Volkswagen Golf review: the family favourite that caters for almost every need
The Mk8 Golf offers cleaner engines, an updated interior and the latest on-board tech, but it can’t quite reach the top of the class
The new eighth-generation Golf scores well in plenty of areas, but it’s perhaps not as convincing as previous iterations. This family car motoring icon has long-reigned supreme, combining classy looks and practicality while also being good to drive. The Golf is still comfortable and a pleasant place to be, but chassis revisions have compromised the ride quality, particularly over poorer surfaces, and there’s intrusive road noise at speed.
When you buy a Golf you expect quality throughout, but the latest model doesn’t feel head-and-shoulders above the rest and the renewed focus on technology is far from perfect. Time hasn’t necessarily caught up with the Mk8 Golf, but the competition certainly has.
About the Volkswagen Golf
As one of Volkswagen’s most revered nameplates, the Golf has a rich history dating back to 1974. During almost 50 years of success, it’s typically beaten all-comers thanks to a fine blend of handling, practicality, great build quality and a classy image.
Over time, Volkswagen has adopted the ‘if it ain't broke, don’t fix it’ approach for the Golf. Evolutionary styling updates, an increasingly high quality feel to the cabin and a succession of capable engines have secured millions of customers, and the German manufacturer has broadly followed this strategy with the eighth-generation model.
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Used car tests
The new Golf is based on the Mk7’s MQB Evo platform, which is used across a variety of other VW Group cars including the SEAT Leon and Skoda Scala - direct rivals in the family hatchback class. Other mainstream competitors include the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Vauxhall Astra, and Peugeot 308, while for those looking towards the premium end of the hatchback market, there’s the Audi A3, Mercedes A-Class and BMW 1 Series. In addition, buyers shouldn’t discount the much improved Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30.
Volkswagen has kept the Golf model range simple and easy to understand with three equipment levels covering the core of the range: Life, Style and R-Line. Entry-level Life trim offers generous amounts of kit and new on-board tech, including a digital instrument display, a 10-inch colour touchscreen and wireless smartphone charging as standard. Active specification no longer features on the Golf price list, although if you track down a used example you'll benefit from rear privacy glass, climate control and a heating function for the front seats and steering wheel.
The Style model should prove to be popular, adding items such as larger 17-inch alloy wheels and sports seats with upgraded upholstery, while the dynamic R-Line spec brings lowered suspension and an exterior styling pack giving a more muscular stance.
Petrol engine choices include a 109bhp 1.0-litre and a 1.5-litre unit with either 128bhp or 148bhp - all offered with a six-speed manual transmission. There's also a 148bhp 1.5-litre eTSI mild-hybrid version coupled with a seven-speed DSG auto ‘box.
The more powerful GTI delivers 242bhp from its 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine, while the GTI Clubsport and R models offer 296bhp and 316bhp, respectively. Volkswagen introduced the Golf R 20 Years edition in late 2022 with a power hike up to 328bhp.
For those prioritising fuel economy, the Mk8 Golf comes with a 2.0-litre diesel engine in three power outputs - the standard 113bhp variant is available with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the meatier 148bhp version and 197bhp GTD use the seven-speed DSG auto. Buyers can also opt for the 242bhp 1.4-litre GTE petrol plug-in hybrid or the 201bhp e-hybrid version - both of which offer exceptional fuel economy and low CO2 emissions.
Many of the Golf’s immediate competitors are now offered with the option of pure-electric power (like the Vauxhall Astra Electric and Peugeot E-308), but if you want a Volkswagen-badged Golf-sized EV then you’ll have to look at the ID.3.
Volkswagen continues to charge premium prices for what it considers to be the class-leading family hatchback currently on sale. Entry-level 1.0-litre cars start from more than £26,000, and the range tops-out at almost £50,000 for the Golf R 20 Years.
Used and nearly new
The iconic Golf hatchback has offered a near-perfect blend of style, driving fun and practicality for over 45 years. You'll struggle to find a classier used buy, with the Mk5 Golf providing a much needed return to form as a great driver's car in GTI trim, and later Mk7 models offering improved onboard tech and a range of efficient engines. There is plenty of choice when it comes to power options, with an array of petrol, diesel and hybrid units available, although be sure to check the usual service history details, particularly on older-gen cars, as time is catching up and you may find bills more expensive.
Volkswagen Golf history
Volkswagen Golf Mk7: 2013-2019
The Mk7 Volkswagen Golf brought together all of the German manufacturer's technical knowhow in what is, arguably, the best overall package in the iconic hatch's history. Already undeniably classy and good to drive, the model received a big facelift in 2017 which brought styling tweaks and useful new onboard technology. Read our full Mk7 Volkswagen Golf buyer’s guide here…
Volkswagen Golf Mk6: 2009-2013
The Mk6 Golf is based on the same platform as its predecessor, although Volkswagen upped the interior quality over the Mk5 car. The cabin included plenty of soft-touch materials and comfortable seats, while it had a quiet, executive air out on the road. Prices remain strong, even after a number of years post-production, so you'll need to spend some time finding the best bang for your buck. Read our full Mk6 Volkswagen Golf buyer’s guide here…
Volkswagen Golf Mk5: 2003-2009
Keen drivers often speak about the Mk5 Golf GTI as being one of the best hot hatches Volkswagen produced. More mainstream models were also highly praised for their solid build quality, while strong engines and the extra practicality of the high-roofed Golf Plus and roomier estate models meant the Golf's appeal reached out to a variety of buyers. Read our full Mk5 Volkswagen Golf buyer’s guide here…
Older VW Golf models
Buyers on the hunt for fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf models, and cars from even earlier in production, will probably be best served by scouring specialists or even the classified ads.
VW launched the Mk1 Golf in 1974, followed by the slightly bigger Golf Mk2 nine years later. The Mk3 arrived in 1991, growing in size again, and was named European Car of the Year in 1992, while the Mk4 Golf went on to be the best selling car in Europe. Older Golf models are still popular with enthusiasts, which means there are still decent, well-cared for examples to be found, but remember to still take extra care when looking to buy.
For an alternative review of the Volkswagen Golf, visit our sister site carbuyer.co.uk...
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe Mk8 Golf offers cleaner engines, an updated interior and the latest on-board tech, but it can’t quite reach the top of the class
- 2Engines, performance and driveVolkswagen offers the Golf with new hybrid tech, along with its usual blend of strong, refined petrol and diesel engines
- 3MPG, CO2 and running costsMild and plug-in hybrid petrol engines help boost efficiency, offering low emissions and improved range
- 4Interior, design and technologyThere’s a subtle exterior design, but the cabin is crammed full of new tech and useful features
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceIt’s a case of ‘as you were’ for the Mk8 Golf, with first-rate levels of comfort and just enough practicality
- 6Reliability and safetyThe new Golf is as safe as ever, but Volkswagen will want improved customer satisfaction