2020 Volkswagen Golf review: price, specs and release date

We've driven the new, eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf; does a heap of clever tech maintain its previously high standards?...

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Becky Wells
3 Dec 2019 20:00

Price from £20,500 (est) | On sale Spring 2020

Marketing is a powerful tool. If you've seen the adverts then you’ll never forget just how versatile Birdseye Potato Waffles are – the answer is, of course, waffly – or how the phases of the moon work thanks to Jaffa Cakes. More such memorable marketing was the TV commercial for the Volkswagen Golf. Its strapline? Simply, “It’s just like a Golf.” Nothing more needed to be said.

Now in its eighth generation, the Golf has long been the definitive iconic family car, famous for combining smart looks, decent practicality and impressive driving dynamics. This new model adds a host of clever technology, including a mild hybrid petrol engine and a completely reinvented infotainment system with masses of online connectivity aimed at improving safety and the user experience.  

Does the latest Golf maintain the legacy? Or does a dumping of clever tech detract from its driving pleasure? And how does it compare with other family car rivals, such as the Ford Focus and Skoda Scala from the grass-roots end of the market, to more premium-badged models that include the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class?

2020 Volkswagen Golf driving

What's the 2020 Volkswagen Golf like to drive?

It drives just like a Golf. Need to know more? Of course you do, so let's start with the engine options. There are two 2.0-litre diesels with 114bhp and 148bhp, a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol, featuring the new 48V mild hybrid technology, and two regular 1.5-litre turbocharged petrols, with 128bhp or 148bhp. It's the latter we've been trying out today.

Coming only with a six-speed manual gearbox – the seven-speed automatic is reserved for the mild hybrid petrol and the more powerful diesel – the 148bhp engine offers plenty of performance without too much sweat. You’ll find yourself having to change down gears when climbing a particularly steep hill or overtaking that tractor you've found yourself stuck behind, but regular tasks, such as building speed to join motorways or nipping around town, are ticked off with ease.

The engine makes itself heard above 2500rpm but never seems strained or coarse. The manual gearbox is also pleasant to use, slotting into gear cleanly with each press of the Golf's positively weighted clutch pedal. We did notice a fair amount of wind and road noise, though; that appears to be one area in which the new car has gone backwards compared with the previous model. 

2020 Volkswagen Golf driving

The light steering is great for town driving but not ideal along faster, twistier roads, occasionally leaving you unsure of exactly how much lock to apply. This is not a deal-breaker, because selecting Sport mode adds some reassuring weight, although the Golf's steering still isn't as sweetly weighted as the Focus's or as alert and responsive as the 1 Series'.

But while the Golf is neither as sporty nor as agile as those two rivals, it's far from leaden. The version we tried had optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which is Volkswagen's name for its adaptive suspension. Switch this to its stiffest Sport setting and body lean is kept to a minimum around corners. The problem is that you feel every little road imperfection as it passes beneath the car.

However, the beauty of this system is that you can dial the stiffness back, to a point that the new Golf carries on where the old car left off by being one of the most comfortable cars in the class. Only the Skoda Scala can get close to the way the Golf smooths over pimples and potholes, and we hope to find that the standard suspension proves just as cosseting. We'll let you know once we've tried it. 

2020 Volkswagen Golf interior

What's the 2020 Volkswagen Golf like inside?

Interior quality is another area in which the Golf has always performed strongly. There are still soft-touch surfaces on the upper part of the dashboard and the tops of the front doors, plus nice touches such as carpeted door bins that stop your keys from jangling. However, compared with the BMW 1 Series and the outgoing Audi A3, the Golf is nothing to write home about.

Sadly, when you move to the rear seats and find that there are more low-rent plastics than in the old model, you start to wonder if this new car has been subjected to a dose of cost-cutting. Still, it feels well put together in the main, and it certainly looks cleaner, more modern and suitably stylish. If razzmatazz is important to you, though, the Mercedes A-Class's interior is more eye-catching.

There's plenty of adjustment to the driving position, other than the fact that the lumbar adjustment doesn't offer quite the degree of lower back support we'd like.

What's really annoying, though, is that nearly all the controls are either touch-sensitive buttons or have been loaded on to the touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard. If the touchscreen were as easy to use and as well laid out as the old car's, or even a Skoda Scala's for that matter, that wouldn't be such a problem. But it isn't. It feels like the software developer's priority was to make the menus look stylish rather than easy to navigate, so for our money the A-Class's infotainment is more user-friendly, while the 1 Series' system knocks the Golf's for six. 

2020 Volkswagen Golf interior

On the plus side, there's a remarkable array of infotainment features. The natural speech voice control system can translate “my hands are cold” as a request to put the heating steering wheel on, while a system called Car2X speaks to other Volkswagen Car2X-equipped cars (currently that's just the Golf) to report on traffic issues, broken-down vehicles, road works or emergency services up ahead. That said, if you plug in your smartphone, make use of the Golf's Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and deploy an app called Waze, you can get many of those updates in any car. 

The new Golf’s external dimensions are actually a little larger than the old model's, but inside it feels largely the same as before. The result is enough space for taller occupants to get comfortable in the front, with more space than the 1 Series in the back. For reference, that means six-footers can sit behind their equivalents, but without the generous leg room they would have in a Scala or Focus. 

Meanwhile, boot space below the parcel shelf is unchanged compared with that of the old Golf; that means there's a respectable 380 litres of room for your luggage. Boot space with the rear seats folded down is actually slightly worse than in the previous model, though. Either way, the Scala is a more practical option.

Next: 2020 Volkswagen Golf verdict and specs >

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