Every Golf engine is turbocharged, and the range starts with two 1.2 petrols developing either 84bhp or 103bhp. The 1.4-litre choices deliver 120bhp and 138bhp, while the diesel range consists of a 103bhp 1.6 and a 148bhp 2.0. Both 1.4 petrols are impressively strong, and the more powerful one shuts off half its cylinders when possible to save fuel. The 103bhp diesel will be strong and flexible enough for most buyers, while the 148bhp diesel is also extremely punchy.
Most versions of the Golf are sensational to drive. The steering is well weighted, while the suspension manages to blend an extremely comfortable ride with good body control. However, the cheaper versions (both 1.2 petrols and the 1.6 diesel) come with a less sophisticated suspension setup, and they don’t ride quite as serenely. They’re still more comfortable than many rivals, though, and they still handle securely.
This is one of the Golf’s biggest strengths. There's very little suspension noise, and while there is some road and wind noise at motorway speeds, these are only minor intrusions. The petrol engines we’ve tried are exceptionally smooth and quiet (you don’t even notice when the more powerful 1.4 shuts off half its cylinders to save fuel), as is the 2.0 diesel. The 1.6 diesel stays hushed, but you feel rather too many vibrations through the steering wheel, pedals and gearlever.
No Golf is cheap, and some versions, like the 1.4 with cylinder shut-off, look downright expensive. However, all are impressively clean and frugal (the 99g/km 1.6 diesel being the star on that score), and the Golf’s strong resale values make it an affordable long-term prospect. However, the Audi A3 holds its value even better and is cheaper to lease.
The Golf’s interior doesn’t look or feel as classy as an Audi A3’s, but it’s a cut above most other rivals’. The switchgear is nicely damped, plus there are lots of tactile, soft-touch materials. Volkswagen also finished in the top third of the last JD Power customer satisfaction survey, although its sister brand Skoda performed even better.
Every model comes with stability control, a driver’s knee airbag and twin front, side and curtain ’bags. SE-spec cars and above get a City Emergency Braking system that automatically applies the brakes if it detects an imminent collision at speeds below 19mph. The car has received the full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. Deadlocks, locking wheel nuts and marked mechanical parts are all included as standard to make life harder for thieves
Drivers of all sizes should be able to find a comfortable driving position, thanks to the huge range of adjustment on offer. Meanwhile, all-round vision is excellent, despite quarterlight windows ahead of the front doors, which bring a small extra pillar behind the windscreen. The dashboard is angled towards the driver, and is a doddle to use thanks to simple rotary climate controls and a standard touch-screen infotainment system that features clear menus and handy shortcut buttons.
The Golf can seat four six-footers in comfort and five in emergencies, but its boot is much smaller than the Skoda Octavia’s. On the up side, it does feature an adjustable floor, which lets you divide the luggage space in two and reduces the load lip when it’s in its higher setting. It also ensures there’s no step up to the rear seats when they’re folded down.
Every model comes with a DAB radio, Bluetooth and some form of air-conditioning, but the mid-level SE trim is the pick of the range because it brings smarter interior trim, alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control and automatic lights and wipers. Range-topping GT cars also get sportier styling and sat-nav, but they’re quite pricey.
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