VW Golf 1.6 TDI SE

The VW Golf is the reigning champ, and it still offers top quality – but at a price

The brilliant Golf tastes defeat for the first time here. It’s not at its best in 1.6-litre TDI guise and, in this company, it’s hobbled by its eye-watering price tag. Still, if you can justify the expense, the VW still sets the standard for performance, interior refinement and driver comfort.

Could the new VW Golf be the most complete family car money can buy? When the seventh-generation model burst on to the scene earlier this year, it instantly set new class standards for quality, refinement and desirability. Better still, it’s cheap to run and great to drive. However, it’s unlikely to win any awards for style.

Sharp creases down the flanks and a lower, wider stance help it stand out from its plain-looking predecessor, but the Golf can’t match the racy Leon and stylish Cee’d for head-turning appeal. Even the SE model’s standard 16-inch alloys and extra chrome trim fail to help it stand out in this crowd. At least there’s better news inside, where the VW still sets the benchmark for quality and comfort.

Soft-touch plastics are used throughout, the fit and finish are second to none and the soft-grain leather used for the steering wheel and gearlever looks and feels great. Better still, the logically arranged wraparound dashboard is a doddle to use, while it’s easy to find the perfect driving position as there’s a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment.

The Golf also leads the way for standard kit. Our SE trim test car came with a whole host of desirable additions, including Bluetooth, a DAB radio, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and even adaptive cruise control.

Given the VW’s shared underpinnings with the SEAT, it’s no surprise to find there’s little to choose between them for space. Both comfortably accommodate five adults, plus they each boast a deep 380-litre boot. Only when you fold the rear bench flat does the Golf have a small advantage, as its more upright tailgate helps free up 1,270 litres of capacity, which is 60 litres more than in the Leon. However, both cars trail the Kia.

As you’d expect, there was just as little to separate the VW and SEAT at the track, as they both use the same 105bhp 1.6-litre TDI and slick five-speed gearbox. Yet while the duo posted identical 0-60mph times, the Golf narrowly leads the way for refinement.

Not only is the engine slightly more muted at idle, it’s also a little less intrusive when extended. There’s very little wind and road noise, while the supple ride shrugs off everything from big bumps to potholes. Yet despite this emphasis on comfort, the Golf is surprisingly nimble through corners.

It doesn’t feel quite as immediately responsive as the firmer SEAT, but it inspires plenty of confidence thanks to its strong grip and excellent body control, while all the major controls are perfectly weighted.

The VW also scores well for running costs, thanks to its 99g/km CO2 emissions, great-value servicing pack and a strong 48.1mpg return at the pumps. But there’s a catch.

At £20,500, the VW is £2,010 more than the Leon. Even if you take into account the extra standard kit, it’s still an expensive choice. And perhaps the biggest surprise is the fact that the Golf has weaker residuals than the SEAT. Could the VW be about to face its first defeat?

Have you considered?

Ford Fiesta review
Ford Fiesta facelift - front cornering
Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta review

The Fiesta is good fun and remains a solid buy, despite increasingly strong competition
20 Jun 2022
Cupra Leon 245 VZ1 review
Cupra Leon 245 VZ1
Cupra Leon

Cupra Leon 245 VZ1 review

Few Cupra Leon buyers opt for this entry-level version of the car. Is it a hidden gem, or the derivative to avoid? 
1 Jun 2022
New Peugeot 308 Hybrid 180 2022 review
Peugeot 308 Hybrid - front
Peugeot 308

New Peugeot 308 Hybrid 180 2022 review

Is the more modest 178bhp Peugeot 308 PHEV the pick of the new hatchback's range? We find out...
26 May 2022

Most Popular

New Range Rover Sport ride review
New Range Rover Sport - front tracking
Road tests

New Range Rover Sport ride review

We get taken for a blast around Goodwood motor circuit in the new Range Rover Sport
27 Jun 2022
New MG 4 electric hatch arrives with 280 miles of range
New MG 4 2023
News

New MG 4 electric hatch arrives with 280 miles of range

The all-electric MG 4 hatchback rivals the Volkswagen ID.3 and introduces MG’s new MSP electric platform
28 Jun 2022
New Honda Civic 2022 review
Honda Civic - front
Road tests

New Honda Civic 2022 review

The all-new hybrid Honda Civic has finally arrived, but what’s like from behind the wheel? We find out…
28 Jun 2022