Volkswagen Golf review
The latest Volkswagen Golf is irritatingly good in all of the key areas. In fact, it may be the only car you will ever need
If you asked your average car buyer to name one family car, the chances are they'd opt for the Volkswagen Golf. It has been setting the standard for forty years, with rival manufacturers consistently benchmarking their models . Rivals such as the SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia and Ford Focus narrowly beat the VW for style, practicality and driving fun, but none can quite match the Golf’s blend of talents and upmarket image.
Now in its seventh generation, the evergreen Golf is better than ever. Underpinned by VW’s new lightweight MQB chassis, the latest version is around 100kg lighter than its predecessor, yet also more refined and sharper to drive. It also comes packed with the sort of cutting edge kit that wouldn’t look out of place on an executive saloon.
Of course, the VW 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 image.
The range starts 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.
As ever, there’s an ultra-efficient Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion that combines a new 1.6-litre TDI diesel and slick six-speed gearbox to deliver CO2 emissions of just 85g/km and promised fuel returns of 88.3mpg. For the first time, VW also offers a petrol-powered BlueMotion TSI, capable of 65.7mpg and sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. If rock bottom running costs are key, though, there's also an al-electric e-Golf and hybrid GTE.
At the other end of the performance and efficiency spectrum is the range-topping Golf R, which packs a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a grippy four-wheel drive transmission.
However, for most keen drivers, the legendary Volkswagen Golf GTI delivers the best mix of performance, value and fun. Standard cars get 207bhp, but we’d recommend upgrading to the Performance Pack. This addition costs £995 and includes a 10bhp power boost, bigger front brakes and a clever electronically controlled front differential that boosts traction and reduces understeer.
Our choice: VW Golf 2.0 TDI 150 Match
Engines, performance and drive
The Volkswagen Golf has always delivered high levels of comfort and refinement and it's good to know the latest Golf Mk7 is no exception.
Even at motorway speeds, the Golf features 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 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 then, the Golf is always composed and inspires confidence in its driver.
Furthermore, Volkswagen fits all Golf models with more than 118bhp with a sophisticated multi-link rear axle to help improve handling – although in most situations that standard torsion beam set-up feels equally composed.
Even better, the eco-friendly BlueMotion models now drive in exactly the same manner as other versions. This is thanks largely to the adoption of a six-speed manual gearbox in place of the old five-speed unit, plus the addition of a smoother and more powerful 1.6-litre TDI diesel.
In terms of gearboxes, both the manual and twin-clutch DSG are precise, and on the latter, there is also the option of steering wheel-mounted paddles. However, the seven-speed unit used on lower powered models in smoother than the six-speed version that’s optional on 2.0-litre TDI and 2.0-litre petrol models.
However, if fun is top of your priority list, then opt for one of the GT or R versions. The GTD offers plenty of torque for effortless overtaking, while the GTI feels beautifully balanced. 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.
Of course, true performance fans will want the flagship R model. Available as a hatchback or an estate, the Golf R gets 296bhp and four-wheel drive. It feels even sharper than the GTI, and packs a tremendous amount of grip. It really is the ultimate Golf, and shames rivals costing £10,000 more.
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 from its petrol TSI engine.
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, it returns 88.3mpg and emits 85g/km of CO2, meaning it beats the equivalent Ford Focus ECOnetic, while the petrol TSI gets a tiny turbo 1.0-litre returning 65.7mpg and tax-free CO2 emissions of 99g/km.
In addition to the 1.0-litre BlueMotion, there are 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litre TSI units that use the similar turbocharging technology.
The 1.2-litre powerplant with 83bhp returns 57.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 113g/km, while the 105bhp variant puts out 114g/km and returns the same mpg. What's more, the 105bhp engine can be mated to the automatic DSG gearbox and when it is, it returns 56.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 115g/km.
The 1.4-litre unit has either 140 or 122bhp. When combined with the latter, it manages 53.3mpg as well as 123g/km of CO2. When combined with the DSG transmission, this figure drops.
The Golf GTD is powered by a 185bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine and it returns 67.3mpg - the 150bhp version of the same engine found on the Golf GT manages the same figures.
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 an electric range of around 30 miles.
Our experts predict the Golf will still be worth an impressive 48.2 per cent of its new value after three years.
Interior, design and technology
There's no denying that the latest Volkswagen Golf can't quite match the Mazda 3 or the SEAT Leon for head-turning appeal. What the Golf may lack in the wow factor department, however, is made up in cool Teutonic understatement.
The Golf manages to pull of the neat trick of looking both classless and classy. This seventh generation car may not appear overly different to the previous Mk6 Golf but changes under the skin are comprehensive and there are key visual tweaks outside too. For example, this latest incarnation of Volkswagen's hatchback now features a bold crease that's cut into the flanks, and this gives it a low, sportier stance.
However, it's the interior of the Golf that's really impressive. The wraparound dash looks a little plain, but look closer and you'll see Volkswagen has laid it out intuitively, putting it together using first-rate materials. Soft-touch plastics feature throughout, while eye-catching metal-effect trim covers the centre console.
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.
To highlight their performance flagship status, the Volkswagen Golf GTD and GTI models feature bespoke bumpers and 18-inch alloy wheels. The stylish black and red tartan seats and the golf ball gear knob are also a nice nod to the hot Golf’s history. The GTE gets similarly racey styling – albeit in blue – but don't be fooled, it's no hot hatch.
The Volkswagen Golf R comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, too, but you can also opt for 19-inch rims. The Golf R gets a unique bodykit, redesigned lights and quad exhausts.
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.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
If you’re looking for a significant flaw in the Golf’s make-up, you won’t find it in the practicality department. Once again, Volkswagen’s hatch ticks the important boxes in some style.
Rear passengers get plenty of head and legroom, while the wide, flat bench seat should take three people without too much of a squeeze.
Elsewhere, Volkswagen has given the Golf lots of handy storage space, which includes a deep cubby under the front armrest between 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 is a handy hidden storage area.
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. If you need more room, you can liberate a generous 1,270 litres of capacity by folding the 60:40 rear bench.
It's worth noting that the e-Golf and GTE are slightly less practical, thanks to the batteries being 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. Both still get a usable space, but without any form of under-floor storage.
Reliability and Safety
VW has always played heavily on its reputation for building durable cars, so the brand’s 22nd place result in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey will be something of a disappointment. Still, Golf owners were keen to praise their cars’ build quality, comfort and ease of driving, while the use of tried and tested components means you can expect relatively trouble-free service.
Further peace of mind comes in the form of the VW’s strong safety record. All cars get seven airbags, stability control and a five-star Euro NCAP rating. The Match model we tested adds adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, plus the brand’s PreCrash system, which tensions seatbelts and closes windows when it senses a potential collision.