Volkswagen Golf TDI 140 GT DSG 5dr

Firm’s latest hatchback has a massive reputation to live up to.

Volkswagen knows a thing or two about family cars. The Golf is now in its sixth generation, and the famous hatchback will celebrate its 35th birthday in 2009. Heritage alone counts for nothing, though, so is the latest model good enough to topple the class-leading Honda Civic and all-new Renault Mégane?

In reality, this Golf is a heavily reworked version of the MkV. Its well proportioned shape and neat details are typically conservative. Parked alongside the Honda it appears utterly conventional, but there’s nothing to upset VW traditionalists and the new look is more muscular. GT trim gets multi-spoke alloys and sports suspension that lowers the car by 15mm. These give the slightly wider and shorter body a more purposeful look, too.

The understated exterior gives way to one of the most desirable cabins we’ve found in a mainstream family car. From the high- quality materials to its attractive design, it’s first class. Our top GT-spec car includes comfortable sports seats with Alcantara trim, and the driving position is excellent. There is nothing particularly exciting or clever inside, but the sheer quality of the Golf lifts it above the competition – and it’s the only car in this test that could be mistaken for a compact executive on the inside.

While rear space is competitive, with good head and legroom, the load area is far from class-leading. At 350 litres it is the smallest of our quartet, and the back seats don’t fold perfectly flat. If you regularly carry large loads, the Honda remains the model of choice in this test.

Turn the key, and the 2.0 TDI diesel’s quiet idle provides a hint of what’s to come. The VW is more refined than its rivals, especially when motorway cruising. Drive the Civic after a stint in the Golf, and the Honda assaults the senses, with much more engine, wind and road noise than its rival. VW’s common-rail four-cylinder diesel can take some of the credit, because the 138bhp unit is smooth and refined. It delivers punchy performance, too, and our test car, which was fitted with the DSG twin-clutch manual box, sprinted from 0-60mph in 9.5 seconds – one-tenth faster than both the Ford and Renault.

The Golf is also capable on challenging B-roads, where its huge grip and composed chassis require much less effort and input from the driver to make swift progress. It isn’t as engaging as either the Civic or Focus, and doesn’t have their body control, but its softer edge gives unflustered progress.

Strong brakes, precise steering and fuel economy of 35.5mpg complete a great all-round package. Don’t be put off by the price of our test car, either. The optional DSG gearbox costs £1,301. Take that out of the equation, and the Golf’s slight premium is easily justified.

Details

Price: £20,537Model tested: Volkswagen Golf TDI 140 GT DSG 5drChart position: 1WHY: Latest Golf is desirable, refined and beautifully built. We see if it is a class leader, too.

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