Brilliant driving dynamics, excellent build quality and a badge you can trust... it’s a formula that has kept the VW Golf at the top for decades.
But with cheaper rivals on the scene, the expensive hatch is facing some serious competition. Is it still worth the money? We took to the road in an entry-level S variant with the firm’s new 1.2-litre TSI engine to find out.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the VW Golf
Fitted with a turbocharger, the unit is a perfect demonstration of just how much combustion engines have changed over the last three years. It offers the performance of a 1.8-litre without the fuel bills, and gives the car strong green credentials, plus the promise of a fun driving experience.
From the outside, the S looks much like any other Golf, but there are a few key things missing – foglights, chrome grille inserts and alloy wheels all cost extra. Without these additions, the car appears plain, even
in our model’s £430 optional metallic Passion Red paint.
It’s a different story inside. High-quality soft-touch materials, coupled with comfortable seats, an excellent driving position and brilliant soundproofing, give it the feel of an executive saloon.
There’s plenty of head and legroom in the back for adults, but the Golf falls down slightly with its load area. It offers only 350 litres of space – small for this class – although with the rear seats folded flat, this rises to a more reasonable 1,305 litres.
The cabin is a little short on kit, too. While the Golf gets air-con, seven airbags and electric front windows as standard, cruise control, a leather multifunction steering wheel and a touchscreen stereo are optional. Even electric rear windows will set you back £165.
On our fully loaded car, the raft of extras included took the price beyond £18,000.
The real star of the package, though, is the engine. This is the second cheapest Golf, but its 1.2-litre turbo is smooth, lively and feels much quicker than the 10.6-second 0-62mph time suggests. In town there’s easily enough power, and at cruising speeds you’ll never find yourself struggling to keep up with traffic.
Slip into sixth, and the refined engine combines with the quiet, comfortable cabin to give excellent motorway progress. Adding to the appeal is its 49.6mpg economy and 134g/km CO2 output. The Golf rides well, too; the excellent suspension insulates the driver from potholes and harsh surface changes, while also making the Golf capable on twisty B-roads.
Strong grip and a composed chassis ensure it’s easy to make swift progress. The only flaw with the handling is the speed-sensitive power-steering, which is precise and well weighted, but a little short on feedback.
Even in its most basic form, the Golf is a great all-rounder, and the competitive £16,565 price cements its place as the family hatchback of choice.
* Price: £16,565
* Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl turbo
* Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
* Power/torque: 103bhp/175Nm
* 0-62/top spd: 10.6 secs/118mph
* Econ/CO2: 49.6mpg/134g/km
* Equipment: Stability control, electric windows, trip computer, air-con, MP3-compatible stereo
* On sale: Now