the GTI, which has it in Europe as does the non-R Golf.
“It’s something that’s available out of Wolfsburg right now, which is why we see it as a cool thing for Golf R in the U.S.,” she says. “Eventually it would be cool…to have that 7-speed for the U.S.-spec GTI, which is currently built out of (VW’s) Puebla (Mexico vehicle-assembly plant). But for now it gives the Golf R kind of a leg up against GTI.”
VW Rises Again
Two years after its Dieselgate scandal, Volkswagen is regaining its footing in the U.S market.
The German automaker looks poised to end 2017 on high note as its sales through October are up 9.4% to 280,188, the second-highest gain among automakers after Jaguar Land Rover’s 11.5% increase, WardsAuto data shows.
While VW’s total volume in 2017 likely will fall shy of the 366,969 units sold in the U.S. in 2014, the year before Dieselgate, VW officials see more upside ahead, saying the brand now is well-positioned to take advantage of the market shift toward light trucks.
Light trucks, primarily car-based SUVs, accounted for 64% of the 14.149 million light vehicles sold in the U.S. through October.
“We have the Atlas (large CUV) – an all-new offering in the market which has had huge traction, the all-new Tiguan long-wheelbase (compact CUV model), the Tiguan Limited, and now we have this momentum we’re carrying forward when we release (the refreshed) Golf (lineup) towards the end of the year,” Garbis says.
Says a VW spokesman: “Ultimately we’ve got SUVs coming into the lineup, and that’s pretty much what people are buying at the moment.” He notes brand success in the midsize and large car-based utility segments is a big change from a few years ago when VW had strong entrants only in two of the top five segments in the U.S.: compact and midsize sedans.
However, the Golf lineup has been the biggest contributor to the brand’s increase in the U.S. this year, up 51.5% through October.
Sales of the Atlas, Tiguan and Touareg collectively rose 37.0%.
With five hatch models compared with two wagons, Garbis says the hatchback body style still makes up more of total Golf sales. But the Alltrack variant of the Sportwagen, which went on sale in fourth-quarter 2016 in the U.S., “has really helped the Golf family sales,” the spokesman says.
About 75% of Golf wagon sales are the Alltrack vs. the Sportwagen, Garbis notes.
Meanwhile, GTI sales reached their all-time peak in the U.S. last year, making the U.S. the best-selling country for the car.
“It shows that we have this cool segment of enthusiastic drivers of hatchbacks,” she says. “And then looking into this year we’ve had several consecutive months of GTI sales over 2,000 units, which is quite significant for us.”
Shifting the Golf R from a limited-edition model available only in batches of 5,000 units in one model year to a car available every model year hasn’t hurt demand, she says. With the new 7-speed DCT available on the ’18 Golf R, appeal of the car should increase even more.
“We have the most successful version of the performance Golf yet, and we target for well over 4,000 for every model year.”
As for what lies ahead, VW’s best-selling U.S. model, the Jetta compact sedan, gets refreshed in second-quarter 2018, while the all-new Arteon 4-door coupe debuts in the third quarter.
Derivatives of the Atlas are planned, but not a hybrid, says the spokesman, who notes zero-emission vehicle and greenhouse-gas mandates in California make it more advantageous for an automaker to switch from internal-combustion engines to full electrification in utility vehicles.