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
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 about £1,500 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 1.4 and 1.5.
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
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 a £265 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 an extra £830 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.