The range kicks off with an 84bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder (TSI) petrol engine. But with its official 0-62mph time of 11.9sec – with hardly any improvement in fuel economy over the more powerful 109bhp version of the same engine – it doesn't seem the best choice.
The 109bhp 1.0 is actually one of our favourites. Thanks to a turbocharger, acceleration is more urgent than you might imagine for such a small engine. True, it's better suited to town driving and rural roads, but it'll hold its own on fast A-roads and motorways – you just need to work it a bit harder than some of the more powerful alternatives.
For more effortless performance, step up to the four-cylinder petrols, starting with the 128bhp 1.5-litre unit. This delivers a bit more mid-range oomph and revs more freely than the 1.0-litre engines. It comes with a choice of either a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed DSG auto 'box.
Opt for GT or R-line trim and you can have a 148bhp version of the same 1.5-litre petrol motor. When filled to the brim with friends and family, you’ll be grateful for the extra shove in overtaking situations. It also feels perfectly suited to the optional seven-speed dual-shift DSG unit. However, it is significantly more expensive than the 128bhp 1.5 and is fractionally less economical.
The 113bhp 1.6 TDI diesel is a good option if you're a company car driver, but if you can stretch to the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, it’s worth the extra cost for its much stronger performance. A more powerful and decidedly brisk 182bhp version is also available. This makes overtaking a breeze, although it’s only in the sporty (and rather pricey) GTD model.
Two GTI editions – one with 227bhp and a Performance Pack model with 242bhp – and the range-topping R model cater for hot hatch fans. They have 2.0-litre turbo engines, although the R has more power (306bhp) and four-wheel drive, so can out-accelerate many proper performance cars.
The all-electric e-Golf and plug-in hybrid Golf GTE are both surprisingly quick off the mark, so are perfect for nipping around town.
The Golf rides more comfortably than other family cars; it’s noticeably smoother than a Vauxhall Astra, Skoda Octavia or Seat Leon along rough roads. Its suspension is supple enough to take the worst out of big bumps and potholes, while the ride remains brilliantly composed over the sort of scarred and patched-up surfaces you find in most towns and cities.
However, lower-powered versions (the 1.0 TSI and 1.6 TDI engines) are fitted with a less sophisticated rear suspension than other models in the range. They still ride very well compared with the competition, but aren’t as supremely comfortable as the more expensive versions of the Golf.
The heavier GTE and e-Golf are comfortable, but a bit firmer than the petrol and diesel versions because of 'sportier' suspension. Even the performance models with firmer suspension, such as the GTI and R, aren't too harsh – especially if you add the optional adaptive dampers.
Few cars in any class handle as securely and predictably as the Golf. Despite its supple suspension, body sway is kept neatly in check through tight twists and turns, so you always feel confident that the car is going to respond exactly how you want it to. There’s loads of grip, too, meaning you can hustle the Golf along a twisty B-road surprisingly swiftly.
True, it isn’t quite as fun or as sharp as an Audi A3 or Ford Focus, but the Golf’s steering is nicely weighted, accurate and tells you everything you need to know about what the front wheels are doing.
The stiffer GTI and R models are even sharper to drive. With four-wheel drive, the R has the added advantage of being able to put its power down more easily – even on slippery roads – than the front-wheel-drive GTI models.
The Golf has traditionally been one of the quietest cars in its class, and that remains the case with this latest model. True, there's a bit more wind noise than in the A3 at motorway speeds, but road noise is better supressed, making the Golf a more peaceful cruising companion. It’s also quieter than a Leon or Octavia.
Most of the engines are muted, too. True, the 1.0 units thrum away merrily but they're not coarse, and none of the engines transmit too many vibrations up through the soles of your feet. Only the 1.6-litre diesel is a little disappointing, sounding rattly when cold and a bit boomy when revved.
The standard manual gearboxes are light and precise, and there's plenty of feel through the clutch pedal, making it easy to pull away smoothly. The optional automatic DSG gearboxes are a bit jerky when you're parking and in slow-moving traffic, but shift smoothly when you're on the move.
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No matter what your shape or size, you should be able to find a comfortable driving position behind the wheel of a Golf. The driver’s seat slides back far enough to accommodate long legs, plus you get seat height and steering wheel adjustment (in and out, and up and down) on all trims. All models also get a front centre armrest, while only the entry-level S trim misses out on adjustable lumbar support. The fact that the pedals are neatly in line with the steering wheel also helps give a natural driving position.
Taller drivers may find the steering wheel blocks their view of the instrument dials, and the 'comfort' seats that feature on many trims don't provide a huge amount of shoulder support. However, the figure-hugging sports seats in sportier versions are both supportive and comfortable on longer jaunts.
Once you’re are sitting comfortably, you’ll notice that all the buttons and knobs on the dashboard are well positioned, including the simple air-con dials that make it easy to tweak the temperature on the move.
Few cars in any class offer better all-round visibility than the Golf. The windows are large and deep, and the pillars relatively slim. Even the small front quarter light windows don’t obstruct your vision too much when pulling out of junctions.
Front and rear parking sensors are standard on SE trim and above, and optional on the cheapest S trim. You can add a reversing camera to make parking even easier, while the optional Park Assist system can practically do the job for you, steering the car into a space automatically while you simply control the car’s speed.
Every version, including the entry-level S trim, gets at least an 8.0in high-definition, glass-fronted colour touchscreen. Either side of it are touch-sensitive shortcut buttons so you can flit between the main function menus, but two dials: one for volume control and the other for scrolling through lists or zooming in and out of maps (with sat-nav fitted).
The menus are easy to figure out, so you won't need to resort to the handbook to connect your phone or set the radio station presets. The one annoying feature is the screen automatically brings up extra icons when it senses an approaching finger – this is rather distracting. The good news is that you can disable this and leave those icons permanently displayed .
True, rivals such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series have more intuitive rotary dial-controlled infotainment systems, which are less distracting to use on the move, but at least the Golf’s touchscreen is responsive, with well-sized icons. You can also accept an incoming phone call simply by pressing a clearly marked button on the steering wheel or dial a number using the voice control (optional on some trims).
Every version gets at least a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a USB socket, while the standard eight-speaker stereo produces crisp sounds and resists distortion well. SE trim adds Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink, which displays selected smartphone apps and lets you control them using the touchscreen. However, you'll need to upgrade to SE Navigation trim or above to get a built-in sat-nav.
An optional system, called Discover Navigation Pro, brings a larger 9.2in screen and includes gesture control, which allows you to scroll through menus and change radio stations or playlists using mid-air hand movements. This gimmick doesn't work very well, though, and the larger-screened system is expensive, so we wouldn't bother.
The Golf’s interior is a cut above those of many family car rivals. True, it doesn’t feel as special inside as an A3 – the plastics in the lower reaches of the cabin are harder and the switches don’t operate with quite the same precision – but the materials in your eyeline look and feel expensive enough, with lots of tactile, soft-touch plastics that seem bolted together extremely solidly. It’s a much classier effort than a Ford Focus or Seat Leon.
Thankfully, things don’t deteriorate much in the back, where you’ll find similarly plush materials. Overall, interior quality isn't the Golf's strongest suit, but you certainly won't feel short-changed.
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Are you tall and fed up with cars that force you to contort your body to get your legs in, or ruin your bouffant as you smear hair gel across the rooflining? Well, try the Golf; it’s got an abundance of head and leg room in the front, with a generously wide cabin that means you won’t want for shoulder room, either.
The front door pockets are big enough for a 500ml bottle of water and there are two cupholders in the centre console. You’ll also find a storage bin under the front centre armrest, along with a decent-sized glovebox that’s kept cool by the air-con. Step up from entry-level S to SE trim and you get a discreet drawer under the front passenger seat and a glasses holder by the rear-view mirror.
The Golf’s roomy interior dimensions mean two six-footers will easily fit in the back, although life isn’t so comfortable for a central passenger because of the raised floor in the middle of the car – it’s a pain to clamber over and robs the middle occupant of foot space. But for two people, there’s a decent amount of leg and head room, although nowhere near as much as you’ll find in the cheaper Skoda Octavia.
Large, square rear door openings (on five-door models) make it easy to get in and out of the back without banging your head, and even in the three-door versions access isn’t too bad.
The rear door pockets are narrow, so a 500ml bottle is a bit of a squeeze. However, go for SE trim or above and you'll get a couple of cupholders in the rear centre armrest, along with storage pockets on the rear of the front seats.
The Golf’s rear seats don’t do anything particularly clever. They can’t be slid back and forth, for example, like they can in many SUVs, and they don’t recline either.
As with most hatchbacks, though, you can fold the seatbacks, in a 60/40 split, down by pulling a lever next to the outer head restraints. Once dropped, the seatbacks lie virtually flat without you first needing to flip up the seatbases, like you have to in the rival Ford Focus.
You can pay extra on five-door SE and SE Navigation models to have a front passenger seat that folds completely flat, enabling you to carry seriously long items. Three-door versions get easy-entry front seats; they move up as they slide out of the way, making it easier to get in and out of the back of the car, before returning to their original position.
There’s plenty of room in the boot for the weekly food shop and you can just about squeeze in a set of golf clubs (minus any long woods) or a fold-up baby buggy; the fact that the boot is square-shaped helps make it easy to pack, too. That said, an Octavia has a much larger boot, making it a better choice if you regularly need to lug around big loads.
All Golf models, except the GTE, have a false boot floor that lets you create two separate compartments and raise the load level so there’s no step in the floor of the extended load bay once the rear seats are folded down. With the floor in its highest setting, there’s practically no lip to negotiate when lifting heavy items in and out of.
SE models upwards have a through-load facility. This allows you to carry long, thin items, such as skis, without folding down the rear seats.
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Volkswagen lowered the Golf’s price in 2017, making the car far more competitive against premium rivals such as the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. In fact, it’s priced roughly in line with the Ford Focus, although you’ll still get more change from a comparably equipped Vauxhall Astra or Skoda Octavia. Don’t forget to factor in resale values, though; the Golf’s look particularly strong after three years, so if you're buying privately it could actually cost you less in the long run than cheaper alternatives.
Insurance and servicing bills are no higher than the class average. What’s more, all versions offer good economy, with the 1.0 TSI 110 petrol promising up to a claimed 60.1mpg and the 1.6 TDI 115 72.4mpg.
The Golf’s impressive official fuel economy figures also translate into low CO2 emissions, so it’s relatively cheap to run as a company car. Those strong resale values help keep leasing and PCP finance rates affordable, too.
Entry-level S trim isn’t lavishly equipped but does come with trinkets including air conditioning, four electric windows (five-door models only), height-adjustable front seats, a front centre armrest, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and an 8.0in colour touchscreen. You have to put up with wheel trims instead of alloy wheels, though.
SE trim looks rather more appealing. This adds 16in alloy wheels, front-seat lumbar adjustment, a rear-seat armrest, a ski hatch and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. And it adds other gadgets, such as Apple CarPlay, automatic lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, power-folding door mirrors and adaptive cruise control.
However, we’d suggest climbing the next rung up the ladder and going for SE Navigation. It has everything that SE has but, as the name suggests, brings sat-nav and extra online features. And the additional cost should be mitigated by better resale values.
GT is the first of the sportier offerings, adding 17in alloy wheels, sports suspension, sports seats and a performance monitor, which includes a lap timer and G-meter. Other additions are privacy glass and interior ambient lighting. R-line gets even sportier looks inside and out.
The hotter GTD, GTI and R models all feature LED headlights, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and a 12.3in digital screen in place of analogue instruments; this displays lots of useful info including full-screen sat-nav maps. You also get sportier styling touches that hint at these models’ extra performance.
And then there are the plug-in hybrid models: GTE and GTE Advance. These also have the 12.3in digital instruments and dual-zone climate control, along with everything else the GT trim has, with GTE Advance adding heated seats and 18in alloy wheels.
Finally, the all-electric e-Golf is based on SE trim, and features LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, a heated windscreen and a 9.2in touchscreen with sat-nav.
You don’t need to add many options, but it's worth forking out for parking sensors on S trim and metallic paint on all models. If you go for SE or SE Navigation trim (our favourite), we'd recommend adding front foglights and climate control.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much reliability data on this latest generation of Golf. The previous-generation (Mk6) model scored only average marks for mechanical dependability, while Volkswagen as a brand didn’t do particularly well in our most recent reliability survey; it came 22nd out of 32 manufacturers.
Like most VWs, the Golf comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and one year’s roadside assistance. This is comparable with the cover provided by most rivals, but falls short of the five-year warranties that Hyundai and Toyota offer, let alone the seven-year cover provided by Kia. You can pay extra for an extended warranty that will cover your Golf for up to five years or 90,000 miles.
Seven airbags are fitted as standard to all versions, including full-length curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. Rear side airbags are available as an option on all five-door versions and are worth considering if you regularly carry people in the back.
SE models and above also get automatic emergency braking, which, at speeds below 19mph, can automatically apply the brakes if it detects an impending collision with a car or pedestrian. This feature helped the Golf score well in its Euro NCAP crash test in 2012; it was awarded the maximum five-star rating.
You need to go for at least SE trim to get an alarm as standard, although security experts Thatcham Research still awarded the Golf five out of five for guarding against being stolen and four out of five for resisting being broken into.
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