“The VW Golf is quite possibly all the car you’ll ever need. It won’t help you stand out, but is it stylish, efficient and practical. “
The VW Golf is the benchmark that all family hatchbacks, such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane, measure themselves against. This seventh-generation car is up to 100kg lighter than the one it replaces, despite being longer and wider and offering more boot space and interior room. It's slightly lower, too, which gives it a sportier stance to go with its sharper styling. The interior has been completely redesigned, with high-quality materials and lots of new technology – including the option of a vast eight-inch touchscreen and a system that parks the car for you. Two diesel and two petrol engines are available, all of which are smooth and quiet on the road, along with six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes. Many will think it's design is a little tame - inside and out - but that's a small price to pay for the only car you'll ever need.
By shedding up to 100kg, compared to its predecessor, the Golf now feels more agile to drive. There's lots of grips when you turn into a corner and very little body roll. All engines are quiet and smooth on the move, even the diesels, while the 2.0 TDI manages near hot-hatch acceleration. The steering has a variable ratio, which makes it light and easy to use at low speeds, but quickens reactions at higher speeds – and it works well. If automatics are your thing, the optional DSG automatic gearbox works superbly, although the slick six-speed manual is just as enjoyable to use.
On standard suspension, the Golf deals well with whatever road surface you might encounter. Order the optional adaptive dampers and you can adjust how firm the suspension is via five different modes – Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual – though even in Sport mode, the Golf is soft enough to enjoy on the road. The GTI, with its lower and stiffer suspension, is a sportier machine but still feels more at home on public roads than a race track. What you’ll really notice with this car, though, is how quiet it is –even at motorway speeds. The interior is brilliantly insulated from wind and tyre noise, so you feel calm and refreshed at the end of every journey. And the interior quality is better than anything else in its class - and the class above, too!
Volkswagen has a fierce reputation for reliability – in 2011 it didn’t recall a single car. A combination of German engineering and quality materials mean this is a car that's built to last and stand up to the rigours of family life. Based on a new platform, known as ‘MQB’ in the VW Group, the Golf uses the same components as a host of other VW Group models. That means they are tried and tested across a variety of brands, including Seat, Skoda and Audi. The VW has also been awarded a top crash-safety score of five stars from Euro NCAP.
The VW Golf is a family car first and there's more space to fit everyone in than ever before. You can just about fit three adults in the back, with rear legroom is increased by 15mm. However, the middle seat in the back is a little cramped thanks to a large transmission tube at the passenger's feet. The front seats can slide 20mm further back and the boot - which comes with an adjustable floor - is 30 litres bigger at 380 litres, although that can expand to 1,270 litres with the rear seats folded flat. There's even a neat little holder to stop the rear seatbelts getting snagged when you fold down the back seats - its the accumulation of these little touches that make the Golf that little bit more special than its rivals. A ski hatch in the rear bench allows you to post longer objects through it, while the loading lip is lower, making bulky objects easier to load. Three and five-door versions are available with identical dimensions, the difference being the three door is cheaper and weighs less, while rear passengers will have to climb over the rear seats to get into the back.
Value for money
With prices starting from a little over £16,000, it's hard to call the Golf cheap, but considering the quality of the product, it's an extremely competitive price. By using the same chassis for the Golf as lots of other models, VW has cut its costs and can pass on that saving in terms of technology. All cars come with at least a 5.8-inch touchscreen and DAB radio, while top-spec models have an 8-inch display.The SE is the best version to go for and has all the equipment you'll ever need. All SE versions and above get adaptive cruise control as standard (that maintains a set distance to the car in front), while hi-tech extras like park assist and auto braking are available.
With every model in the range fitted with stop-start and a host of other fuel-saving measures, this is by far the most fuel-efficient Golf ever. The cleanest BlueMotion model uses a 1.6 TDI engine and returns 88.3mpg and emits 85g/km of CO2 – even less than the 89g/km Ford Focus Econetic – while the standard 1.6 TDI also has tax-dodging CO2 emissions of 99g/km. The 84bhp 1.2 TSI and 138bhp 1.4 TSI return 57.5mpg and 58.9mpg respectively (the latter has a clever system which shuts down two of the four cylinders under gentler acceleration), while even the 217bhp hot GTI version does 47.1mpg and emits 140g/km. The 2.0-litre is the best balance of performance and economy, returning 68.9pmg while remainings smooth and responsive.