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
You can think of the Volkswagen Golf as the labrador of cars – it’s solid, classy and if you need something family friendly then there are few better choices.
The current Golf was introduced in 2012 and updated in 2017 with new headlights, bumpers and LED tail lights – although entry-level S models still look basic with their plastic wheel trims instead of alloy wheels. New infotainment systems and the option to add a useful high-res digital screen in place of the speedo and rev-counter dials turned the Golf’s well-built but drab interior into a high-tech showroom.
Thanks to these tweaks the Golf’s still a brilliant family car that’s littered with more premium touches than the likes of the Skoda Octavia or Vauxhall Astra – but then it costs a bit more than those cars too.
Where it really stands out from those other cars, however, is in its versatility. If you want a fast Golf then there’s the Golf GTI and Golf R, or the nippy hybrid Golf GTE. For maximum economy there’s the electric e-Golf, and for lots of boot space you’ll want the Golf Estate. The regular Golf reviewed here is the best pick as an all-round family car, and it’s available in three- or five-door forms – you’ll want the five-door if you regularly use the relatively spacious back seats, and it only costs about £670 more than the equivalent three-door.
The rest of the cabin is dotted with lots of useful storage areas for drinks bottles, wallets and other odds and ends. The felt-lined front door bins deserve special recognition – no longer will anything rattle around and send you mad on long drives.
And despite not being a huge car, family holidays aren’t out of the question in the Golf – its boot has a moveable floor so you can make it easier to load, or deeper to swallow a holiday’s worth of suitcases.
The Golf’s a bit of an obvious choice but there’s a reason – it has some neat touches that lift it above other family cars
Whether you’re taking it on holiday or just to work, the Golf’s easy to drive and live with. Its big windows and light controls make light work of city driving, and the cabin’s pretty quiet for a small car when you’re at motorway speeds.
If you do lots of long journeys then you’ll want to go for the Golf with a 2.0-litre diesel engine – you’ll get more than 50mpg in real-world 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 – it’s as nippy as the diesel but smoother and quieter. It’s worth knowing that Golfs with the 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel engines get slightly less complex suspension than other models, so aren’t as comfy on bumpy roads. The optional automatic gearbox is worth having if you do lots of town driving, but it can be jerky when you’re parking.
Regardless of which gearbox or engine you pick, the Golf is a safe car. All models get a and you can boost safety by adding options such as active cruise control to maintain a set distance from the car in front.
And even if you stay away from the options list, you’re onto a winner with the Golf. Okay, it’s more expensive than alternatives, but that’s more than made up by the quality feeling interior, frugal engines, modern infotainment systems and its do-it-all practicality.
See for yourself how the Golf compares to the Astra and Ford Focus in our video group test, and for more detailed and in-depth analysis of the Volkswagen Golf read our following interior, driving and specifications review sections.