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Small family car winner

  • 17 categories of awards
  • All the winning models featured here
  • What Car? Car of the Year 2011 revealed

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What Car? Staff

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What Car? Awards 2012 website

The winner
Volkswagen Golf
1.4 TSI 122 Match 5dr
List price 18,910 Target Price 17,636

Volkswagen's recent TV ads for the Golf ring uncannily true. Other small family cars may be like a Golf but none is quite as good.

The latest Golf has won this category for the past three years and thats a fantastic achievement when you consider how many new models have been launched during that time. The fact is that none has yet managed to better its stunning all-round abilities.

Over the past 12 months, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta has tempted us with its delectable looks and fine engines. More recently, the new Focus gave us serious food for thought, thanks to its sharp handling and keen pricing. After re-assessing what the Golf had to offer, however, we were in no doubt that its still a clear winner.

Despite being older than many of its rivals, the Golf continues to lead the way in key areas. Crucially, it remains brilliant to drive, with a mix of supple ride, sure-footed handling and responsive steering. Theres no more refined car in this class, either, particularly if you choose our favourite engine, the 1.4 TSI petrol.

We realise that the majority of buyers choose the 1.6 TDI diesel alternative; its blend of smoothness and more than 60mpg fuel economy is certainly appealing. However, we think that the 1.4 TSI is a better bet for private buyers, and 45.6mpg is hardly thirsty.

Inside, the Golf more than lives up to its classy image. Every control operates with solid, well-engineered precision and the materials throughout are first-rate.
The cabin is impossible to fault for comfort and ease of use, too. There are fuss-free controls just where you want them to be, supportive seats and enough adjustment to allow anyone to get comfy, so this is a car thats well suited to drivers who cover a lot of miles. The packaging is similarly well thought-out, with plenty of space for people and luggage.

A series of price rises means that the Golf is starting to look rather expensive, but we think its still worth every penny. Its desirable image means that it holds its value better than most rivals, while Match trim means that theres no need to raid the options list.

Weve said it before, but it bears repeating: for many people the Volkswagen Golf is all the car youll ever need.