Volkswagen Golf 1.6 Match
With its high-quality image, the Golf makes a strong case for itself
Want to build an upmarket hatch? This is the benchmark by which all others are judged. The Golf is a byword for quality and comfort, and so is one of the class’s most desirable cars.
We may credit the Focus with being more robust, but when it’s lined up alongside the fifth-generation Golf, the Ford appears cheap. The Volkswagen has thinner panel gaps, its black plastic inserts are better executed and the detailing (including the jewel-like light clusters and rounded door handles) is unbeatable. Best of all, when you tap a panel, the metal sounds thick and the doors shut with a satisfying thunk. This solidity doesn’t extend to the boot. While the VW badge which doubles as a handle is lovely, the tailgate often requires two slams. And at 350 litres, the space isn’t that generous, but it’s big enough to tackle most tasks, with only the Civic having a longer, wider floorspace. Fold the chairs and, again, the Honda alone has a bigger load area.
The Golf is only beaten by the Civic in terms of legroom, too. Our 745mm measurement behind a five-foot-10-inch-tall driver means four adults will fit in with ease. The light, bright environment also features a high roof and classy trim. And it’s this characteristic that sets the tone up front.
In terms of design, the VW is unspectacular. It’s well laid out, very user-friendly and tasteful, but ultimately rather unimaginative. What saves it is its sheer depth of quality – and not only in obvious areas. Everything in the cockpit has clearly been subjected to the same rigorous checks and controls. Whether it’s the beautifully damped cubby lids, the leather on the steering wheel, the blue-backlit dials or the near-silent electric mirror motors, all features have been carefully honed.
So from the second you climb aboard, the Golf makes you feel good – and in that respect, the Auris is really left trailing. Comfort is another VW strong suit; no rival has as much steering or seat adjustment, nor as much space around the driver.
The news isn’t as good under the bonnet. As is often the case with direct-injection engines, the 1.6 FSI isn’t the last word in smoothness. It’s quiet at idle, but once on the move is more intrusive than the Auris’s unit and becomes coarse and boomy towards the upper reaches of the rev range.
Not that the Golf likes being driven hard – throttle response is poor and it’s not particularly willing to rev. Yet it provided reasonable mid-range power and, despite the clunky shifts of the six-speed manual gearbox, delivered marginally better acceleration times than the lighter Focus. It doesn’t stop as well as it goes, however; the VW was the only model on test to take more than 50 metres to come to a halt from 70mph – no great surprise given that it’s the heaviest car.
The Golf doesn’t relish being hurried. It has a more laid back character than the zesty Civic, and is at its best when cruising at high speed. On motorways, very little wind noise penetrates the cabin. But on bumpy roads, the softer suspension means there’s more roll and wallow. In short, the VW isn’t as well controlled as its rivals here, and feels slightly lethargic. It turns in accurately enough, and the speed-sensitive steering is well weighted, but compared to the Ford it’s not a particularly engaging car to drive.
And the price may be another stumbling block. Our Match model has now replaced SE trim in the range, yet it still comes with only four airbags as standard, while options are on the steep side.
Price: £15,135Model tested: Volkswagen Golf 1.6 MatchChart position: 3WHY: Still the most luxurious and upmarket car in its class, the Golf scores on comfort and refinement
Not only was the Golf the most efficient car, its 36.6mpg was also closest to the maker’s claim (41.5mpg). A big 55-litre tank gives the longest range, at 443 miles.
No prizes for guessing the Golf is the best choice residually. This Match holds an excellent 51.7 per cent of its value – so after three years, it will still be worth £7,825.
It’s true that the Golf is the most expensive car to service. Yet the variable schedule means it could do 20,000 miles before needing a check, according to how it’s driven.
The Golf has the dirtiest engine, with emissions of 168g/km. It sits in the same 20 per cent bracket as the Toyota, but a higher list price means an annual outlay of £666.
In this review
- 1IntroductionWe pitch Toyota's all-new Auris against opponents from Honda, Ford and VW in its first UK test...
- 21st Honda Civic i-VTEC 1.8 ESGreat to look at and even better inside, the Civic is a strong package
- 32nd Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec ClimateBest-seller scores on driver appeal, but does it fall down in other areas?
- 43rd Volkswagen Golf 1.6 Match - currently readingWith its high-quality image, the Golf makes a strong case for itself
- 54th Toyota Auris 1.6 VVT-i T3The replacement for the Corolla isn’t brave enough, but predictable controls at least make the Auris a reassuring car to drive.
- 6Facts and figures