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In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Golf review - Interior, design and technology

It doesn't look or feel very exciting, but the Golf is well made and well equipped. The latest infotainment system can be fiddly, though

There's no denying that the latest Volkswagen Golf can't quite match the Mazda 3 or SEAT Leon for head-turning appeal. But what the Golf lacks in the wow factor department, it more than makes up for in cool Teutonic understatement.

The Golf manages to pull off the neat trick of looking both classless and classy. The facelifted version of the seventh-generation car doesn't appear overly different to previous versions, but key visual tweaks include a bold crease cut into the body flanks, which gives it a low, sporty stance.

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However, it's the interior of the Golf that really impresses. The wraparound dash looks a little plain, but look closer and you'll see Volkswagen has laid it out intuitively and put it together using first-rate materials. Soft-touch plastics feature throughout, and any extra trim on the centre console is of a high enough grade to look classy, not kitsch.

Better still, the switchgear in the Golf operates with precision and the car’s low-slung driving position is one of the best in the business. It's also a pleasant surprise to find that the flat-looking seats are surprisingly supportive.

The Golf's understated looks aren't particularly helped by the entry-level Golf S having steel wheels and plastic rims. However, move slightly higher up the range and things get better quickly. SE brings 16-inch alloy wheels, plus chrome-effect flourishes on the air vents and light switches, and ‘brushed dark silver’ inserts in the dashboard and door panels.

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You get more chrome effect in GT, as well as chunkier 17-inch alloys, and R-Line brings decorative inserts in the dash and door panels, along with a different design of 17in wheel and trapezoidal exhaust pipes.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

VW paid special attention to the Golf infotainment during the recent facelift – and its efforts have paid off. All versions get the eight-inch Composition set-up that features a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a USB connection, plus the brand’s Think Blue trip computer that gives tips on efficient driving. SE models and above add the desirable Car Net ‘App Connect’, which brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone apps, while Nav models get a three-year subscription to online services.

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The unit has sharp graphics, and the straightforward menu system rivals the Vauxhall Astra’s for ease of use. Like the old set-up, there’s a motion sensor that brings up hot keys when your hand approaches the screen, while the touch menu buttons respond well. 

On Nav models, you can upgrade to the £1,325 Discover Pro, which features a large 9.2-inch screen, gesture control and a 64GB memory. But really, the standard system delivers all the features you’ll need - its core hardware is impressive, with an ultra-crisp touchscreen, but the interface itself is flawed. That’s because Discover Pro does away without the physical shortcut keys down either side of the screen, and you can’t use a dial to zoom in and out either.

You end up pressing on-screen buttons to move between core functions - and if you’re in the navigation, you have to pinch to zoom as if you’re using a smartphone. The whole set-up is fiddly to use on the move - and VW’s much-hyped gesture control, which also comes as part of Discover Pro, is equally flawed, being unreliable to the point of worthless.

At least you won’t have any problem getting the sounds you want coming through the speakers. A DAB radio is standard on even the S models, along with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and a single CD player.

On a more positive note, VW’s Active Info Display was made available on the Golf as part of its spring 2017 facelift. This is a 12.3-inch screen that replaces the traditional instrument dials with a more configurable, adjustable interface. It’s crystal clear and has smooth animations as moves items around to prioritise either basic driving data or navigation info. It’s not a cheap option, but we can see why many will tick the box.

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    1.0 TSI 115 S 5dr DSG
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £21,500

Most Economical

  • Name
    1.4 TSI GTE 5dr DSG
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £31,490

Fastest

  • Name
    2.0 TSI 300 R 5dr 4MOTION DSG
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £35,125
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