The all-round excellence of the VW makes it a formidable opponent in the compact family car class. And the sixth-generation version has familiar looks as it doesn’t deviate from the tried and tested Golf template.
Its smart but conservative design is well proportioned and oozes solidity. In SE trim you get 16-inch alloy wheels and chrome inserts on the grille, but the Mazda looks a lot sportier.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the VW Golf
The understated exterior gives way to the most desirable cabin we’ve ever experienced in a mainstream family car. From the high-quality materials to the straightforward but ergonomically faultless layout, it’s first class. There’s nothing particularly exciting or clever inside, but the seamless blend of comfort, ease of use and space makes the Golf difficult to fault.
There’s a huge range of wheel and seat movement, so the driving position is superb and there’s a greater feeling of space than you get in the Mazda. There’s more legroom in the back, too. Cabin stowage is good, and while the 350-litre boot isn’t class leading, it’s 50 litres ahead of the Mazda’s. Under the bonnet, the 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI engine is 10bhp down on its rival’s 2.2-litre unit. However, the Golf weighs 154kg less than the Mazda, so performance is closely matched. A 0-60mph time of 9.1 seconds is only two-tenths slower than the 3’s, and with the exception of top, where a longer sixth ratio blunts throttle response, the VW recorded virtually identical in-gear acceleration figures.
In addition, the TDI is quiet at idle and under load. The common-rail unit’s power delivery isn’t as smooth as the Mazda’s, but it produces a useful punch and the engine’s overall refinement is impressive. This complements the quality cabin, which is unsurpassed in the class for its lack of wind and road noise. At high speed, the Golf is amazingly relaxed and hushed.
Our test car was fitted with VW’s optional £705 Adaptive Chassis Control system. In Comfort mode, the ride is supple and isolates rough surfaces from the cabin effectively. Sport mode tightens its responses a little, making the Golf capable in corners.
There is more body roll than in the Mazda and, while it isn’t as engaging or sporty as its rival, the handling is composed. It requires little effort from the driver to make swift and secure progress. Strong brakes, well weighted steering and a precise gearshift complete the package.
With good economy, low emissions and solid residuals, the rest of the ownership experience is equally impressive. And it’s this ability to be the ideal car for virtually every occasion that makes the Golf such a hit.
At £18,635, the VW is only £195 more than the 3, but the Mazda has far more equipment as standard. Does the Golf do enough to maintain its place at
the front of the family car pack?
* Price: £18,635
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 138bhp
* 0-60mph: 9.1 seconds
* Claimed economy: 57.6mpg
* CO2: 129g/km
* Euro NCAP rating: Five star
Chart position: 1
WHY: With its strong image, refinement and quality cabin, the Golf is the car to beat here.
The VW allows more body roll than the Mazda in corners and it surrenders front-end grip earlier than the 3. But with the manufacturer’s £705 ACC Adaptive Chassis Control system fitted, the Golf strikes an excellent balance between handling and ride comfort. This adaptive damper technology gives you three settings – Comfort, Normal or Sport.
In Comfort mode, the dampers isolate road imperfections really well, while in Sport you can feel things tighten up. It also defaults to the sportier setting when the car is cornering hard. Meanwhile, the VW’s brilliant touchscreen sat- nav system is a £1,570 extra, but provides clear mapping and is very easy to use. Even the standard audio system is neatly laid out.