Established hatchback favourite is edged out here
Thanks to a heritage stretching back more than three decades, the Golf has become a brand in its own right. As a result, Volkswagen’s family hatch verges on being a premium rival to cars like the 1 Series.
With its solid and classless looks, the Golf seems a little sensible in the company of the BMW and Ford. But that doesn’t make it less attractive, particularly in range-topping GT trim, where chrome detailing gives extra upmarket appeal.
This theme continues when you step inside, where the simple and solid dashboard is smartly laid out. As you’d expect in a Golf, fit and finish are faultless, and items like the deep-set dials, multifunction steering wheel and tactile switchgear all add to the special feel of the interior.
GT spec builds on this by adding Alcantara seat bolsters and chrome trim, but what really makes you feel at home is how the basics are done right.
There’s plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment, so the driving position is good. And while our pictures show a three-door model, interior space and practicality are other strong points for the five-door tested.
There’s plenty of rear legroom, but although the transmission tunnel isn’t as big as the BMW’s, it’s more intrusive than the Ford’s.
On the plus side, the 350-litre boot has a wide opening, and while it doesn’t match the BMW’s 360-litre load space, it’s bigger than the Focus’ shallow boot.
But it isn’t just the cabin that helped the Golf win the Best Family Hatch crown at our New Car Awards. It’s the way it drives that makes it an accomplished all-rounder.
With composed and vice-free handling, it’s an incredibly easy and relaxing car to drive. All the controls are well weighted and communicative, but the Golf lacks the 116i’s fast steering, so direction changes aren’t as quick – even the Focus feels sportier. Yet while the VW is the least engaging car in this test, the differences with its rivals are small.
In fact, ride quality is a bigger concern. Other models in the range are fine, but the GT’s 15mm lower ride height and 17-inch wheels mean the suspension is stiff over rough surfaces. Specifying ACC (Adaptive Chassis Control) dampers helps, but they’re an £800 optional extra. And there’s more tyre roar at speed than in the BMW.
The 1.4-litre twin-charged engine performs well, though. With the most power and torque on test, at 158bhp and 240Nm, the Golf is fastest from 0-60mph and outguns the BMW in-gear.
However, there’s a strange hesitation in the power delivery at around 3,500rpm, and the TSI engine doesn’t feel as linear or as smooth as the bigger-capacity BMW. And with no stop-start system as standard, the VW isn’t as clean as its rivals, either.
Chart position: 2WHY: In top GT spec, the 1.4-litre TSI Golf is more expensive than the BMW, but has more power.
In this review
- 1IntroductionWhich are the best compact hatches on sale? We rate the top 20 contenders... plus put our top three through their paces on the road
- 21st BMW 1 SeriesMore spacious and refined newcomer takes hatch honours
- 32nd Volkswagen Golf - currently readingEstablished hatchback favourite is edged out here
- 43rd Ford FocusBig seller remains one of the finest cars on sale
- 54th Best hatchbacks: 20-4Our rundown of the best hatchbacks on the market, from 20 to 4
- 6Facts and figures