The Volkswagen Golf is a well-built and spacious family car that’s easy to drive and pleasant to live with – but alternatives cost slightly less to buy
If the Volkswagen Golf was a dog, you’d put money on it winning ‘Best of Breed’ at Crufts. Dependable, solid and classy, it’s one of the best small family cars you can buy.
The current Golf was introduced in 2012 – almost 40 years after the first Golf – and this updated version appeared in 2017. If you know your Golfs, you’ll notice that the new headlights, bumpers and LED tail lights make it look a little different, but the most major changes are inside.
The addition of new infotainment systems and the option to fit the digital ‘Active Info Display’ in place of the conventional speedo and rev-counter dials turned the Golf’s previously drab interior into a showroom for the latest technology.
At its heart, the Golf is still the brilliant family car it’s always been, but thanks to these tweaks, it has more premium touches than the likes of the Skoda Octavia or Vauxhall Astra – although, to be fair, it does cost a bit more than those cars, too.
What really separates the range of Golf models from its alternatives is that it can offer so many different types of car, beyond just being a great family hatchback. If you want a hot hatchback, you can choose not just the Golf GTI or even-quicker Golf R, but also the more economical diesel-engined Golf GTD or the hybrid Golf GTE, all of which we review separately. For super-low running costs and zero tailpipe emissions, there’s the electric e-Golf, and if you just want lots of boot space, you should choose the Golf Estate.
That said, the regular Golf hatchback we review here is the best one to pick if you’re looking for an all-round family car. It’s available with three or five doors, but you’ll want the five-door model if you make regular use of the relatively spacious back seats. Happily, it only costs a few hundred pounds more than the equivalent three-door.
Whichever you go for, you’ll find lots of useful storage areas all over the cabin that will take drinks bottles, wallets and all the other odds and ends that you need in everyday life. The felt-lined front door bins prove VW has an impressive eye for detail, as they mean nothing will rattle around and drive you mad on long trips.
Finally, although the Golf isn’t a huge car, its boot is big enough to cope with taking the family away on holiday. It’s nice and versatile, too, thanks to a movable floor: you put it in a higher position to make it easier to load, or lower it to, so that it can swallow a holiday’s worth of suitcases.
The Golf’s a bit of an obvious choice, but not without good reason – it has some neat touches that set it apart from other family cars
Wherever you’re taking it, the Golf is easy to drive. Its big windows and light controls help to make city driving less hard work, and the cabin’s pretty quiet at the legal limit on the motorway.
If you do lots of long journeys, then you should go for a model with a 2.0-litre diesel engine – you’ll get more than 50mpg in everyday driving and it’s quick enough for overtaking, even on country roads. If you spend more time around town, then go for the 1.5-litre petrol, which is as nippy as the diesel, but smoother and quieter. It’s worth considering the optional automatic gearbox, too, although it can be jerky when you’re parking.
What’s also worth bearing in mind is that Golfs with the relatively basic 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel engines have slightly less sophisticated suspension than other models, so they’re not as comfortable on bumpy roads.
Regardless of which gearbox or engine you pick, the Golf is a safe car, with a full five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP. There’s plenty of safety equipment on even the most basic models and, on top of that, you can add options such as active cruise control, which will maintain a set distance from the car in front. There’s even a Trailer Assist system that can help you manoeuvre a trailer in reverse.
Even if you don’t bother with any options, you’re onto a winner with the Golf. True, it’s more expensive than some alternatives, but when you take into account the quality inside, the frugal engines, modern infotainment systems and do-it-all practicality, you feel as if you’re getting your money’s worth.
See for yourself how the Golf compares to the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus in our video group test. And, if you want some more detailed and in-depth analysis of the Volkswagen Golf, read our following interior, driving and specifications review sections.