No family car test would be complete without the Volkswagen Golf. The versatile hatchback is an Auto Express favourite, having scooped class honours in our prestigious New Car Awards 2009.
With its high-quality cabin, composed driving dynamics and excellent refinement, the Golf is the benchmark in this sector. Adding to its appeal is a line-up of small-capacity engines that promises big performance and tiny fuel bills.
VW’s excellent TSI units were among the first to serve up this winning combination, but now the firm is having to play catch-up. Even though it has a supercharger and a turbocharger, the 1.4-litre TSI in our GT-spec model delivers 158bhp – making the Golf the least powerful car of our trio.
Still, any disappointment at this shortfall is soon offset by the VW’s visual appeal. While it doesn’t have the Alfa’s flair or the Vauxhall’s freshness, the Golf is still desirable.
It’s handsome, well proportioned and a classy proposition. Sporty GT models ride lower to the road, and add eye-catching alloy wheels, plus a tailgate spoiler. The car in our pictures is a three-door, but the five-door example tested is equally appealing.
Climb aboard, and you will instantly be impressed by the quality on offer. Soft-touch plastics cover the dashboard, the switchgear operates with real precision and the white-backlit dials are smart and easy to read. As ever with the Golf, though, the details mark it out – whether it’s the leather-covered steering wheel, which is simply great to hold, or the excellent driving position.
Better still, it sets the standard here for versatility. There’s room for five adults and plenty of useful cubbyhole space, including deep door bins and a large glovebox. Swing open the tailgate, and you’ll discover a useful 350-litre load area – the capacity matches the Alfa’s and trails the Vauxhall’s by only one litre. Plus, when you fold the rear bench, it expands to a healthy 1,305 litres of space.
Performance is as important as practicality for this GT model, however. Even though it can’t match its rivals for power, the VW turned in a strong display at the test track.
It completed the benchmark sprint from 0-60mph in 8.3 seconds – that’s two-tenths faster than the 178bhp Vauxhall. Thanks to the low-rev punch of its supercharger, the Golf also proved stronger than the Astra during our in-gear assessments, although it trailed the lively Giulietta.
On the road, the excellence of the VW’s chassis shines through. Body control is superb, there’s plenty of grip and the steering is well weighted and precise. Yet these sporting responses don’t come at the expense of comfort and refinement, as the Golf’s suspension soaks up the worst bumps and noise levels are impressively low.
At £20,870, the VW costs £1,375 more than the Alfa, but it justifies this premium with its solid build quality, strong residuals and classy image. The question is whether it has done enough to retain its crown.
Chart position: 1
WHY: With a turbocharger and a supercharger, the 1.4 TSI punches above its weight – and the Golf is our class-leading family hatch.
Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl, 158bhp
0-60mph: 8.3 seconds
AE economy: 30.8mpg
Claimed CO2: 145g/km