The VW e-Golf Touch isn't exactly a new car as much as a new interface. There was a brief leak of this system back in early December, so it wasn't a surprise to see Volkswagen equip a Golf (just the electric version for now) with its 12.3-inch TFT cluster display system, and a new 9.2-inch centre touchscreen display.
Cluster first. This is the same core tech we've seen employed across Audi, Lamborghini and a handful of VW models to date. It's a reconfigurable display, features a 12-inch 1440 x 540 pixel, 24-bit display, and is run by an Nvidia graphics processor. It works very well in various Audis, and if you've seen that system, VW's feels slightly restricted because you don't get the full background map take over of the screen, which reduces the tacho and speedometer gauges down small.
Given this Golf's electric power train, you get a predominantly blue and green colour design showing you battery charge, range and how much power you're using.
But it's the centre display which will grab most attention. At 9.2-inches, this is VW's biggest yet. The current Discover Pro system is an 8-inch unit. But aspect ratio on the new unit is different, and it's running at 1280 x 640 resolution. It's also covered in a glossy glass surface. The display looks slick, the colours are deep, definition is high. It's a step on for VW's centre displays. But how it's controlled, what goes on the screen, and how it's integrated in the dash that is of real interest.
First of all, you wake it with a "hello Volkswagen" command. Even in the noisy environs of a press conference, this seemed to work well. And the voice command brings up a page of various things you can say, all of which show clear effort to be as natural and human as possible. So "take me home" and the like now become realistic command options.
There's too much written text to look at though. On the move, you're not going to be in a position to read it.
Control also comes in the form of gestures. Unlike BMW's recently introduced system, this only works for swiping left and right; just wave your hand across in front of the screen to move through menus, albums or photos, which can be loaded via the SD card.
Note that last point, because music or imagery coming off the SD card can't be pre-loaded, so there's a noticeable lag between you moving your hand and the next image or song appearing, which is a shame. It definitely works though and it didn't seem fallible to fake inputs during our brief play with it.
There's more to quibble within the UI design and integration into the dashboard though. UI design features three tiles in its normal mode, reminiscent of Renault's system on R-Link. Maps are big, towards driver, and then there are two smaller stacked square tiles towards the passenger side, which can be reconfigured to show different content like phone, music.
It doesn't demonstrably move the game on or genuinely make the user experience better - and that's part of the rub, VW cooed and wowed about it - but it wasn't particularly radical or slickly executed, with content changes within the small tiles seemingly slow.
Our biggest bugbear however was the overall integration. VW's current screen features a bank of hard buttons down either side of the screen – shortcut menus. They make the system easy to use, plus it makes the unit look aesthetically balanced in the dash.
The new system features just four digital buttons and a volume nob, jammed down the left-hand edge of the screen. Not only are they a stretch to reach for the passenger, but VW can't give us good reason as to why these buttons are better, or easier to use, or faster than conventional hard buttons. They simply save VW cost and allow it to shout about being "digital".
Seen only on this e-Golf Touch for now, VW promises that this technology will be on cars consumers can buy in the US in 2016. Expect it to role out as an upgrade option on the Golf, Passat and others within the year.