Volkswagen Golf review
The Volkswagen Golf Mk8 retains its core family hatchback appeal, and will be the ideal car for many buyers (even if some of its tech is a bit too fiddly)
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The Volkswagen Golf hatchback is one of those rare family cars that manages to be both classless and impressively classy all at the same time.
It’s just posh enough that you could consider it as an alternative to the likes of the BMW 1 Series, the Mercedes A-Class, or the Audi A3. At the same time, however, it’s priced in such a way that if you’re looking at a slightly humbler option – you know, like a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra – it wouldn’t be a stretch to think the Golf might also be on your shortlist.
Think of it this way: if the Focus was the car equivalent of a Tesco supermarket and the Mercedes A-Class was a Marks & Spencer, the Golf would probably be a Waitrose. Probably.
Anyway, as appealing as the idea of treating yourself and doing your weekly shop at a posher supermarket might be, you might not find the Golf’s styling to be quite as appetising.
The low-set headlights and that prominent ‘monobrow’ front end in particular just aren’t very attractive (Bert from Sesame Street, anyone?), and viewed side on it just looks a bit droopy – which is odd considering it’s so squared off at the back.
At least once you’re inside, you don’t have to look at that nose; and instead of kids’ TV, the Golf’s cabin is more of an Emmy-winning performance. It’s comfortable and roomy, but while the cabin quality is very good, and better than what you’d find in a Focus or Astra, it’s not quite up to the task of taking on the BMW nor the Mercedes.
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
That big touchscreen in the middle of the dash has some impressive software, and there’s still a good amount of soft-touch, high-quality materials in here too. You get more passenger space than you would in the BMW or Mercedes, but the Ford Focus is roomier still.
There’s a suitcase-friendly boot that easily has enough room for a family weekend away, too. And if you have lots of bags (or dogs, or whatever it is you need to carry) then you’d do well to have a butcher’s at the practical Golf Estate.
The engine lineup is well-matched to the car, and none of the smooth, refined petrol or diesel options will leave you wheezing for more power. If fuel economy around town is a big priority for you, there’s even a plug-in hybrid model with an impressive electric range of up to 44 miles available too.
If you do a lot of long-distance motorway driving you might want to consider one of the diesel models, and optioning your Golf with the Travel Assist package might also be a good shout. This uses a combination of cameras and radar sensors to automatically help keep you in lane, and a safe distance from the car in front – though you’ll still need to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road at all times.
With a chassis set up to, essentially, please as many people as possible, the Golf has a very broad spread of talents. It’s good at soothing away nasty urban surfaces, but it doesn’t feel soggy nor slack when it get it onto a twisty road. If you spec it with the optional adaptive shock absorbers, it’s even more talented, able to switch from softly-softly to sporty at the flick of a touchscreen icon.
Is it as fun to drive as the benchmark Ford Focus? No, but it’s not so far away either. In short, it should certainly be on your hit-list if you’re looking for a posh family hatchback with lots of tech, refined on-road manners and a high-quality, practical interior.
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The VW Golf has a practical cabin that helps make it easy to live with, but some family hatchbacks have more spacious back seats.
Even the most basic Golf Life models come with height-adjustable seats, lumbar adjustment, and a steering wheel that moves up and down and in and out, so whether you’re tall or petite, you should be able to get perfectly comfortable. For the ultimate in comfort, maybe consider upgrading to the sporty R-Line model, with its enveloping high-backed bucket seats.
Space and comfort in the back are basically the same as they were in the older model. So there’s adequate room for most, but if you’ve got a taller driver or front seat passenger on board, legroom can be a little on the short side.
Those back seats are roomier (by quite a large margin) 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 if you’re tall, and that goes equally (more so, in fact) for the Skoda Octavia.
Helpfully for families, If you are fitting child seats, the doors open wide, allowing you to lean in to get Junior strapped properly in. There are standard Isofix points in the front passenger seat, and the outer two rear seats (but not the centre rear seat).
There are plenty of cabin storage spaces, not least the large door bins, which get a nice, high-quality felt lining to stop things from rattling about. The centre console gets some neat, adjustable cup-holders and there’s a large storage bin under the armrest between the front seats.
Under the dashboard, there’s a dedicated shelf for stashing a mobile phone that can be upgraded to include a wireless charge pad. Next to the gear lever there’s a long, slightly shallow storage tray which is handy for keeping a bit of spare change in.
In the back, rear seat passengers also get nice, large, felt-lined door bins, and there are cupholders in the rear seat centre armrest. The map pockets in the backs of the front seats (does anyone still keep an actual map in those?) are large, and include small extra pockets for stashing a phone or music player.
With a 381-litre boot, the Golf has rear storage that’s bang on the average for the class — it’s six litres more than you get in a Focus, but a lot less than you’d get in a Honda Civic or Skoda Octavia. The rear opening is wide, though, so loading bulky items is pretty easy, and there’s enough space for large suitcases.
Fold down the back seats, and you’ll have 1,237-litres of space if you fill the Golf to the roof. That’s better than, say, the Vauxhall Astra manages, but the old Golf Mk7 could swallow just as much, so there’s no actual improvement over what went before. You’ll be better off with a Civic or Octavia if you regularly carry large or unwieldy items. Or, of course, you could go for the Golf Estate.
This model offers 605 litres of space up to the luggage cover, or as much as 1,620 litres with the rear seats folded flat. The Estate is also the only way to combine a Golf with four-wheel drive.
In the hatchback, there’s an adjustable boot floor that allows you to create an unbroken loading space from the rear bumper, with no step. Or you can drop the boot floor down to maximise the total available space, and there are luggage tie-downs and hooks to help stop stuff rolling around as you 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…
|Engine||0-62mph (sec)||Max speed (MPH)||Average MPG||CO2 g/km|
|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|
The Golf comes with a full selection of petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid, and plug-in hybrid engines with a choice of six-speed manual or a automatic ‘DSG’ dual-clutch gearboxes.
The pick of the Golf’s engines is the 150hp 1.5 TSI turbo petrol, which combines solid economy with decent open-road performance, and impressive refinement. Don’t discount the entry 1.0-litre three-cylinder TSI turbo petrol though — it’s sweet, and has better performance than you might think, but the 1.5 is better for nipping past slower traffic on B-roads.
Don’t do much open-road driving? Well, there’s the option of a lower-power 130hp version of that 1.5 TSI petrol engine, which is a little cheaper to buy, and which will be a little more economical to run.
There’s also the option of an e-TSI mild-hybrid, which uses a small battery and a compact electric motor to help save fuel (although it won’t drive the car under electric power at any point).
Alternatively, there’s the Golf e-Hybrid. This combines a petrol engine with a plug-in hybrid battery and a larger electric motor that can drive the car on its own.
Really, you’ll need a driveway or garage with at the very least an external socket (or better yet, a proper wall-mounted electric car charger) to make the most of the eHybrid. But fully charged, you can go for a theoretical 44 miles on electric power alone before the petrol engine cuts in.
Being slightly more realistic, you’ll more likely get around 25-30 miles out of a full charge, but that’s still enough to cover many people’s daily driving, with the petrol engine (and fuel tank) held in reserve. It’s an effective system as long as you can keep it regularly charged up, but longer runs (especially on the motorway) will see average fuel economy fall to around 40mpg, which is a little disappointing. Really, it’s a model best kept for in-town use, with only occasional forays out onto the open road.
The Golf’s standard suspension is well set up to ease away poor in-town road surfaces, and in spite of those big rear pillars, all-round visibility is good. On the tech front, there’s now autonomous emergency braking, which can slam on the anchors if someone steps off the pavement in front of you, and an optional automated parking system that can guide you effortlessly into tight spaces, both in car parks and at the kerb.
If your regular driving includes lots of motorway miles, then it’s worth considering a diesel Golf. The Golf now comes with a choice of two diesel engines — both 2.0-litre TDI units, with a choice of 115hp or 150hp power outputs. The 115hp engine is fine, but the 150hp model is truly impressive, with plenty of poke and very good long range economy. You should be able to hit 55mpg pretty easily, and we’ve seen better than 60mpg on some journeys.
As it has always been, the Golf is relaxing and easy to drive on longer hauls, thanks to relatively low wind noise and tyre roar levels.
There’s also lots of new safety equipment that can help you drive more safely on motorways, including radar-guided cruise control and lane-keeping steering (you still have to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road though). Pick a Golf with an automatic gearbox and these systems can even bring you to a complete stop in heavy traffic, and shuffle you forward as the traffic in front moves.
Headlights that automatically dip their beams when they detect oncoming traffic are also available, as is Volkswagen’s Emergency Assist system. This brings the Golf to a safe halt if it detects that the driver has dozed off and isn’t waking up (you’ll need to tick the DSG automatic gearbox options for that one, though).
While the more expensive GTI and R models are the Golfs to have if you want to have some driving fun on a twisty road, the standard car has enough sporty genes of its own to provide some enjoyment, and even to offer a decent challenge to the Ford Focus.
Now, there’s a caveat to that — you need to get a Golf with at least 150hp. Do that and you get a more expensive rear suspension setup which helps to iron out bumps better, and which sharpens up the handling.
You could always add to that the optional adaptive suspension, which allows you to choose between an ultra-soft setting for poor roads, or a firmer, sportier setting for when you want maximum cornering ability and agility. Plus, you can tweak individual settings — such as the steering and throttle response, and the automatic gearbox settings — so that you can have, say, soft suspension but sharper steering for maximum enjoyment mixed with excellent comfort.
Cheaper Golfs are still very good, but a little less sharp to steer, and less capable when it comes to dealing with mid-corner bumps.
The Golf’s standard six-speed manual box is just fine — it shifts easily, with that familiar VW notchy sensation as the gears engage. If you do mostly motorway rush hour, or in-town driving, then the DSG dual-clutch gearbox is well worth considering. That said, it can occasionally feel slow, even sluggish, to respond, especially when pulling out of tight junctions.
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
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