Volkswagen Golf S 5dr

25 Jan, 2013 10:15am Tom Phillips

We drive the entry-level Volkswagen Golf to see if it's the best version of the latest family hatch


This entry-level Golf offers plenty of kit in a dependable, well built package. It’s good to drive and comfortable – despite its basic rear suspension – and the small diesel engine is very efficient. But for an extra £935, you can upgrade to an SE, with alloys, ‘big-car’ safety kit like autobrake and adaptive cruise control, auto lights and wipers and electric windows all-round.

Volkswagen claims its all-new Golf is better value than before, with more kit, a stiffer, lighter platform and improved engines. So what better way to test that theory than to drive the entry-level five-door, the Golf S?

The base model is easy to spot, as it’s the only version to come with 15-inch steel wheels as standard. It also does without the dome-shaped radar sensor which sits under the front number plate of SEs and GTs because it doesn’t feature adaptive cruise control as standard.

But while the wheels look a bit small, the S model retains the same crisp, if slightly uninspiring, design as the rest of the Golf range. The new car is 13mm wider, 28mm lower and 56mm longer than before, which pays dividends inside, with a more airy feel. There’s extra shoulder room up front and improved leg and headroom in the rear, plus the boot is 30 litres bigger, with a capacity of 380 litres when the rear seats are upright.

The interior has a high-quality feel and is very logically laid-out. Simple tasks like pairing your smartphone with the Bluetooth or switching from FM to digital radio are made easy by the clear 5.8-inch touchscreen, which is fitted as standard.

Under the skin is the VW Group’s new MQB platform, but it’s worth noting that this model and the 1.2 TSI have a basic torsion beam rear axle; all Mk6 Golfs featured a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up.

But you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference in normal driving, as the S has the same supple, controlled ride as more advanced models. The problem is that it doesn’t quite provide the precision and control you need at higher speed. Still, all cars get the XDS system, which helps stop the wheels from spinning as you accelerate out of a corner.

While this isn’t the cheapest Golf in the line-up – that honour goes to the 1.2-litre petrol three-door – it does feature what’s set to be the best-selling engine: VW’s new 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI diesel.

It develops a useful 250Nm of torque, although the powerband is quite narrow. Follow the ‘eco’ gear recommendations the car gives, and you’ll occasionally be caught out when driving up hills, and have to shift down to get the turbo back up to speed. But you can’t argue with the 74.3mpg economy or 99g/km emissions.

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I test-drove this 1.6L diesel. Its coarse and pretty much lacks power. Unless you absolutely need diesel the 1.2L TSI 105bhp is a decent start in the new Golf line-up. But apparently you can't specify this engine with SE trim - for now.

Rather spend my money on the new Octavia - bigger, better looking, and alloys as standard, whilst quality is a match for Golf, and much better than anything Ford Vauxhall or the Koreans can muster.

Interesting to see "Soul Man" Otis Clay did the photos. Golfs must finally be cool

You may not be able to argue with the economy or emmisions, but you can the price, £20k for an entry level model, sorry, but a few quid more puts you in a more desirable, and better equipped A Class 1.8CDI Bluemotion SE

Sorry Shaun, in no way is a Merc A class more desirable than a Golf. The Golf is a very desirable car, and I struggle to see why anyone would choose an A class when comparing the two.

VW quality is barely average, so being equivalent to a Golf is nothing to shout about. There is quite a bit of data to suggest that Ford is actually superior to VW in some key areas (look at the recent WD survey on engine reliability, for example). Is anyone really still taken in by the VW quality/reliability myth?

Forget the golf its too overpriced you might as well get a 1 series, better dynamics and way more of a premium brand than golf.

The old A Class - maybe - but the new one is a huge leap forward and at least MB haven't produced yet another car which looks almost exactly like the previous version, which looked like the version before............................. VW will sell the MkVII in huge numbers to the Chinese middle classes who've never seen one before but I predict that it will 'tank' elsewhere - too expensive and far too conservative. £20k for a basic Golf?

Yes the public in their 1000's

To be fair on VW why change something that works and sells so well

You make a fair point but I'd have thought that if the MkVII isn't seen as a step forward then MkVI and MkV owners will have little reason to change. That said, VAG made £9.4bn in 2011 selling (to me) uninspiring cars and will probably not shed too many tears if I don't buy one!

The 1-Series is one of the ugliest cars on the road, and just screams ' I wanted a BMW so I spent £20k for the badge and got £10k's worth of ugly car'! And rwd too, how old fashioned is that!

If you live at altitude, the 1.6 diesel is to be avoided at all costs.
At a mile above sea level here in Johannesburg, the previous model 1.6 diesel, mated to the dual-clutch gearbox, was atrocious in traffic.
So bad, in fact, that I would label it as unsafe in a city/traffic and best avoided.

Does seem rather expensive. Still only a 5 speed 'box? Why? There are 1.4 & 1.6 diesel & petrol cars with 6 speed 'boxes. I'll stick with Toyota.

Wouldn't exactly call the Gold a 'looker' - rather dull and bland... The fact that everyone has their own different tastes makes the world a more interesting place. And have to agree with earlier comments that the VW quality/reliability is a myth and is no better than other middle-of-the-road car manufacturers.

sorry.. are you saying for £19.5k you don't even get electric windows in the back?! And only a 5 speed gearbox?
All the more reason spend the SAME MONEY on a Volvo V40 1.6 D2 ES for this you get a smarter interior, more stylish exterior, 6 speed gearbox, autobrake, city safely and the worlds first pedestrian airbag.
Oh and it's emissions are 94g/km and does 78.5mpg. WHY WOULD YOU BUY THE GOLF?

You had me until the rwd comment. Having owned one 4wd and numerous fwd cars, I can say I never want to go back now I'm rwd.
To feel the car squat down and propel out of a corner, rather than scrabble about corrupting the steering is a delight. It's just...better.

The comments arising from the equivalent review in the Autocar website make for interesting reading. Correspondent A had two cars with the VW 1.6 diesel, one a Golf and the other an A.1. Whereas the Golf made a relaxed cruiser, the A.1 was coarse, rattly and vibratory. He wondered if it was a matter of the differing installations being the reason for this.
Correspondent B cited two examples of an identical VW Group vehicle which led him to surmise that the problem lay with unacceptable variations in manufacturing standards.
Correspondent A then agreed with correspondent B stating, additionally, that the A.1 would not be replaced by another such and they had been impressed by a DS3 sampled. He was, by the way, a VW employee. A really honest man!

Key specs

  • Price: £19,565
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
  • Power: 104bhp
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 119mph
  • Economy: 74.3mpg
  • CO2: 99g/km
  • Equipment: 5.8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, DAB, air-conditioning
  • On sale: Now