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Volkswagen Golf review

The VW Golf MK8 is an excellent family car that’s easy to drive, spacious and well equipped. Its looks won’t appeal to everyone, though, and some features are tricky to use.

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after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Great choice of efficient engines
  • Comfortable over bumps
  • Latest tech is present and correct

What's not so good

  • Marmite front-end styling
  • Infotainment can be fiddly
  • No roomier than the old Golf

Volkswagen Golf: what would you like to read next?

Is the Volkswagen Golf a good car?

The Volkswagen Golf is a family car icon, providing a reassuring blend of comfort and practicality for a reassuring price – not as expensive as some, not as cheap as others. As such, it does the rare thing of being an alternative to both posh and not-so pos family hatchbacks – cars like the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra as well as the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class.

However, one of the few divisive aspects of the new VW Golf is how it looks. From the back, this new model looks like a slightly edgier, more angular version of the car it replaces, but at the front, the low-slung bonnet and monobrow-like trim between the headlights look like they belong more on Bert from Sesame Street than on a classy family hatchback. 

Step inside though, and the VW Golf’s interior is much more prime-time than kid’s TV. The slick dashboard is almost completely devoid of buttons and you get a pair of high-resolution digital displays instead of a central infotainment system and a set of analogue dials. It’s not quite on a par with a 1 Series or A3 for quality, but it beats a Focus or Astra. 

While the Golf’s screens make it dead easy to follow sat-nav directions and pair your phone (which you can do using Android Auto or wirelessly through Apple CarPlay), the gesture controls aren’t all that responsive and the touch-sensitive shortcuts to control the heating and ventilation take a bit of getting used to.

Despite overhauling all its onboard tech, VW hasn’t changed much about the rest of the Golf’s cabin. It comes with a similar number of soft materials to the old car and the front and rear seats are roomier than you get in a Mercedes A-Class, but not quite as spacious as those in a Ford Focus. The boot’s the same size as in the old car too, so you’ll have no trouble packing a few suitcases for a family weekend away. 

My pick of the range is the Golf R Line 1.5 TSI 150. It looks cool and is the best balance of performance, fuel economy and equipment

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

The VW Golf’s engines are perky enough to pull you and some luggage along without struggling, and there’s a more powerful hybrid car coming soon that’s expected to have around 200hp if you’re looking for something a bit quicker that’s still economical in town. 

If long journeys are more your thing, you can get the VW Golf with an economical diesel engine, plus there’s the option to ditch the standard manual gearbox for a DSG automatic instead. This can be a little jerky at slow speeds, but the high-tech driver-assistance systems make up for this on motorways where the VW Golf can accelerate, brake and steer for you. 

The Golf feels pretty slick when you take control yourself, too. It’s easy to manoeuvre in town, softens bumps well in town – especially with adaptive suspension fitted in its comfiest setting – and feels pretty nimble on a twisty backroad, too.

It doesn’t feel quite as fun to drive as a Ford Focus, but don’t let this put you off the VW Golf if you’re looking for an easy-to-drive family car that’s as practical as it is packed with tech. 

If you’ve not quite made up your mind yet, see how the Golf compares with its likely alternatives – the Audi A3, the BMW 1 Series and the Mercedes A-Class in our video review.

Read on for our in-depth colours, interior and infotainment review sections or head over to our Volkswagen deals page to see how much you can save on a new car.

How practical is it?

The VW Golf has a practical cabin that helps make it easy to live with, but some family hatchbacks have more spacious back seats.

Boot (seats up)
800 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,493 litres

Just like the car it replaces, the new VW Golf has plenty of space in the front for you to get comfortable if you’re rather tall. There’s lots of adjustment in the front seat and steering wheel so you can easily find a comfortable driving position and the seat has enough support to help prevent backache during long drives. In the back, the new VW Golf feels almost identical to the old model – that’s to say it’s roomy enough for adults to get comfy without brushing their hair on the roof or their knees on the seats in front.

The Golf’s back seats are roomier than those in the Toyota Corolla and the large side windows and light roof lining means it feels lighter and airier, too. That said, there’s more space in a Ford Focus for tall passengers to stretch out in.

The wide door openings mean it’s straightforward to fit a child seat. It’s easy to slot it into place too, certainly easier than in the likes of a an Audi A3 or BMW 1 Series.

You get plenty of handy cubby spaces in the VW Golf’s cabin to help you keep everything looking neat and tidy. The front door bins are nice and large and come with a plush felt lining to stop things rattling about on the move, there’s a decent amount of space under the central armrest and you get a pair of adjustable cupholders on the centre console. 

There’s a dedicated storage tray under the dashboard for your phone, which you can upgrade to a wireless charging pad, and you get an oddly long cubby beside the gear selector for storing a bit of loose change. 

Passengers won’t be short of handy storage spaces in the back either. The rear door bins are reasonably big, there’s a pair of cupholders in the folding rear armrest and each front seat comes with three seat-back pockets – one large enough to hold a map and two smaller phone-sized flaps located higher up.

The VW Golf has 381 litres of boot space – that’s the same amount of room as you got in the outgoing model and around 10% more than you get in a Ford Focus. The boot’s wide opening makes it easy to slide in heavy items and its square shape makes it a doddle to pack with large boxes – or five carry-on flight suitcases. 

You can flip the back seats down to boost the VW Golf’s carrying capacity to 1,237 litres – that’s slightly more than you can fit in a Vauxhall Astra but no more than the old car could manage. You’ll be better off with a Ford Focus or Skoda Scala if you regularly carry large or unwieldy items.

At least you can get an adjustable boot floor that eliminates the step behind the folded rear seats, so you won’t have any trouble sliding in some heavy items. There are a few tie-down hooks dotted about the place, too – should you need to secure something especially fragile. 

What's it like to drive?

You’ll have no trouble using the new VW Golf every day. It’s relaxing, quiet and comfortable – providing you pay for a few optional extras, that is…

Volkswagen Golf Performance and Economy
Engine 0-62mph (sec) Max speed (MPH) Average MPG CO2 g/km
1.0 TSI 10.2 126 52.9 121
1.5 TSI 130 9.2 133 52.6 122
1.5 TSI 150 8.5 139 51.4 125
1.5 eTSI 150 TBC 139 49.6 129
2.0 TDI 115 10.2 126 68.8 108
2.0 TDI 150 8.8 139 63.3 117

You can get the VW Golf with a range of petrol, diesel and mild-hybrid engines with either a manual or an automatic gearbox which Volkswagen calls DSG.

The best all-rounder is the 150hp 1.5-litre petrol engine. It’s smooth, punchy and relatively economical. It’s quiet in town yet has plenty of poke when you need to overtake some slow-moving traffic on a faster B road.

In town

If you tend to do more city driving, there’s a slightly less powerful 130hp version of the same engine that costs less to buy and run but it doesn’t feel quite so spritely. If running costs in town are your main concern, you should consider one of the VW Golf’s mild-hybrid petrol engines. These pair the 1.5-litre petrol engine with a small electric motor that helps cut fuel consumption when you coast or accelerate hard.

Speaking of which, you can also get the Golf with a neat self-parking feature that’ll steer you into a bay and parallel spaces. The light steering and good visibility through the VW Golf’s large windows mean it’s easy to manoeuvre through tight streets, too, and the standard suspension does a good job ironing out bumps.

On the motorway

If you spend more time on motorways than in cities, you should check out the VW Golf’s 2.0-litre diesel engines. The cheaper 115hp unit feels pretty sluggish but the perkier 150hp model makes a good long-distance cruiser that’s cheaper to run than the petrol-powered models on long journeys. You should be able to top 55mpg in normal driving conditions.

The VW Golf is impressively relaxing to drive for long periods. It’s comfortable at motorway speeds and – besides a slight whistling from the air whipping past the door mirrors – you’ll hear very little wind or tyre noise.

You can also get it with a range of clever driver assistance systems that’ll steer, accelerate and brake for you on motorways – providing you keep both hands on the steering wheel, that is. Pick a Golf with an automatic gearbox and these systems can even bring you to a complete stop in heavy traffic.

On a twisty road

If you find yourself on a twisty country road and the Golf is more than happy to put a convincing smile on your face. It’s more fun to drive than the old car and even gives the Ford Focus a run for its money in the smile-inducing handling stakes.

Pay extra for a model with the adaptive suspension and things get even better. In its softest setting, this feature helps make the VW Golf one of the most comfortable hatchbacks about, capable of smoothing out the worst an uneven cobbled road can throw at it.

But because you can mix and match the car’s settings, you can have the steering, gearbox and engine set to their sportiest modes without having to put up with firm suspension.

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so convincing if you pick a Golf with fewer than 150hp. These versions make do with less advanced rear suspension than higher-powered cars that makes them less able to deal with sudden bumps or tight, twisting corners.

Manual or Automatic?

The VW Golf’s standard manual gearbox is easy to use, if slightly notchy, but the optional dual-clutch automatic ‘box is well worth considering if you do lots of long drives or spend plenty of time stuck in rush hour traffic. It responds quickly if you need it to kick down for a quick burst of acceleration and doesn’t lurch between gears but it can jerk slightly at very slow speeds – most noticeably when you’re parking.

What's it like inside?

The new VW Golf’s interior is a massive step forward over the old car’s in terms of tech but some of its flashy features aren’t particularly easy to use.

Volkswagen Golf colours

Solid - Urano grey
Special solid - Moonstone grey
From £380
Special solid - Pure white
From £380
Metallic - Atlantic blue
From £635
Metallic - Deep black pearl
From £635
Metallic - Dolphin grey
From £635
Metallic - Lime yellow
From £635
Metallic - Reflex silver
From £635
Special metallic - Kings red
From £770
Pearl - Oryx white
From £1,060
Next Read full interior review
Buy a new or used Volkswagen Golf at a price you’ll love
We take the hassle and haggle out of car buying by finding you great deals from local and national dealers
RRP £23,360 - £32,995 Avg. carwow saving £1,796 off RRP
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Is this car right for you?
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