Volkswagen Golf hatchback (2013-2019) - Engines, drive & performance

The Volkswagen Golf has turbocharged petrol engines ideal for low-mileage drivers, while its diesels are the best in the business

Carbuyer Rating

3.8 out of 5

Engines, drive & performance Rating

3.5 out of 5

Every Volkswagen Golf is an enjoyable car to drive. It’s comfortable and quiet, with accurate steering, plentiful grip and minimal body lean when you fancy a spirited drive home, but it's never so sharp as to be unforgiving. On a twisty road, the regular Golf doesn’t entertain the driver as much as a Ford Focus or Mazda3 can and its premium rear-wheel-drive rival, the BMW 1 Series remains more involving to drive. But it still excels as a car for relaxed, smooth, fast progress.

A point worth remembering is that the less powerful models enjoy around the same grip and responses as their larger-engined brethren. This means you really can exploit all the power available without the fear of breaching the car's limits. In a way, then, it can be easier to have fun in a 1.0-litre Golf than a 1.5-litre or beyond. The optional 'Dynamic Chassis Control' adaptive suspension dampers are worth a mention, too – they're expensive but their softest setting offers a very plush ride, even on 18-inch alloy wheels.

Because it offers such impressive comfort combined with enough fun to quicken the pulse, we see the Golf as more of an all-rounder than the sportier SEAT Leon, a car that shares the Golf’s mechanical platform – as does the Skoda Octavia, although the latter trades a bit of agility for a more cosseting feel. The entry-level S has the smoothest ride in the range, aided by its small 15-inch wheels with deep, absorbent tyre sidewalls.

The six-speed manual gearbox is delightfully slick to use, with gearchanges needing very little effort. The latest seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox is occasionally jerky at low speed, but once moving is generally quick to react when you call for a lower gear for urgent acceleration.

Volkswagen Golf petrol engines

Big news for the Golf was the launch of an all-new 1.5-litre engine, promising a fine blend of power and economy. We’ve found it impressive, with a keenness to rev that helps it to feel livelier than its fuel economy would suggest. It uses a cylinder-deactivation system, unobtrusively shutting down two of its four cylinders when full power isn’t needed.

The 128bhp BlueMotion version allows the engine to switch off entirely and coast during deceleration. This eco-focused engine still returns decent performance, with a 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds for both manual and automatic versions and a top speed of 130mph; perhaps more impressive than its power, though, is how quiet this new engine is. 

The smallest 1.0-litre engine, meanwhile, impresses by how effectively it deploys its relatively low 84bhp power output. On paper, 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds sounds slow, but it still pulls away from the lights sharply and feels nippy enough to keep pace with traffic. However, load up the car with passengers and luggage or ask for a quick bursts of overtaking performance and this engine struggles. Still, it’s smooth and quiet when worked hard, plus there’s an appealing three-cylinder rhythm from the exhaust.

If you like the feel and sound of this engine, you'll be pleased to find a more powerful 113bhp version is also available, which adds a sixth gear to the smooth-shifting manual gearbox. This makes the 1.0-litre a far more willing partner on motorways and drops the 0-62mph time to just under 10 seconds. In our testing we've found it slightly punchier than the 1.0-litre fitted in either the Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra.

As ever, the Golf GTI and Golf R models remain excellent performance cars, and you can read our separate reviews for each.

Diesel engines

All the diesels are good performers, with the 148bhp 2.0-litre able to sprint from 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds. However, buyers who spend a lot of their time cruising at a steady motorway speed will find the 113bhp 1.6-litre TDI provides more than enough power – 0-62mph takes 10.2 seconds and it's unsurprisingly more fuel-efficient than the 2.0-litre. If minimising your bills is a priority, choose a manual gearbox, as the six and seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatics increase fuel consumption slightly. But don’t dismiss them without trying them – these autos are really slick and smooth to use.The Golf GTD offers more performance, and we’ve reviewed it separately.

Hybrid & electric engines

Volkswagen also offers the all-electric e-Golf variant, and previously the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE, with both having impressively low running costs – both of which we've reviewed separately.

Next Steps

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 eHybrid Style 5dr DSG
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £32,950

Fastest

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

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