Volkswagen Golf long-term test: report 2

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 dashboard

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 £24,555 Target Price £23,015 Price as tested £28,700 Mileage 983 Official economy 50.5 mpg Test economy 42.1mpg

12 March – Ergonomics, the final frontier

I was eight or so when Star Trek, The Next Generation was first broadcast to British televisions. Bits of the Enterprise’s design immediately dazzled me, not least the ship’s computer system, whose sleek, colourful helm consoles with their glossy, touch-sensitive, displays, ran a fictional operating system called LCARS (Library Computer Access/Retrieval System). And now, three decades later, my Volkswagen Golf reminds me of Captain Picard’s pride and joy.

Volkswagen Golf 2021 long-term infotainment detail

The Golf’s infotainment screen and its neighbouring digital dashboard, both framed in a glossy black panel that subtly curves from left to right, is a pleasure to behold. It presents its information in exactly the right place, too; factor in my car’s excellent (optional) head up display, and taking in vital data only requires the briefest of glances away from the road ahead. Good stuff.

Remember, though, that those LCARS computers on the starship Enterprise are only pretend. Scenic art supervisor and technical consultant Michael Okuda needed only to create something that would look good on telly. And I’d not be at all surprised to find that the Golf’s infotainment system was designed by him, too, because for all its prettiness and flashes of brilliance, actually interacting with it seems to have been left out of the brief.

Volkswagen Golf 2021 infotainment in use

It’s desperately frustrating. It uses swipe gestures, a-la an Apple iPad, but nothing seems consistent; when trying to perform a task, I’m left guessing whether to swipe left or right or touch an icon, and I never seem to get back to the page I started from. The separate shortcut buttons for climate, parking assistance and driving assistance would make life convenient were they not touch sensitive and ridiculously prone to being inadvertently set off – notably when trying to steady your finger when stabbing screen icons on a bumpy road. And if the fixed, touch sensitive ‘sliders’ for radio volume and climate temperature seem a novel idea, the decision not to illuminate them, rendering them invisible at night, is downright baffling.

This is a system that seems to be crying out for a handy rotary controller so you can intuitively scroll through its beautiful-looking menus. Right now it’s a case of style over substance, and that’s pretty much the opposite what Volkswagen always used to be about.

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