Volkswagen Golf hatchback
Price: £16,775 - £25,370
- Decent practicality
- High-quality interior
- Economical engines
- A little bit boring to look at
- Not as big as a Skoda Octavia
- Not as fun to drive as a Ford Focus
“The Volkswagen Golf is quite possibly all the car you’ll ever need. It's stylish, efficient and practical.“
The seventh generation Volkswagen Golf continues to raise the family hatchback bar, with rivals such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane all measured against it for quality and handling. The Mk7 Golf is nearly 100kg lighter than the old Mk6, but its dimensions are actually wider and longer, which means more room in the boot and extra passenger space inside.
Thanks to the fact the current VW Golf is slightly lower than its predecessor, it looks and feels that little bit sportier, too. Inside, the Golf has VW's usual mix of high-quality materials and loads of up-to-date equipment – there's even an option for a huge eight-inch touchscreen to sit at the centre of the completely redesigned dashboard. You can choose between eight engine specs across four versions – S, SE, BlueMotion and GT.
All models are quiet and smooth on the road, with either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. New Mk7 Golf estate, GTI and GTD models are now available on the UK market, while the old model Golf Plus MPV and Golf Cabriolet are still on sale, too. There have been some critics of the new car's design, saying it's too tame and similar to the old model, especially with the likes of the SEAT Leon pushing the boundaries a bit. But a conservative look is a small price to pay for what could easily be described as the only car you’ll ever need.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The cleanest Golf BlueMotion model returns an impressive 88.3mpg
VW has exceeded itself here, with all models coming fitted with super-efficient technology to improve fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions. The result is by far the most fuel-efficient Golf yet.
The cleanest BlueMotion model uses a 1.6-litre TDI engine that returns 88.3mpg and emits 85g/km of CO2 – which is even less than the 88g/km of CO2 emitted by the Ford Focus ECOnetic. The standard 1.6-litre TDI is impressive too, with tax-dodging CO2 emissions of 99g/km. The 84bhp 1.2-litre TSI and 138bhp 1.4 TSI return 57.5mpg and 58.9mpg respectively (the latter has a clever system that shuts down two of the four cylinders when they're not needed), while even the 217bhp performance-focused GTI manages to return 47.1mpg and emit 140g/km. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel gives the best balance of performance and economy overall, returning 68.9pmg while remaining fast, smooth and responsive.
Interior & comfort
Comfortable, quiet and effortless – the current VW Golf is more grown up than ever before
The Golf can handle pretty much anything the slowly disintegrating UK roads can throw at it. Its standard suspension does a great job of smoothing out uneven surfaces and bumps. Plus, you can add the optional adaptive dampers that allow you to adjust the firmness of that suspension to give different modes – Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual. Even in Sport mode, the Golf is still comfortable and enjoyable on the road, and the sportier Golf GTI, with its lower, stiffer suspension, still feels more at home on public roads than a race track.
The BlueMotion version is particularly good at long motorway trips, with excellent comfort levels. But what's really notable is how incredibly quiet the Golf is. Even at motorway speeds, the interior is so brilliantly insulated that wind and tyre noise are barely evident, so you end your journey feeling calm and well refreshed.
Even if the Focus is a better drive, no other car in the class comes close to the Golf in terms of interior quality and upmarket feel.
Practicality & boot space
The Golf has grown and now features a bigger boot more passenger space
The Golf is clearly a family car first, and there's more room inside it than ever before. The increased dimensions means that legroom in the back has gone up by 15mm – which is much more in reality than it sounds – creating enough room for three adults in the back. It's worth noting that the middle seat is a little cramped because of a large transmission tunnel at the passenger's feet, though. If you really need to sit three grown-ups in the rear on a regular basis, you’re better off looking to the bigger Skoda Octavia, which is essentially a Golf with even more space inside.
However, although the VW's front seats slide 20mm further back than in the Mk6 and the 380-litre boot has an adjustable floor, the Octavia trumps it again with an impressive 590 litres. If you fold the Golf's rear seats flat, you end up with 1,295 litres, which is more than enough space for lugging around large items without too much hassle. Plus, it's the little things that VW adds that make all the difference, like the neat little seatbelt holders in the back that stop them snagging when you fold the seats down. You also get a ski hatch in the rear bench for posting longer objects through, and the loading lip is low so negotiating bulkier items into the boot is easy.
While you can the Golf in three or five-door versions, the three-door is less practical for obvious accessibility reasons.
Reliability & safety
Well built and beautifully engineered – the VW Golf is a dependable car
The previous generation VW Golf finished an impressive 16th in the top 100 cars in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, reinforcing Volkswagen's fierce reputation for reliability even though it has dropped eight places down the table. The current Golf should feature next year, but expect VW to have raised its game even more. VW itself, came a decidedly average 16th in the manufacturers’ rankings – which was two better than 2012.
However, VW's combination of German engineering and quality materials mean the Golf is built to last and will withstand all the trials and tribulations of family life. It uses the VW Group's MQB platform, so it uses the same components as the Skoda Octavia, Audi A3 and SEAT Leon, meaning they’re tried and tested across a range of vehicles.
The Golf has achieved the top five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, too, coming with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and seven airbags fitted as standard. You can also add even more safety accessories, including lane keep assist and auto braking.
Engines, drive & performance
Plenty of grip and a range of quiet engines make the Golf great to drive in any situation
Losing 100kg has made the new Golf more agile to drive than the previous model. There's very little body roll through the corners thanks to plenty of grip, and all the engines on offer are quiet and smooth at motorway speeds – even the diesel models. In fact, the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI nearly achieves hot-hatchback levels of speedy performance.
Thanks to a variable ratio that makes the steering light and easy at low speeds but quicker and more responsive at higher speeds, the Golf is good to drive in all situations. Admittedly, it's still not as blatantly fun to drive as a Ford Focus or BMW 1 Series, but it's no slouch either.
Both manual and DSG automatic gearboxes are slick, precise and work superbly but the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine is best avoided if you spend a lot of time on the motorway, as it can struggle at higher speeds.
Price, value for money & options
There's more hi-tech standard equipment on the VW Golf than ever before
You can hardly call the Golf cheap, but the quality of the car is so high, its starting price is still extremely competitive. Using the MQB platform has allowed VW to cut the production costs, which it has passed on to the customers in technology and specification levels.
All models comes with at least a 5.8-inch touchscreen and DAB radio. However if you are considering a Golf have a look instead at the SEAT Leon - for the same money as a entry-level Golf you could have a Leon with much more equipment and even alloy wheels. If you have to get a Golf, we’d recommend the mid-range SE, as it has all the bells and whistles you’ll ever need, but with a more reasonable list price. All SE versions and above get adaptive cruise control as standard (which maintains a set distance to the car in front), while hi-tech extras like park assist and auto braking are available as well-priced options.
What's more, history says that when you come to sell it on in the UK used car market, the Golf's resale value should be high. We’d also suggest paying the few hundred extra pounds to get the three-year maintenance service pack, which covers everything during the span of the car's manufacturer warranty. The efficient BlueMotion version is quite well equipped as standard, but it is a bit expensive, with the Ford Focus ECOnetic looking better value as a frugal hatchback.
What the others say
In isolation, the new Golf is predictably fantastic. In many ways, it's the iPhone of the car world – it's well designed and built and does everything you could ask of it. Its biggest test will come when it faces its sister cars – the good-looking SEAT Leon and plush Audi A3 – and our class current class leader, the BMW 1 Series. But from where we’re sitting, the Golf looks like a good bet.
Despite the improved technology and efficiency, the new Golf will cost you about the same as an equivalent version of the current car. This means it will sit between the Ford Focus and Audi A3 on price, then, although it's likely to work out cheaper than the Focus in the long run, due to better resale values. The A3 will provide a sterner test, especially when Audi introduces the five-door Sportback version in spring 2013. Still, whichever turns out to have the edge, it's clear that Volkswagen has succeeded in producing a better Golf, and that makes it one of the very best small family cars around.
Last updated: 7 Feb 2014