Volkswagen Golf review
The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most accomplished cars for the money, and does everything you expect of it
For many mainstream carmakers, the Volkswagen Golf has been the family hatchback yardstick for years. Seven generations on, the latest model is one of the best in its class.
The Golf's strong points include its air of solidity, classy and understated looks, peerless refinement and good performance. It also remains expensive to buy, but it does hold on to its value like no other mainstream family hatchback. The GTD, GTI and storming Golf R cater for the need for excitement.
Best of all, the latest version is significantly better to drive than its predecessor, as it’s based on VW’s latest MQB platform that offers safe handling and excellent ride comfort. It’s also decently practical and efficient, and you have a huge choice of engines and trim levels.
The Volkswagen Golf is an icon of the motoring world - as recognisable a name as Marmite, Kellogg's or Heinz. It's still going strong as a household name even after 40 years on the market and remains the benchmark for many companies to compare their family hatchbacks to.
Rivals such as the SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra all compete for a slice of the Golf's potential market, and while they may beat it for style, practicality, or driving fun, nothing yet can quite match the Golf's blend of upmarket image and all-round usability.
The current model is the seventh generation of Golf, and it's been with us since 2013. It's the best model yet, especially due to the MQB platform which underpins it. This platform has helped the Golf shift some of the heft of the previous models, with a 100kg weight saving over its predecessor. This isn't a stripped-out model though - some of the kit available is truly cutting-edge, and contributes to an interior that you'd be happy to find on an executive saloon.
Of course, the Golf isn’t exactly cheap to buy when compared to the opposition, but if offsets its higher price tag with a high-quality cabin, sophisticated driving experience and upmarket feel. Strong residuals mean you recoup that cost, too.
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Most Golfs in the hatchback range have five doors, but it’s possible to buy some variants in three-door form, too. There are six trim levels to choose from, starting with the entry-level S, which gets desirable kit such as Bluetooth phone connection, a DAB radio and air conditioning.
Move up to the Match model and you benefit from adaptive cruise control and alloy wheels, while the racy GT adds sat-nav and parking sensors. Flagship R-Line spec benefits from some sportier styling upgrades, including R badging to fool some into thinking it's a Golf R, but is only available with the 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI engines.
As ever, there are ultra-efficient Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion models that major on low fuel consumption. The 1.6-litre TDI diesel BlueMotion delivers CO2 emissions of just 89g/km and promises fuel consumption of 83.1mpg. For the first time, VW also offers a 1.0 TSI petrol-powered BlueMotion, capable of 65.7mpg and sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. If rock-bottom running costs are key, though, there are all-electric e-Golf and hybrid GTE variants.
Keen drivers will head for with the legendary Golf GTI with its 216bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine or, right at the top of the scale, the 296bhp Golf R with the added benefit of four-wheel drive. If you want four-wheel drive in any other Golf, though, you’ve got just one choice: the Alltrack Estate.
Engines, performance and drive
The Volkswagen Golf has always delivered high levels of comfort and refinement and it's good to know that the latest Golf Mk7 is no exception.
Even at motorway speeds, the Golf has hardly any wind or road noise and it's almost ghost-like over bumps - it just glides over them. Progress can be made even more fluid by choosing the adaptive damping system as an option.
In addition to the effortless ride, Volkswagen has made the Golf more engaging to drive. Drivers benefit from well weighted steering, a precise gearshift and strong brakes, while an electronic differential helps deliver sharp turn-in to corners and extra traction when exiting. Overall the MQB platform offers safe, balanced handling – not perhaps the last word in driving excitement, but it’s a superb all-round effort.
Volkswagen fits all Golf models with more than 118bhp with a sophisticated multi-link rear axle to help improve handling – although in most situations the standard torsion beam set-up feels equally composed.
Eco-friendly BlueMotion models now drive in exactly the same manner as other versions. This is thanks largely to the adoption of a much more precise six-speed manual gearbox in place of the old five-speed unit (now fitted only to the 1.2 petrol). BlueMotion Golfs can also come with VW's six-speed DSG semi-automatic gearbox, which while good in other models, is geared to be as eco-friendly as possible, consequently the manual is nicer to use and would be our recommendation.
The excellent DSG gearbox has the option of steering wheel-mounted paddles. However, the seven-speed unit used on lower-powered models is smoother than the six-speed version that’s optional on 2.0-litre TDI and 2.0-litre petrol models.
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If fun is top of your priority list, then opt for a GTD, GTI or R version. The GTD offers plenty of torque for effortless overtaking. Don't be fooled by the GTE though: despite the name, it's no hot hatch. It may be faster in a straight line than the GTD, but the added weight means it's not much fun in the corners.
True performance fans will be drawn to the flagship R model. Available as a hatchback or an estate, the Golf R gets 296bhp and four-wheel drive. It feels very sharp to drive and packs a tremendous amount of grip. It really is the ultimate Golf, and shames rivals costing £10,000 more.
However, for most keen drivers, the legendary Volkswagen Golf GTI delivers an ideal mix of performance, value and fun. Standard cars get 217bhp, but we’d recommend upgrading to the Performance Pack. This costs £995 extra and includes a 10bhp power boost, bigger front brakes and a clever electronically controlled front differential that boosts traction and reduces understeer. There's also a Clubsport version, which bumps power to 286bhp and adds various aerodynamic add-ons.
There’s a huge range of powerplants to choose from, with some excellent petrol engines and efficient diesels, plus a GTE plug-in hybrid and a fully electric e-Golf.
Petrol engines (badged TSI) start as small as a 1.0-litre, 113bhp three-cylinder unit, boasting excellent efficiency. The entry-level in terms of price point is the 1.2-litre, 84bhp four-cylinder unit, but it’s a bit breathless. All-round the 1.4 petrol (available in 123bhp and 148bhp versions) is hard to beat.
The Golf GTI has 2.0-litre engine with 216bhp, optionally available with a Performance Pack to take that up to 226bhp. Right at the top of the range sits the Golf R with its 296bhp 2.0-litre engine.
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As for TDI diesels, there’s a big range here, too. The 1.6 TDI is popular and efficient, if a little unrefined, while the larger (and more convincing) 2.0 TDI is available with either 148bhp or, as the sporty GTD, with 181bhp.
VW is also unique in offering both plug-in hybrid (GTE) and all-electric (e-Golf) versions. The GTE combines a 1.4 petrol engine with battery power, for a combined output of 201bhp. The e-Golf works on batteries alone, and offers good performance from its 113bhp electric motor, although its range is severely limited.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Volkswagen has ensured that the Golf is very easy on the wallet – so much so that even the racy 2.0-litre GTI returns an impressive 47.1mpg with CO2 emissions of 139g/km.
If, however, properly frugal motoring is your thing, then it's worth looking at the pair of Golf BlueMotion models. The diesel is powered by a 1.6-litre diesel TDI engine, and returns a claimed 83.1mpg and emits 89g/km of CO2, meaning it beats the equivalent Ford Focus ECOnetic. The petrol 1.0 TSI BlueMotion returns 65.7mpg and has tax-free CO2 emissions of 99g/km.
The 1.2-litre petrol powerplant with 84bhp returns 57.6mpg with CO2 emissions of 113g/km. The 1.4-litre unit has either 123bhp, or in GT or R-Line guise, 148bhp. In the former, it manages 54.3mpg and 120g/km of CO2 with a manual transmission, and slightly better figures with DSG transmission.
The Golf GTD is powered by a 181bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine and it returns 67.3mpg and 109g/km. The 150bhp version of the same 2.0 TDI engine (as found in the Golf GT) manages exactly the same figures.
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For the ultimate in low running costs, then look no further than the electric e-Golf. Powered by a 113bhp electric motor and boasting a range of around 100 miles, the battery-powered machine is a perfect commuting car and costs around £1 to charge from a mains socket. Of course, the e-Golf won’t fit in with all types of journey, and for longer trips you’ll be better off with the Golf GTE range-extender.
Using a combination of 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and electric motor, the plug-in model blends a punchy 201bhp power output with 39g/km CO2 emissions, 166mpg and a range on electric power alone of around 30 miles – although obviously much more when the petrol motor joins in.
The cost of insurance can be low with a Golf. The entry-level 1.2 sits in group 7E, and the popular 1.4 Match is in group 14E. Move up to a GT or R-Line model and you’ll typically be looking at between 17E and 19E. High-powered models are pricier, with the GTD at 26E, the GTI from 29E and the R at 34E.
With very high demand among used car buyers, Golfs do hold on to their value well. Our experts predict the Golf will still be worth an impressive 48.2 per cent of its new value after three years and 36,000 miles, which is better than almost any other rival.
Interior, design and technology
There's no denying that the latest Volkswagen Golf can't quite match the Mazda 3 or SEAT Leon for head-turning appeal. But what the Golf lacks in the wow factor department, it more than makes up for in cool Teutonic understatement.
The Golf manages to pull off the neat trick of looking both classless and classy. The seventh-generation car may not appear overly different to the previous Mk6 Golf but key visual tweaks include a bold crease cut into the body flanks, which gives it a low, sporty stance.
However, it's the interior of the Golf that really impresses. The wraparound dash looks a little plain, but look closer and you'll see Volkswagen has laid it out intuitively and put it together using first-rate materials. Soft-touch plastics feature throughout, while eye-catching metal-effect trim covers the centre console.
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Better still, the switchgear in the Golf operates with precision and the car’s low-slung driving position is one of the best in the business. It's also a pleasant surprise to find that the flat-looking seats are surprisingly supportive.
The Golf's understated looks aren't particularly helped by the entry-level Golf S having steel wheels and plastic rims. However, move slightly higher up the range and things get better quickly. The Match model is fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, plus some tasteful chrome trim for the front grille and lower air intake. The Match BlueMotion Edition only comes with the 1.0-litre petrol engine and if you want the 1.6 TDI BlueMotion it's a trim level all by itself.
GT and R-Line models offer a sportier slant. The GT has 17-inch alloy wheels, ambient lighting, sat-nav, parking sensors and Alcantara trim. R-Line models feature sports suspension, a body styling kit and sports seats, while Alltrack cars (only available as an Estate) get jacked-up suspension, black body cladding and roof rails.
To highlight their high-performance status, the Golf GTD and GTI models feature bespoke bumpers and 18-inch alloy wheels. The stylish black and red tartan seats and golf ball gear knob are a nice nod to the hot Golf’s history. The GTE gets similarly racy styling. The top-spec Golf R comes with 18-inch alloy wheels (or optional 19-inch rims), plus a unique bodykit, redesigned lights and quad exhausts, although its still more subtle than rivals like the Honda Civic Type R.
Finally, the electric e-Golf is marked out by its flush-fitting wheel trims and its distinctive ‘C’ shaped LED running lights that are set into the front bumper.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All Golfs come with at least a 5.8in colour touch screen, allowing you to control the infotainment system. A larger 6.5in screen is standard on high-spec Golfs and optional on others, allowing access to navigation, CD and radio functions. A huge 8in screen can be specified at extra cost, too.
Entertainment is provided by a standard DAB digital radio, glovebox-mounted CD player and SD card reader. Bluetooth is standard across the range, too. An optional USB connection allows Car-Net smartphone mirroring in the car. Voice activation is optional, too, while the high-end Dynaudio sound system is a worthwhile, if pricey, option.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
We’re looking at the regular Golf hatchback in this review, although if you need extra practicality from your Golf, it’s also offered in MPV-style SV and five-door estate bodystyles.
While the Golf might not have class-leading interior space, it’s hardly a significant flaw. In both three-door and five-door formats, Volkswagen’s Golf hatchback ticks all the important boxes: it’s got plenty enough space for five passengers and the capacious boot has a practical shape, too. Visibility is better than most hatchbacks in its class, as well.
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The Golf seems to grow with each successive generation, and the Mk7 is 150mm longer, 13mm wider and 4mm lower than the Mk6. But it’s still far from the being a huge car by class standards: it’s more compact in every measure than the current Ford Focus, for example.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
There’s loads of space up front, while rear passengers get plenty of head and legroom. The wide, flat rear seat can take three people without too much of a squeeze, although the centre passenger may find things a bit uncomfortable on longer journeys.
Getting in and out is a simple matter (especially with the five-door), and child seats are easy to fit in the back using either the car’s seatbelts or Isofix.
Volkswagen has given the Golf lots of handy storage spaces, including a deep cubby under the front armrest between the driver and front passenger, a large air-conditioned glovebox and numerous cup-holders. Buyers also benefit from vast door bins that are flock-lined to stop their contents from rattling around noisily on the move.
As ever, the large VW boot badge doubles as the tailgate release and opening it reveals a well-shaped 380-litre boot. Better still, there’s a wide opening and low load lip, while below the adjustable-height false boot floor provides a handy hidden storage area. If you need more room, you can liberate a generous 1,270 litres of capacity by folding the 60:40 rear seats; the load platform is usefully flat, too. Useful additions to the load space include a 12V power supply and a pair of bag hooks, plus there’s a ski-flap for longer items.
Of course, those looking for even more practicality can opt for the Estate model with a capacious 605-litre boot that expands to 1,620 litres with the rear seats folded flat. The Alltrack version retains this practicality, but adds a raised ride height and four-wheel drive for added versatility.
It's worth noting that the e-Golf and GTE are slightly less practical, because their batteries are mounted under the boot floor. As a result, the e-Golf gets a 343-litre load bay, while the hybrid GTE shrinks to 272 litres. That’s still a very usable amount of space, but you do sacrifice any form of under-floor storage.
Most Golfs can be used for towing (the exceptions are the e-Golf, GTE and R). Depending on model, the maximum unbraked towing capacity varies between 600kg and 670kg, while the braked figure ranges from 1,100kg to 1,600kg.
Reliability and Safety
VW has always played heavily on its reputation for building durable and reliable cars, so the brand’s 22nd place result in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey may be seen as something of a disappointment. Still, the Golf Mk7 comes in at a creditable 30th place overall in the Driver Power survey, and Golf owners responding to the survey have been keen to praise their cars’ build quality, performance, comfort and handling.
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Certainly the Golf exudes an air of being built like a tank. The shut lines are consistent and narrow, the quality of the materials is high throughout and there is a pleasing lack of squeaks and rattles.
Further peace of mind comes in the form of the VW’s strong safety record. All cars get seven airbags (including driver’s knee airbag), while the five-star Euro NCAP rating is impressive, especially the 94% rating for adult occupant protection.
Standard safety gear across the range include an electronic parking brake with auto hold function, electronic tyre pressure monitoring, stability control, front passenger airbag deactivation and hydraulic brake assist.
The Match model adds adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, plus the brand’s PreCrash system, which tensions the seatbelts and closes the windows when it senses a potential collision.
Safety options include lane assist with side scan, blind spot monitoring and dynamic light assist, park assist and rear side airbags.
VW’s three-year, 60,000-mile warranty is about average by industry standards, although you can extend it, at extra cost, up to a maximum of five years or 90,000 miles.
The service schedule for the Golf is every 12 months or 10,000 miles, whichever is the sooner. Fixed-price servicing is available from VW dealers, although VW doesn’t offer the sort of low-cost all-in servicing package that many rival manufacturers do, so costs are likely to end up being higher than some competitors.