Volkswagen Golf hatchback review
"The eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf improves incrementally on the old one in most areas and has a smart new interior"
- Digital dashboard
- Polished drive
- New engine tech
- Conservative styling
- Rivals with bigger boots
- Vague steering in Comfort mode
This is the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf, the latest version of the family hatchback that has racked up more than 35 million sales worldwide since it was first launched.
It comes as no surprise that VW’s designers have again refrained from breaking the mould when it comes to styling, instead choosing to subtly update the existing design. Most noticeably, the front of the Golf is now lower and sleeker than the old car. This is helped by slim LED headlights and a minimalist lower grille and the removal of separate fog lights in favour of a full-width opening. It also features VW’s latest badges, including ‘Golf’ script on the tailgate, flanked by a modern, intricate rear-light design.
A pie chart for the design budget would reveal that the most money has been spent inside, where the Golf embraces the digital age wholesale. Like the trend-setting Mercedes A-Class, the Golf's instruments and infotainment are now taken care of by two screens sitting side-by-side. Buttons have largely been consigned to history, but you can say "Hello Volkswagen" instead to use voice commands for a variety of actions. Overall, the interior is more attractive and interesting than before, even if there have been a few unexpected cuts in quality - the plastic trim spanning the dash looks a bit cheap, for example. Some may also find the lack of buttons and touch-sensitive slider for volume and interior temperature a backwards step in a car renowned for its logical controls.
Volkswagen has now adopted the Golf trim levels used across continental Europe in the UK, with ‘Life’ and ‘Style’ joining the sporty ‘R-Line’ that we had already. LED headlights are standard across the range, along with front and rear parking sensors and automatic air conditioning. It commands a price premium, however, costing around £3,000 more than an entry-level SEAT Leon.
Entry-level Life spec cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, with standard safety tech including adaptive cruise control, a dynamic road sign display and lane keep assist. Upgrading to the Style trim level adds 17-inch alloy wheels and LED ‘Plus’ headlights.
Heading up the standard Golf line-up is the R-Line trim, which has a sportier feel thanks to restyled front and rear bumpers, front sports seats and 17-inch alloy wheels finished in a ‘Valencia Grey’ metallic grey paint scheme. Other additions include rear privacy glass and LED tail lights.
VW has announced that the Mk8 Golf GTI, GTD and GTE plug-in hybrid will arrive later this year. All three cars will have more muscular styling, LED lights and an optional full-width LED light bar in the front grille. All will also have a five-piece foglight design housed in the lower front honeycomb grille, as well as different alloy wheel designs. Trim colours will help separate the three, with the GTI getting the traditional red contrast striping, the GTD silver and the GTE blue to indicate its PHEV powertrain.
New bodywork makes the Golf slightly longer, but its interior dimensions are almost identical, so there's plenty of room to accommodate four adults and 380 litres of boot space. This is about average for a hatchback, but models like the Honda Civic and Skoda Octavia offer more luggage space if you need it.
Volkswagen has targeted efficiency gains with its engine line-up, and there's plenty of powertrains on offer. A 1.0-litre petrol is most affordable, followed by a larger 1.5-litre TSI with 148bhp, and a number of petrols get eTSI mild-hybrid technology as standard when a seven-speed DSG automatic is chosen. This tech uses a 48-volt starter generator and battery to offer engine-off coasting and a small performance boost, improving overall efficiency.
High-mileage drivers are catered for by a single 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 113 or 148bhp. It’s a newly developed engine that features improved emissions-reducing technology to help cut NOx emissions by almost 20%. Alternatively, there's the Golf GTE, now with an impressive 242bhp. As well as being quick, it has an electric range of up to 37 miles, making it highly appealing for business buyers looking to save on company-car tax. That's especially the case now the all-electric Volkswagen e-Golf has been superseded by the all-electric ID.3.
On the move, the Volkswagen Golf feels slightly more agile than before but maintains the tried-and-tested recipe of being both comfortable and rewarding to drive. You can feel the extra boost of the eTSI system at low revs, but the 2.0-litre TDI with 148bhp is arguably even smoother and refinement impresses across the board, rivalling the Mazda3 or BMW 1 Series.
As you'd expect, the Golf has evolved and improved in a number of areas, with improved engines, interior space and technology, but some buyers may find a few of the new features frustrating. For instance, relegating virtually every dashboard button to menus within the central screen has made the Golf less easy to use than it once was. We also suspect the gap between the Golf, Leon and Octavia will prove closer than ever.
Which Is Best?
- Name1.0 TSI Life 5dr
- Gearbox typeManual
- Name1.4 TSI eHybrid Style 5dr DSG
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto
- Name2.0 TSI 320 R 4Motion 5dr DSG
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto