First drive: Volkswagen Golf - The drive

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  • Price: £13k-£21k (est)
  • On sale: January
  • Our first verdict
For most of its 34-year existence the Golf has been a bit like a decathlete: not necessarily the best at everything, but usually with enough all-round talent to emerge the winner.

The new one raises the bar again, setting standards for the rest to rise to.

Take the car we tested here – a 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI with DSG gearbox and the adaptive damping system VW calls DCC.

The engine is smoother, more linear in response and a lot less clattery than the one in the current car: even under hard acceleration you can't be totally certain it's a diesel.

It now averages nearly 58mpg in the official test, or 52.3mpg if you opt for the convenience of DSG.

This gives you full automatic shifts for town driving, with manual control at the flick of a paddle or a nudge of the gearlever, and after a few miles of practice it's as smooth as all but the most skilled driver manipulating a clutch pedal and conventional floor changer.

As part of the economy drive, the gearing is now longer, but you don't notice any loss of driveability because of the smoother power and torque delivery of the latest TDI.

The adaptive suspension does away with the need for a sport set-up by offering three levels of firmness at the touch of a button and then continuously adjusting the damping at each wheel to match road and driver.

Unlike some similar systems, which play hard cop/soft cop depending on which level of firmness you choose, the variations are subtle.

The ride is universally terrific – VW says it used UK roads to hone the final set-up – and though the Golf is not the most alert small hatch to drive, it arguably strikes the nicest balance.

First drive: Volkswagen Golf - The build

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