Volkswagen Golf long-term test: report 1

The Volkswagen Golf has been a family favourite for generations, but now has more clever tech than ever. We're living with one to see if it still deserves its tight grip on the market...

Volkswagen Golf 2021 Long Term intro

The car Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 150 Life Run by Chris Haining, digital reviews editor

Why it’s here To see if the Golf remains true to its "all things to all drivers" pedigree, to prove that cutting-edge technology need not be reserved for electric cars.

Needs to Use petrol sparingly, provide day-to-day comfort, make life easy on long trips.

List price £24,500 Target Price £23,015 Price as tested £28,700 Miles 433 Official economy 50.5 mpg Test economy 45.1mpg Options fitted Driver’s Assistance Pack –Travel Assist (£785), head-up display (£625), Lime Yellow metallic paint (£625), 17in Ventura alloy wheels (£615), Winter Pack (£550), High-beam assist (£145)

15 February 2021 – Joining the Golf club

In a world where fashions change at breakneck pace, the continuing presence of the Volkswagen Golf is rather comforting. Like Coca Cola or Heinz Baked Beans, it's been serving a very particular purpose for decades. That said, vehicular revolution is very much afoot, and the Golf as we know it is definitely living on borrowed time.

The future is actually here, it’s called the Volkswagen ID.3 and it runs on electricity. But in every other way it does exactly the same job as the Golf. Unless electric power suddenly falls out of favour, the ID.3 will effectively replace the Golf. It may even take the Golf’s name. On the other hand, today’s Golf represents the very pointy end of Golf development, so when it came time to choose a new car I jumped at the chance to find out just how far Volkswagen’s family favourite has come over the best part of 50 years.

Volkswagen Golf long-term wide shot

I vividly remember a friend’s mum’s Mk1 Golf. It was a GLS, the swankiest non-GTI trim in the 1981 range, and was distinguished by, among things, its rev-counter and a set of chrome embellishers for its steel wheels. By comparison, the entry-level Golf C of the day made a medieval dungeon look luxurious. But things are very different today; there’s nothing basic about a Mk8 Golf, even in first-rung Life trim.

Indeed, it was ‘Life’ that I signed up for. Not only is there an extremely comprehensive infotainment suite, with a high-resolution 10.0in display that looks after navigation, media (including a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Audio) and countless other facilities, but there’s also a remarkably forward-looking array of driver-assist aids.

Even this cheapest Golf has adaptive cruise control as well as the usual automatic emergency braking, plus there’s something called Car2X, which enables vehicles so-equipped to chat to each other and share tales of traffic on the roads ahead. This feeds back into the infotainment and enables the sat-nav to take proactive action to avoid being caught up in queues. However, with this whetting my appetite for technology, I raided the options list to add even more.

Volkswagen Golf long-term headlight detail

The priciest add-on I went for, the £785 Driver’s Assistance Pack, bundles together lane-keeping assistance, parking assistance and electrically heated, folding door mirrors. I also went for a head-up display (£625) to place vital information directly in my line of sight, and high-beam assistance (£145) to help me out on the winding country lanes near my home. I’m frequently infuriated by oncoming drivers who’ve forgotten to dip their beams, but don’t want to be dispensing their own medicine back at them.

Vanity got the better of me for the two other pricey options: a 17in wheel upgrade to announce “not just base spec, mate”, to passers by, while also putting a bit more rubber in contact with the road than the smaller standard items do; and the marvellously tangy Lime Yellow metallic paint (£625) that I latterly realised coordinates with my North Face waterproof jacket a treat.

Power-wise, the 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine is a peach; there’s no electrical hybrid assistance unless you go for an automatic gearbox (which I didn’t), but there is a cylinder deactivation system that can essentially turn the engine into one half its size when only modest power is required. Given that I’m likely to make a good few lengthy motorway trips, the combination of efficiency and power that – on paper – this engine offers, ought to be just the ticket.

Volkswagen Golf long-term snow shot

So far it isn’t sipping fuel quite as parsimoniously as my previous car, a Seat Ibiza, but I’m still managing 45mpg at a motorway cruise, no doubt helped by the fact that 70mph equates to a relaxing 2000rpm in sixth gear. I’ve also learnt a few things about the Golf’s futuristic technology already, but I’ll go into that next time. After all, good things come to those who wait.

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