Volkswagen Golf Review
The VW Golf is a great all-rounder that feels consistently good in almost every area. However, it’s dearer than some alternatives and parts of the interior feel low-rent.
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Comfortable interior
- Lots of driver conveniences
- Fabulous all-rounder
What's not so good
- Hesitant automatic gearbox
- Some cheap-feeling materials
- Some alternatives are cheaper
Volkswagen Golf: what would you like to read next?
With its mostly welcoming cabin and wide array of driver-assisting features, the Volkswagen Golf is an all-rounder that’s as adaptable as a Swiss army knife.
Despite some nasty-feeling plastics in the cabin’s lower half and rear doors, you’ll feel comfortable inside the Golf. Its spaciousness means that three adult passengers could fit in the back with few qualms, although the Octavia and Focus are slightly roomier.
The Golf is also a little dearer than some of its alternatives, but the equipment available as standard goes some way to making up for it. Even entry-level S cars get an infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, eight-speaker DAB radio, Bluetooth compatibility and text message functionality. Upgrading to the more popular SE trim adds more assistance systems, like a choice of driving modes for different road types, front and rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control.
The VW Golf isn’t exactly awe-inspiring to drive, but it does everything that you would want a family hatchback to do on the road.
The best thing about the Golf is just how adaptable it is. Whether this is your first car or your 21st, it feels smooth and responsive and has good visibility. Peers like the Ford Focus may have a bit more pep in their step and give a greater sense of fun, but the VW still ticks all of the boxes.
Of all the engines available for the Golf, the best is the 1.5-litre petrol – the TSI 130. It’s powerful enough for all the different roads you’ll encounter day-to-day and comes with a choice of six-speed manual and seven-speed automatic gearboxes. All the engines have this choice, bar the entry-level, 1.0-litre diesel – this has a five-speed manual, which you would want to avoid.
Both the automatic and six-speed manual gearboxes are smooth, although the former is slightly jerky and unpredictable during low-speed manoeuvres and parking.
So, the Volkswagen Golf is a very capable all-rounder. Whether you’re looking for a short-distance car to use in town or a comfy motorway cruiser, it fits the bill. An Octavia may be cheaper and a Focus more fun, but the Golf is an adaptable and comfortable car that you shouldn’t overlook.
The Volkswagen Golf is a humble family car but its interior feels very well built and has an excellent range of infotainment systems. Having said that, you’ll have to pay extra for the best tech
The Volkswagen Golf is roomy enough for four tall adults, has loads of smaller storage spaces dotted around its cabin and has a decent-sized boot that’s well thought out, although some alternatives have even more load-lugging capacity
The VW Golf's boot isn't the biggest around but it'll have no trouble carrying a large baby buggy – or a set of golf clubs for that matter
You won’t have a problem getting comfortable behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Golf. Both front seats are height adjustable so you’ll not find yourself peering over the steering wheel. In fact, cranked up to its highest setting, the driver’s seat makes the Golf feel like a mini SUV – perfect if you’re vertically challenged.
Equally, if you prefer a sportier, low-set position then you can slam the seat down pretty low too, and the steering wheel adjusts in and out, as well as up and down. Basic S models do without steering-wheel-mounted controls for the radio and trip computer but all the dashboard’s functions are within easy reach, so this is no major hardship.
Jump into the back seats and you’ll find the VW Golf has more head and legroom than you’ll get in the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus, and the big windows help it feel airier than the more expensive Mercedes A-Class. If you need to carry three adults in the back then elbow room is fine, but the middle passenger will be short of foot space thanks to the hump in the centre of the floor. It’s also a shame to see signs of cost cutting, with the rear finished in cheaper plastics than the spongy materials found up front – but this is common among family cars.
If you often carry rear passengers then it makes sense to go for a five-door VW Golf and the same is true if you carry a child seat. The only slight issue is that the rear doors don’t open all that wide, but that’s splitting hairs – the well-marked Isofix points make it easy to slide the base into position and the seat locates without issue.
There’s no shortage of smaller storage areas in the Volkswagen Golf to hide the associated mess that comes with a family, and all the cubbies open with a damped smoothness that makes them a pleasure to use.
VW nails the basics perfectly – the felt-lined door pockets stop things noisily rattling around and can swallow a 1.5-litre bottle of water with plenty of room to spare. You can also hide small valuables under the front-centre armrest, and you get two cupholders and a small tray that’s perfect for change.
There are lots of nice little touches in the interior, such as the huge glovebox that’s cooled by the air-conditioning and the illuminated vanity mirrors on the underside of the sun visors. Another feel-good feature is the hidden phone tray – complete with AUX and USB plugs – and the infotainment system that reminds you to take your handset with you when you leave the car. All these nice features just help make for a more enjoyable ownership experience.
The Volkswagen Golf’s 380-litre boot is substantially bigger than the one you get in a Ford Focus and a little bigger than the load bay in the Vauxhall Astra. If size is important, then the Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia both have even bigger boots.
But size isn’t everything – it’s what you do with it that counts, and in this respect the Golf trumps comparable models. A brilliant feature unavailable in a number of similar cars is the adjustable boot floor. It means you can choose between a deep load area or one that sits almost completely flush with the rear bumper, so there’s no awkward step to lift things over. You’ll also love the flip-down hooks for keeping your shopping in one piece and the floor tethers for safely securing heavy items. There’s also a 12v power socket for powering anything from a phone to a vacuum cleaner for getting rid of dog hairs. Speaking of which, old dogs will love the VW Golf’s boot for another reason – it’s quite low to the ground, so it’s not a giant leap up from the floor to a cosy bed inside.
The adjustable boot floor also comes in handy when the standard 60:40 splitting rear seats are folded down, leaving a 1,270-litre load bay that’s completely flat – so long as you remember to remove the rear-seat headrests. That flat floor is useful when loading something awkward such as a bike. Incidentally, a bike will fit with both its wheels attached, but only if you push the front seats forwards – try doing that in a Ford Focus!
The Volkswagen Golf is easy to drive in town, quiet on the motorway and feels secure even when you’re driving quickly on country roads – but it’s not the most fun family hatchback to drive
The VW Golf handles as well as a family hatchback needs to, but if you want a truly fun alternative then buy the Ford Focus or Mazda 3
In a car that’s as well-rounded as the Volkswagen Golf, it makes sense for you to combine it with an engine that boasts a variety of talents, and the 125hp 1.4-litre petrol does just that. It isn’t as harsh as the diesels – in fact, it almost sounds sporty and its 0-62mph time of 9.3 seconds is quick enough for most people’s needs. It’s cheaper to buy than a comparable diesel and comes with a six-speed gearbox – for quiet motorway cruising – instead of the basic diesel’s five-speed unit. Running costs are very low thanks to fuel economy of 54.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 120g/km – expect to get about 48mpg in day-to-day driving. If it’s not powerful enough then there’s a 150hp 1.5-litre engine which is noticeably quicker, about as efficient but costs a bit more to buy.
There’s also a 85hp 1.0-litre petrol VW Golf which costs less to run – on paper – but it needs to be worked hard to get the best from it, which makes the quoted fuel economy of 58.9mpg pretty hard to achieve. You’ll also quickly tire of the thrashy engine note that you don’t get in the smoother 1.5.
For the cheapest runnings costs, the basic diesel VW Golf is still the way to go. The 110hp 1.6-litre can return fuel economy of nearly 75mpg and CO2 emissions of 103g/km. You’ll notice it suffers from the traditional diesel clatter, but 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds is fast enough.
The 150hp 2.0-litre diesel returns 67.3mpg and produces CO2 emissions of 109g/km, so it is still cheap to run, and a bit quieter than the 1.6-litre model. It also has a good bit more pulling power than the 1.6, which means it’ll get from 0-62mph in a spritely 8.6 seconds and it’s the engine to pick if you want to tow with your VW Golf. It’s worth noting that both 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels can tow up to 1,800kg compared to the 1.0-litre petrol’s 1,300kg limit.
Want an automatic Golf? Well, the optional seven-speed automatic gearbox is really good and changes gear quickly, but can be a bit jerky at slow speeds. The manual gearboxes in the VW Golf are easy to use as well thanks to a light clutch and satisfying action – if that’s your sort of thing. If you do a lot of driving around town or in stop-start traffic then the automatic is the best pick because it just makes life easier.
The Volkswagen Golf handles a variety of conditions very well – it’s easy to drive in town, quiet on the motorway and agile enough to be driven quickly on country roads.
You get a great view out. The pillar that runs up the side of the windscreen – so often a blind spot in other cars – has an extra little window that increases your field of vision. It’s safe too – as well as getting a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test score in 2012, SE models and above come with automatic emergency braking which will automatically do an emergency stop at slow speeds if you fail to see a car or pedestrian in front of you.
Driving in town is simple – bicycles and scooters are easy to spot – and the good view out the back makes reverse-parking hassle free. Be warned – Golfs in S guise don’t come with front and rear parking sensors as standard, but all others do. A rear-view camera is an option, and you can even pay for a system that’ll park the car for you.
Head out onto the motorway and you’ll find the VW Golf is ideal for long journeys. It’s quieter than similar cars, the suspension soaks up bumps well and the seats are very comfy. You can spend extra and get adaptive dampers, which let you flick between soft and firm suspension whenever you like – but save the cash because the standard suspension copes well enough in most situations. SE models and above come with active cruise control that can hold the car at a steady speed, or brake and accelerate to match the car in front’s speed. It’s perfect if you spend lots of your time on busy motorways.
When it comes to having fun driving on country roads, the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 are better, but the VW Golf’s well-weighted controls, slick six-speed manual gearbox, strong grip levels and sharp steering mean it feels safe even when driven quickly.