Volkswagen Golf hatchback

£17,595 - £27,735

The Volkswagen Golf is a bit of an institution on UK roads. In the 40-odd years it's been around, it has become one of the most popular and trusted hatchbacks you can buy. Today, you can choose from a three or five-door hatchback, an estate and even a mini-MPV model in the form of the Volkswagen Golf Plus.

Now in its seventh generation, the Golf is still the standard-bearer for what buyers expect from a family hatchback: rivals such as the Ford Focus, Peugeot 308 and Vauxhall Astra vie to keep up with it.

Volkswagen seems to build a Golf for almost every buyer: those after frugality have the efficiency-focused BlueMotion, the hybrid Golf GTE or even the electric e-Golf. VW also caters well for those after a sportier driving experience: the diesel-powered VW Golf GTD, together with the petrol VW Golf GTI and seriously swift range-topper the Volkswagen Golf R are fast and fun cars. We’ve reviewed these separately to give them the attention they deserve.

As befits a car that's been around for over four decades, the Volkswagen Golf has gained a reputation for reliability and build quality. That reputation comes at a cost, however: buyers can expect to pay a premium for the Golf compared to its rivals, some of which can be better value and more enjoyable to drive.

The seventh-generation Golf is still more expensive than many of the cars it competes with but for this version, Volkswagen has done its utmost to ensure the Golf is rewarding to drive, as well as being the well built and designed car we’ve come to expect. The Golf has always held its value well on the used market, and that should hold true for this latest version, too.

The most efficient Golf is the 1.6-litre TDI BlueMotion, which claims 83.1mpg fuel economy and emits 89g/km of CO2. Buyers who want efficiency in a petrol-powered Golf should choose the 1.0-litre BlueMotion, which is over £1,500 cheaper than the diesel, although it's less economical, returning 65.7mpg and emitting 99g/km of CO2. Both of these cars feature stop-start technology and are exempt from annual road tax.

We’d actually recommend the larger 2.0-litre engine if you’re after a diesel Golf: the extra power is very handy and its 68mpg economy is still very good. The 1.0-litre BlueMotion won’t be the car for everyone – if you do a lot of motorway mileage, you might yearn for more power – but we’d choose it over the diesel BlueMotion. Its engine is very refined when compared to rivals like the Ford Focus EcoBoost and Peugeot 308 PureTech. The stop-start system of the petrol BlueMotion seems particularly well-suited to the 1.0-litre engine, cutting in and out almost seamlessly.

As is usual, the diesel Golfs are more expensive than their petrol counterparts and if you’re a low-mileage driver, a petrol model is probably the way to go anyway. The punchy 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI is an appealing choice, particularly because it features cylinder-deactivation technology that shuts down part of the engine when full power isn’t needed, helping the car achieve a very reasonable official figure of 58.9mpg.

Though the conventional engine range is impressively efficient on the whole, none of them can touch the hybrid setup of the Golf GTE or the all-electric e-Golf for running costs. But that does, of course, have to be offset against the higher purchase of these two models.

The Volkswagen Golf comes with a five or six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed DSG automatic, depending on which model you buy. The automatic is smooth, fast-shifting and economical, so it's worth considering if most of your driving includes traffic and low speeds.

There are five trim levels to choose from when buying a Golf (not including the GTD, GTI, GTE, R or e-Golf). They start with the basic S, followed by mid-range Match (which has the 1.0-litre BlueMotion petrol as one of its engine options), efficient BlueMotion (limited to the 1.6-litre TDI engine), sportier GT Edition and top-of-the range R-line Edition.

We’d recommend Match as your first port of call, as it offers a reasonable mix of price versus equipment, coming with alloy wheels on top of the multimedia system and DAB radio that are standard on all models. The Golf received the full five-star crash-safety rating from Euro NCAP and has a good reputation for build quality.