Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI SE

20 Feb, 2013 10:30am

Our reigning class leader, the Mk7 Golf, has set the bar extremely high


The Mk7 Golf wins by the narrowest of margins here. If you don’t need the Skoda’s extra luggage space, then the VW is hard to fault. It’s not at its best in 1.6 TDI guise, but it’s still more refined and more rewarding to own than any other car in the class.

The VW Golf used to be the default family car choice. Plenty of rivals had more style or charisma, but none could match its all-round ability. Yet in recent years, the competition has closed in by attempting to deliver the same blend of dependability and desirability. So, has the Golf lost its advantage?

Well, it still has the edge on exterior styling – the new MkVII has been honed with fine details like the angular tail-lights and sharp creases in its flanks. It’s more compact than the Octavia, so it looks lower and more purposeful, plus there’s no denying the premium appeal of the Volkswagen badge.

Inside, the car is almost identical to the Skoda Octavia, but the centre console is angled towards the driver and the switchgear on the steering is a bit more complex. After the messy cabin of the Honda Civic, the Golf’s sensible and clear layout is a masterclass in logic. Better still, the perfect driving position and fine all-round visibility make it much easier to weave through narrow and congested streets.

Hi-tech gadgets like adpative cruise control feature as standard, but there are some notable absences from our SE-spec car, including front foglights, climate control and parking sensors – all of which the Octavia includes.

There’s not quite as much space in the rear as the Skoda has, but the VW has much more headroom than the Civic. It also provides lots of useful stowage space, including a pair of large, flock-lined pockets in the front doors. But while its 380-litre boot capacity is large enough in isolation, in this encounter it’s the smallest.

The 1.6-litre TDI model comes with simple torsion beam rear suspension, just like its rivals (higher-powered versions use a sophisticated multi-link set-up). As a result, there’s not much between our three cars on the road. However, the beautifully cushioned ride and well weighted steering give the Golf a slender dynamic advantage, even if the tall ratios of the five-speed manual gearbox strangle some of the engine’s mid-range muscle.

The VW is also 192kg lighter than the Honda, at 1,295kg, and that helps it feel more nimble through corners.

But would this extra dynamic appeal make you choose the expensive Golf over the bigger and cheaper Skoda? While the VW doesn’t cost a lot to run and has rock-solid residual values, so does the Octavia. Also, the brand’s dealers haven’t scored as well as Skoda’s in our annual Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys, which could be enough to convince some buyers.

So does this mean the Golf is about to lose its hard-won family hatchback crown?

Key specs

  • Price: £20,500
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 104bhp
  • 0-60mph: 11.5 seconds
  • Test economy: 47.1mpg/10.5mpl
  • CO2: 99g/km
  • Annual road tax: £0