View 6 images in this gallery.

How can you improve a motoring icon? Volkswagen hopes it can with the latest Golf.

Outside, new Golf plays it very safe with no dramatic change to the famous Golf shape. As the car's exterior designer told me, you have to be able to recognise a Golf from a couple of hundred metres – and you still can. The body shape is filled out, with more subtle design elements catching the eye.

Golf 7's body is built on the latest VW modular platform that is shared with other new cars in the VW group such as Audi's A3 and SEAT's Leon. The engine range is now greener than ever and CO2 future-proof - for the next few years, anyway!

Inside, the five-seat car is spacious, with a well-built feel to the cabin. The dash favours the driver more and is more interesting. The seats are excellent, as is legroom and headroom. The boot is bigger, too, and cleverer. The parcel shelf can be stored underneath the boot floor and there is even an optional pull-out tow bar. The functional dash now offers a 'touch of flair' thanks to touch-screen technology. The screen size is dependent on the specification level (five up to eight inches). Volkswagen is throwing a lot of toys at the latest Golf and buyers will be delighted.

While the volume-selling engine will be more modest 1.2-litre units with 85bhp and 105bhp, at the European launch we got to test the 140bhp 1.4-litre TSi (petrol) and 150bhp 2.0-litre TDi (diesel) with both manual and DSG gearboxes. All 140bhp-plus Golf's get electronically controlled adaptive suspension that allows the driver to select how the car drives. Comfort, Eco, Normal to Sport all did what they said on the tin. The ride adjusted to the setting and the car's handling characteristics changed noticeably. A host of driver aids are now available with Golf 7 and this also puts it to the forefront in terms of occupant safety.

On the road the latest Golf is a bit of a revelation. The ride is composed and there are no surprises thrown up when pressing on. The steering is neutral and a little numb in a straight line but, overall, you feel as if you are driving a premium machine.

Prices start at an all-important sub-€20,000 (€19,950) but no dealership will let a customer leave without up-selling them to a higher specification level. If you spend circa mid-twenties with Golf to get a more powerful engine and maybe a DSG gearbox -you won't be disappointed. PCP (30% deposit and then monthly rental for three years) for many drivers will be the way to go and at €239 per month the offer is very tempting. VW, with its own bank, continues to offer good deals on finance, too.

The only thing you can criticise the latest Golf for is not looking exciting, but then again should you mess with an icon?

The GTi was launched at the Paris show and a hot version to replace the R is coming. These will be simply brilliant and adored.

The seventh-generation Golf is the best yet and sets the bar even higher for its competition.

Michael Sheridan