Volkswagen Golf review
The new Volkswagen Golf is an outstanding car, blending quality and efficiency better than many rivals
At the heart of the car’s appeal are its beautifully built cabin, grown-up driving experience, and decent practicality. And as you’d expect, there’s a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, including the incredibly frugal BlueMotion, plus the option of sporty three-door or versatile five-door bodystyles.
Of course, the Golf isn’t the cheapest family hatchback money can buy, but the combination of strong residual values, lots of standard kit and a solid image means it still represents decent value for money.
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf has paved the way in the family hatchback class - rivalling the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane. The latest Golf uses Volkswagen's new MQB platform, which is also shared between the Audi A3, Skoda Octavia and SEAT Leon - it should also form the basis of the next Polo and Passat. The latest Volkswagen Golf Mk7 is nearly 100kg lighter than the old Mk6, while its dimensions are wider and longer, providing more room in the boot and extra passenger space inside. There's also a slightly lower ride height - it looks and feels a bit sportier.
This new Volkswagen Golf is a versatile family hatchback and there's a plethora of efficient engines to choose from, which can be had across a range of models including S, SE, BlueMotion, and GT. There's the choice of either a six-speed manual or an automative gearbox, and the new Volkswagen Golf is now available in estate and high-performance GTI and GTD versions. A Volkswagen Golf R was recently revealed at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show - this is set to be Volkswagen's fastest-ever hatch. Of course, the Volkswagen Golf Plus MPV and Golf Cabriolet are still available, too.
Our choice: Golf 2.0 TDI SE
Despite being completely new from the ground up, the seventh-generation Golf looks a lot like its predecessor. Yet while the evolutionary styling isn’t as daring as rivals like the the Mazda 3's, the understated VW still manages to ooze upmarket class, while the bold crease cut into the flanks helps give the car a lower, sportier stance.
Volkswagen Golf trim levels include S, SE and GT versions, with all models coming with a 5.8-inch colour touchscreen, Bluetooth and air-con. Entry-level S models have to make do with steel wheels and plastic trims, but the SE model benefits from standard 16-inch alloy wheels. It also gets subtle chrome trim for the front grille and lower air intake.
However, it’s inside that the VW really makes its mark. The wraparound dash looks a little spartan, yet it’s intuitively laid out and built with first-rate materials. Soft-touch plastics are used throughout, while eye-catching metal-effect trim covers the centre console. Better still, the switchgear operates with precision, the low-slung driving position is one of the best in the business and the flat-looking seats are surprisingly supportive.
While it’s not quite as well kitted out as standard compared to rivals from Mazda and Skoda, the Golf gets all the essentials and some luxury touches, including Bluetooth, a DAB radio and an iPod connection. There’s even radar-guided cruise control.
GTD and GTI versions get similar styling tweaks - bespoke bumpers, 18-inch alloy wheels, a very stylish black tartan cloth covering the sports seats and a golf ball gear knob on both manual and DSG automatic versions. The new Volkswagen Golf R comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, too, but you can also opt for 18-inch rims. The Golf R gets a unique bodykit, redesigned lights and quad exhausts. Buyers have the choice of eight exterior colours with the Golf R, too.
The Golf has always scored highly for comfort and refinement – and the latest car is no exception. Wind and road noise are virtually eliminated, even on the motorway, while the ride silently soaks up the sort of bumps the Mazda fidgets over. You can make the VW’s progress even smoother by specifying the very effective adaptive dampers.
Happily, the effortless ride doesn’t come at the expense of engaging driving dynamics. All 2.0-litre diesel Golfs get a sophisticated multi-link rear axle in place of the lower-spec model’s simpler torsion beam set-up, and this helps serve up excellent agility and strong grip.
Drivers also benefit from well weighted steering, a precise gearshift and strong brakes, plus the XDS electronic differential helps deliver sharp turn-in to corners and extra traction when exiting. And even though it’s not quite as sparkling to drive as the quick-witted Mazda 3 or agile ford Focus, the Golf is always composed and inspires confidence.
All engines are smooth and refined at motorway speeds. There's a 1.6 TDI diesel engine which manages 74.3mpg and returns a tax-free 98g/km of CO2.
The economical Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion version drives a bit differently to other models - with slower pace and compromised handling. Both manual and DSG automatic gearboxes are slick and precise, but there is the option of steering-wheel mounted paddles on the auto version.
The new Volkswagen Golf R will get the same 2.0-litre petrol used in the GTI, but it gets a new cylinder head, pistons and turbo which have combined to boost its power to 296bhp - 30bhp more than the old Golf R and 69bhp more than a GTI with a performance package add-on.
The previous-generation Golf netted a top-20 finish in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey while Volkswagen itself finished a fierce 16th in our 2013 manufacturer rankings. It’s too soon to say whether the latest model will prove equally faultless, but it feels robustly built and most of the mechanicals are proven in other VW Group cars.
One area the Golf excels in is safety. All cars get seven airbags, ESP and post-collision braking, while our SE adds a city safety kit, and extras such as lane keep assist and an auto braking system are also available. As a result, the VW achieved a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Given its upright lines, it’s no surprise that the Golf has a roomy, versatile interior. 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, there’s lots of handy storage space, including a deep cubby under the front armrest between driver and front passenger, a large air-conditioned glovebox and numerous cup-holders. You 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 false boot floor is a handy hidden storage area. Useful additions include a 12V power supply and a pair of bag hooks, plus there’s a ski-flap for longer items. If you need more space, you can liberate a generous 1,270 litres of capacity by folding the 60:40 rear bench.
If you want to keep your motoring bills to a minimum, the economical Golf BlueMotion should be just the ticket. It uses a 1.6-litre TDI engine that returns 88.3mpg and emits 85g/km of CO2 - that's better than the 89g/km of CO2 emitted by the Ford Focus ECOnetic.
There's a 1.6-litre TDI which emits a tax-free 99g/km of CO2, too. Meanwhile, the entry-level 1.2 TSI petrol manages 57.6mpg and emits 113g/km of CO2.
On top of this, even performance models should be reasonably cheap to run - the Volkswagen Golf GTD claims fuel economy of 67.3mpg CO2 emissions of 109g/km, which is 20g/km less than the old Golf and almost an almost identical figure to the first-generation Golf BlueMotion. Even the high-performance Golf GTI manages 47.1mpg and emits 140g/km of CO2. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel offers a tempting balance of performance and economy - it promises 68.9mpg and returns 109g/km of CO2.
Our experts predict the Golf will still be worth an impressive 48.2 per cent of its new value after three years. As a further financial sweetener, VW offers a £299 pre-paid service pack, which takes care of routine mechanical maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.