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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- Efficient engines
- Comfortable to drive
- Lots of high-tech features
What's not so good
- Divisive styling
- Fiddly infotainment
- No roomier than the old Golf
Volkswagen Golf: what would you like to read next?
Choosing between the latest family hatchbacks is a bit like choosing an ice cream flavour you’ll have to eat for the next three years. Sure, triple chocolate with a raspberry swirl might sound nice now, but will you be sick of it in six months time? The Volkswagen Golf is vanilla flavour – less exciting, but easier to live with every day.
In fact, 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, 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.
While these 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.
Friend asking you which new car to buy and struggling for an answer? Tell them to buy a Golf. Seriously, though, it’s popular because it’s classless, practical and good to drive.
The VW Golf’s engines are perky enough to pull you and some luggage along without struggling, and there’s a more powerful hybrid model with more than 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 a frugal diesel engine instead, and 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 – 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.
Read on for our in-depth interior and infotainment review sections or head over to our Volkswagen deals page to see how much you can save on a new car.
The VW Golf has a practical cabin that helps make it easy to live with, but some family hatchbacks have more spacious back seats and larger boots
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.
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 380 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.
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.
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…
The new VW Golf is more comfortable and easier to drive than ever, but lower-powered versions aren’t quite as fun or as sporty to drive because they have less advanced rear suspension
You can get the VW Golf with a range of petrol, diesel and mild-hybrid engines with either a manual or an automatic gearbox.
The best all-rounder is the 150hp 1.5-litre petrol version. 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.
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.
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’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.
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.
The trick tech isn’t there just to help you out on the motorway, though – 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.
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.
What’s more, you can mix and match the car’s settings so you can have the steering, gearbox and engine set to their sportiest modes without having to put up with firm suspension.
Speaking of sporty driving, 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.
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.
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
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