The current MkVI Volkswagen Golf has only been on sale for a couple of years but development on the next-generation of the popular compact is already in its deep stages.

These latest spy shots show a prototype of the new 'MkVII' Golf, revealing it will feature a wider stance than the current model but will also sit much lower.

The reason behind the short life-cycle planned for the outgoing MkVI is simple--the car essentially rides on a warmed-over MkV platform.

A three to four year cycle for a car is short by any standard, and this hastily planned shift reveals the defensive tack Volkswagen is taking with the Golf.

The new MkVII Golf will feature a clear emphasis on environmental cleanliness, a theme that will carry throughout the Golf lineup. Expect a range of four-cylinder gasoline and turbodiesel units, and possibly some three-cylinder units, although the latter is unlikely to be offered in the U.S.

Its platform, known internally as the MQB (Modular Querbaukaste--denoting small to mid-sized family cars with transverse engines), has been described by the automaker’s chief of development, Ulrich Hackenberg, as a major turning point for the Golf.

He previously explained that it will allow engineers to implement a much broader range of drivetrains, hinting at the possibility of alternative fuels playing a role in the next Golf. You may recall that Volkswagen is already conducting trials of an electric Golf, which is scheduled to go on sale in 2013. You can catch a first drive report of a prototype by clicking here.

Importantly, this same platform also underpins the latest-generation Audi A3, which recently went on sale in Europe and lands in the U.S. by the middle of next year as a 2014 model.

Production of the new MkVII Golf kicks off in August, with first sales to begin around the end of the year. Stay tuned for a world debut at the 2012 Paris Auto Show in September.

Note, we also have spy shots of the MkVII GTI, which you can view by clicking here.