Volkswagen Golf S 1.2 TSI

The entry-level VW Golf hatch is stylish and practical, but will a lack of equipment hold it back?

In the final reckoning, the Golf’s quality shines through. Despite a sparse equipment list, the quiet, comfortable and practical VW feels like a more upmarket machine than its rival. Better still, even in entry-level petrol guise it’s very nearly as good to drive as the agile Focus. Strong residuals and excellent economy seal the Golf’s victory.

The latest Golf’s reign at the top has been short. After the 2.0-litre TDI version put the BMW 1 Series to the sword late last year, the Mk7 hatch was toppled in 1.6 TDI guise by its SEAT Leon cousin in a bruising road test encounter.

Now it’s the turn of the entry-level petrol-engined model to restore the VW’s honour. On paper, it has what it takes to succeed, as it features the brand’s smooth and eager 104bhp 1.2-litre TSI engine, plus an attractive £18,160 price tag – although our car was fitted with a seven-speed DSG gearbox, which pushes the price up to a hefty £19,575.

The Golf looks good, too. It’s not as bold as the Focus, but its styling is more grown-up than its rival’s – even this basic model gets body-colour door mirrors and handles. It’s worth noting that our car was fitted with £420 optional 15-inch alloys in place of the standard steel rims and plastic trims.

The upmarket feel continues inside the VW, where you’ll find the same top-notch materials and excellent build quality as more expensive models. You also get a slickly designed and logically laid out dash, plus one of the best driving positions in the business.

There’s room for five adults, too, while the deep, well shaped boot boasts a class-leading 380-litre capacity, which is a useful 64 litres more than the Ford. The interior is packed with plenty of family-friendly storage, such as the flock-lined door bins, multiple cup-holders and a number of handy cubbies.

What the VW lacks, though, is standard kit. Our S trim car gets Bluetooth, a DAB radio and air-conditioning, but you’ll have to pay extra for a leather-rimmed multifunction steering wheel, voice-controlled stereo and electric rear windows – all are fitted to the Focus.

The Golf is also at a disadvantage at the track where, despite boasting a larger 1.2-litre capacity and an extra cylinder, its TSI engine delivers 104bhp.

This is 19bhp down on the Ford and meant the car was three-tenths slower from 0-60mph, setting a time of 10.6 seconds – the gap would have been bigger had it not been for the VW’s slick-shifting DSG box and healthy 175Nm of torque. However, the Focus didn’t seem any more potent on the road, even with its 200Nm overboost function.

Both cars felt surprisingly eager to respond, and only on the motorway does the VW’s power shortfall show – in the standard six-speed manual model you’re often forced to change down a gear on long inclines.

Yet what the Golf lacks in outright pace, it more than makes up for with refinement. Not only is the four-cylinder engine smooth, there’s virtually no wind or road noise. The supple ride effortlessly soaks up bumps, and while it’s not quite as much fun as the Ford, the VW is still agile and engaging on a twisty road.

The steering is well weighted and precise, there’s decent grip from the skinny tyres, and body movement is well controlled. Choose the standard six-speed manual and you’ll get a positive and precise shift action, while the optional twin-clutch DSG gearbox delivers silky smooth gearchanges in both automatic and manual modes.

The brakes are the only real letdown – although strong, they respond a little too sharply, making it tricky to stop smoothly. Overall, the Golf is a strong performer, but does it make as much sense when you do the sums?

At £18,160, it undercuts the Focus by £135. Yet to match the Ford’s generous spec, you’ll have to add at least £1,520 worth of kit, hiking the price up to a hefty £19,680. For that money, you could have the generously equipped Golf SE with the punchy 120bhp 1.4-litre TSI engine.

It’s not all bad news, though. Impressive residuals of nearly 50 per cent make the VW a very attractive proposition for private buyers, as does the brand’s excellent pre-paid service pack, which costs only £359 for three years of maintenance.

Better still, the Golf returned an excellent 48.3mpg in our hands, plus CO2 emissions of 114g/km make it an appealing and cost-effective company car choice. The question is, though, has it done enough to earn a return to the winner’s circle?

Have you considered?

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