The default option for a Golf (or, in fact, any small to medium-sized family car) has always been to opt for the diesel engine models; theyre cheap to run, decent to drive, and are always popular when the time comes to sell them.
However, the petrol engine refuses to roll over and die, and the latest models rival their diesel siblings for fuel efficiency while beating them hands-down for refinement and power and while they might be more expensive to run they are always going to be considerably cheaper to buy.
So, is it time for you to reconsider your prejudice against petrol?
The new Golf is longer and lighter than the model it replaces, gaining 56mm in the length and losing up to 100kgs in weight, figures that make a small difference to the way it looks and a big difference to the way it drives. Reduced mass – as long as it isnt at the expense of safety – is always good for the driver, and the Golf manages to be both lighter and better equipped than last years.
This is partly a consequence of the MQB ( or Modularer Querbaukasten) platform, which standardises elements of the cars construction across the VW range, while also allowing the flexibility to use weight-savings techniques and materials, adding high-strength steel only where it is necessary.
Technical considerations aside, the Golf still looks like a Golf, which might be a disappointment to aesthetes but will be a relief to the middle-classes that form the backbone of the Golfs consumer base. Shut-lines are impeccable, the paint looks thick and glossy, and the whole aura is that of quiet confidence; the Golf is, and always has been, a car for everyone and every situation.
Wider, longer, but slightly lower, the Golfs interior is a rather nice place to be. Everything is beautifully made and feels like it belongs in a much more expensive car; hatchback interiors dont get much better than this (although the Audi A3 and the Volvo V40 do match it).
The biggest compliment that I can pay it is to tell you that everything just works. The driving position is flawless, as are the seats. Every major control is intuitive and sensibly placed, and operates with a precision that is rare in cars like this. It does, in short, repay the owners decision to invest in it with every journey.
It is also genuinely big enough to be used as your familys everyday, and only, car. Rear seat legroom is good, as is headroom, and the boot will easily swallow a weeks shopping for luggage for a long weekend. And for everything else there is the option of roof bars and a roof box. Seriously, you probably dont need anything bigger than a Golf-sized car these days.
The SE model, which is the one Im reviewing here, sits in the middle of the Golf trim range and gets a variety of gizmos to make your life easier, safer, and more enjoyable.
The list of standard equipment is long and includes a 5.8 colour screen, digital radio, Bluetooth, Stop/Start and battery regeneration, ABS, ESP, seven-airbags, automatic post-collision braking, Driver Alert, PreCrash protection (which closes the windows and tensions the seatbelts), Automatic Distance Control with Front Assist, and City Emergency Braking.
The, some might say prudent, driver might add the optional Park Assist, which works very well. Youre probably better off avoiding Lane Assist and High Beam Assist though, both of which tend to become very annoying very quickly
The 1.4 TSI 122 might just be the jewel in the crown of the Golf range. The engine (which well look at more closely in the next section) is fabulous, but everything else matches it, point for point. The gearbox is sweet and, crucially, offers six forward ratios, encouraging you to keep the engine in its sweet spot.
The suspension is fluid and poised while maintaining its composure no matter what the road surface (or driver) throws at it.
This might not be the fastest car in the Golf range, but it might just be the most satisfying. It feels balanced and in tune and offers more smiles per pound than any other model I drove.
The four-cylinder, turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine is a gem, being light and free revving, and beautifully balanced. The total torque figure, at 148 lbs ft, might not be massively high but it is all available between 1,400 and 3,500 rpm, making it much more flexible than the figures might suggest. It also helps it reach 62mph in 9.3 seconds while the 122PS pushes it onto a top speed of 126mph.
Fuel economy is officially rated at 54.3mpg on the combined cycle, so most owners will get 50+mpg with ease.
Value for Money
The 1.4-litre TSI in SE trim costs just 19,645, considerably less than its diesel equivalent. Sure, youve got to add in the cost of Band D road tax every year, and slightly increased fuel consumption, but most owners will find that it takes 100,000 miles or more before the diesel makes sense financially.
The TSI engine isnt just compelling on fiscal grounds, either. The petrol engine is a delight, and will suit enthusiastic drivers in a way that no diesel engine can.
The Volkswagen Golf TSI 122 is probably the best all-round family car you can buy for under twenty thousand pounds today. Its beautifully built, well equipped, fun to drive, safe, economical, and should have better-than-average residuals too.
Need I say more?
And dont think that just because its a new model from a premium manufacturer that discounts arent available, because they are; weve managed to get discounts of around 10 per cent from VW dealers for carwow customers more details on our Golf deals here.
For more information, plus reviews of the other engines, check out our full guide to the Volkswagen Golf alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos.