All new family hatchbacks have to be measured against the class yardstick – and for the past four years this has been provided by Volkswagen’s evergreen Golf.
This car has countless road test victories under its belt, so the i30 has its work cut out. But the Golf’s styling polarises opinion. Some buyers will find its conservative looks too dull, while others will prefer its simple design and prestige badge. Either way, next to the chic i30 and sporty Ford Focus, the familiar VW is unlikely to turn heads.
It’s the same story inside, where the simple layout takes logic to the extreme. At first glance it’s easy to assume that the Golf hasn’t got much kit because it looks so bare, but in reality Match trim has everything you’ll need – and this impression is actually a result of its simplicity. What sets the VW apart is the quality of its cabin and the precision with which it has all been screwed together.
The driving position is close to perfect, the switchgear is first-rate and everything you see or touch has a reassuringly solid feel. There’s also plenty of space, with exactly the same rear legroom as in the new i30. However, the Hyundai’s boot provides an extra 28 litres of luggage space – and this isn’t the only area where it puts one over on the Volkswagen.
The car in our pictures is a more powerful 2.0 TDI with a six-speed gearbox, but our 1.6 TDI test model makes do with an old-fashioned five-speeder. This is fitted with longer ratios, designed to boost efficiency, although it blunts the car’s mid-range clout.
From a standing start the Golf was the quickest of our quartet, but the in-gear times tell a different story – the Mazda is much more responsive. Still, there’s little between the VW and Hyundai once you’re moving in traffic, and it doesn’t take long for the Golf’s considerable talents to shine through.
For a start, its suspension is unruffled by bumpy roads, so it keeps its composure superbly. It’s not as jittery as the Mazda and is softer than the Hyundai. This lack of drama inspires real confidence, while the long gearing makes the Golf quiet and refined at motorway speeds. On twisty roads it’s not as fun to drive as the Mazda or Ford, but the VW is hugely capable all the same.
It comes with stop-start and regenerative brakes, and delivers less power than the i30, so you’d expect the Golf to be efficient. But it emits more CO2 than the Hyundai, at 107g/km. Still, this figure translates to an annual road tax bill of £20, and the VW returned 49.1mpg over the course of our test – nearly matching the i30.
Our £20,305 Golf Match is a hefty £2,310 more expensive to buy than the i30, and has only a three-year warranty. Yet stronger resale values make it a wiser long-term investment. The question is, do we still think our current family car champ is worth the extra outlay?
Chart position: 1WHY: Our class leader, pure and simple. The Volkswagen is the most expensive car in our line-up, so can it justify the premium?