Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI SE

Can German contender hold on to its compact hatch crown?

If there’s one car that can match the Astra for family hatchback heritage, then it’s the Volkswagen Golf. First revealed in 1974, the German model is now in its sixth generation.

But despite being 35 years old, the Golf is still at the top of its game, having recently scooped class honours in our prestigious New Car Awards. However, the Golf didn’t win this coveted prize on the basis of its looks. It’s handsome and well proportioned, but the VW lacks any real visual flair.

Parked alongside the rakish Vauxhall, the German car looks a little upright and staid. At least SE trim includes neat 16-inch alloy wheels as standard.

Matters improve significantly for the Golf once you climb aboard, because it has the most cosseting cabin in the sector. It’s beautifully built and packed with high quality materials. The dashboard is logically laid out, while the wide range of seat adjustment means you’ll have no trouble finding a comfortable driving position.

There’s plenty of kit too, with automatic lights and wipers, air-con, cruise control and an iPod connection all standard in SE trim.

The interior has a decent amount of space, with those in the rear treated to plenty of head and legroom. You’ll also find lots of storage space in the cabin, but the cramped 350-litre boot is a letdown. It’s the smallest of our trio, and its versatility is hampered by rear seats that don’t fold completely flat.

Turn the key in the ignition, and you unlock one of the Golf’s dynamic highlights – the 1.4-litre turbo engine. The 120bhp unit is smooth, punchy and delivers strong pace.

Our car was fitted with the optional seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox, but it still manages to match the manual model’s 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds – which is only half-a-second slower than the more powerful Astra.

On the road there is little to separate the VW and Vauxhall, as both deliver 200Nm of torque. However, the Golf’s unit responds more sharply to throttle inputs and doesn’t feel as strained at high revs.

Wind, road and engine noise are all well suppressed, making the Golf a refined long-distance cruiser. Better still, its supple suspension makes light work of motorway bumps and inner city potholes.

The Golf doesn’t lose its composure in the corners, either, thanks to direct steering, high grip and powerful brakes. It can’t match the Focus for driver involvement, but the VW is capable on twisting back roads.

The Golf’s trump card is its price. At £17,085, it’s the cheapest of our contenders, undercutting the Astra Exclusiv and Focus Zetec by £205 and £610 respectively. They will have to come up with something very special to topple our champ.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: The Golf is our favourite family hatch and its 1.4-litre TSI engine is brilliant. In SE trim it undercuts its rivals, too.

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