- Pleasingly engaging to drive
- Ride and handling well balanced
- Digital interior stands out from the crowd
- Performance isn’t scintillating
- No real improvement in space
- Digital cabin can be a bit clumsy at times
Few cars last for eight generations, but that’s what this new Golf represents - the latest in a long line of cars that have become known as the yardstick by which others are measured. It’s quite important then.
Volkswagen is playing safe in some respects, leaving the new Golf immediately identifiable as a Golf, but is being bold in other areas. Especially with its cabin that it claims offers a ‘digital revolution’.
Winter will have been and gone before the car arrives in the UK, but I got an early drive to find out just how much effort Volkswagen has put into the new Golf to keep it at the top of its class.
On The Road
There are five engine options at launch, three 1.5-litre petrol engines and two 2.0-litre diesel units. The latter was tested in 150hp form (there’s also a 115hp option) and it’s a pleasingly potent model. The 0-62mph dash is sorted in 8.8 seconds, and there’s enough low-down torque to make progress swift as well as relaxing and frugal.
Most will opt for the petrol though, where there’s a 130hp, 150hp and, er, another 150hp model. One uses a 48-volt mild hybrid system to improve economy while the other is a ‘normal’ engine. There’s no performance difference between them though, despite the hybrid eTSI model having a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox compared to the normal TSI’s six-speed manual. That 0-62mph dash takes 8.5 seconds in both, and both have enough performance in mid-range to keep progress swift if not quite scintillating.
There will be a GTI and GTE coming, offering more sprightly performance, but they’re some way off. A lower power 1.0-litre model will join the range later in the year, too.
Volkswagen has gone the way of Ford with the new Golf, offering different suspension systems depending on engine power. For those with 150hp or more, there’s a multi-link suspension setup at the back that promises improved agility and refinement. Those with less than 150hp ake do with a simple torsion beam but, honestly, there’s not much to tell between them.
The difference was masked a little by the eTSI being fitted with Volkswagen’s adjustable suspension, offering a range from ruinously harsh ride to opulently comfortable, all controlled by a neat slider across the digital screen. There are also presets for Comfort, Sport and Eco, as well as an individual setting. Softening the suspension provides far more comfort, as you’d expect, but at very little cost to handling.
That said, this mid-range Golf isn’t set up to be an engaging steer with on-the-limit handling prowess required - that’s reserved for the GTI et al - so finding a clever balance between everyday comfort and occasional fun is more important, and that’s something it’s nailed.
Diesel power usually comes accompanied by rattles and vibrations but, somehow, the derv-fuelled model is definitely the most refined of the trio driven. It’s so well-damped and soundproofed, that it’s barely audible at cruise and no louder than an equivalent petrol unit at rest.
At the other end, the mild-hybrid eTSI is a little rougher than you would expect, with a gruffer, more rattly noise to it, and some vibrations you wouldn’t expect. The regular 1.5-litre model sits nicely between the two.
Comfortable seats, plush soft-touch plastics, and super-slippery aerodynamics mask most of the remaining noise, although all models have a distinct whistle around the left mirror at speed. To be fair to VW, these were pre-production models, so perhaps there’s a body panel not quite perfectly lined up yet, which is something that can be fixed before the car goes on sale.
In The Car
Behind the Wheel
That the new Golf represents a ‘digital revolution’ might be a bold claim, but there’s no doubt that there’s more flat-screen real estate here than on anything this side of a Tesla. Gone are traditional dials and rows of switches, replaced by a 10.25-inch screen that shows everything you’d expect, including full-screen navigation. A centre-console mounted 10-inch screen allows access to virtually every function in the car, with touch-sensitive buttons underneath the screen that are surprisingly easy to catch with the palm of your hand. It’s sometimes tricky to work out exactly where a setting or switch has been positioned, but the overall system is smooth and reasonably intuitive.
If working through an infotainment system is a bit much, the new Golf includes a voice-activated assistant. Activated by calling out ‘Hello Volkswagen’, the system responds to natural language and uses its multiple microphones to work out who’s asking the questions. Say ‘I’m a bit cold’ for example, and the car will respond by turning up the heating on your side of the car. Like all voice systems, it’s not even close to being foolproof, but it’s definitely one of the finest of its kind.
Completing the digital theme is new connectivity that allows owners to locate and unlock the car from a smartphone, activate the climate control (handy on a very hot day or very cold morning), check vehicle health, and find out other bits of information about your car. Navigation updates, a wifi hotspot, media streaming and internet radio are also part of the package, but only for three years - then you’ll need to pay.
Space & Practicality
There wasn’t much to complain about with the outgoing Golf model, and the new model doesn’t stray too far from the practical formula that’s won so many fans. It’s slightly bigger now, but only marginally; it’s just 3cm longer, with a slightly longer wheelbase. It’s also slightly narrower and lower, but by unnoticeable amounts, which means the interior space is much the same as it was before.
Volkswagen claims that there’s more room in the cabin, but you’d need a tape measure to tell the difference. The boot provides the same 380-litre capacity as before, too. That’s competitive, if not quite class-leading.
By sticking with what it knows works, Volkswagen has ensured that any existing owner knows that the new Golf will work well for them in the future.
Until the UK prices are announced, it’s difficult to reach a conclusion, as that affects the monthly payments most buyers will be facing. However, residual values have always been strong, which should help mitigate any increase in list price.
The diesel model promises the most impressive fuel economy but, again, official figures aren’t available. However, our test car returned 49mpg over a rather testing route that included motorways, mountains and country roads. The 1.5-litre petrol models aren’t particularly thirsty either, which bodes well for higher mileage drivers.
Quality & Reliability
Volkswagen has a long-standing reputation for reliability. The Auto Express Driver Power survey placed Volkswagen in 17th position, firmly in the middle of the manufacturer’s table. The outgoing Golf finished in 41st, out of 75 models that were measured. The same results were found at the JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, where Volkswagen finished 12th out of 24 manufacturers.
Safety & Security
It’s far too early for the new Golf to have been crash-tested by Euro NCAP, but every Golf since 2004 has scored a full five-star safety rating, and there’s no reason to doubt that won’t happen again.
Electronic assistance is standard across the range, keeping the Golf in its lane and away from other traffic by using the lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control systems. This works at up to 130mph, which is more than enough for UK roads!
LED lights all around, with dazzle-eliminating matrix systems on higher models, provide good visibility, and the usual suite of safety kit is expected to be fitted as standard.