Volkswagen Golf long-term test: report 4

The Volkswagen Golf has been a family favourite for generations, and 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 long-term driving view

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, and 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 £24,560 Target Price £23,316 Price as tested £28,700 Mileage 1482 Official economy 50.5 mpg Test economy 43.5mpg

22 April – Who's driving who? 

Recently I had cause to make a fairly long motorway trip, which I took as an opportunity for the Volkswagen Golf and I to get to know each other. Unfortunately, before very long it was clear that our relationship would be weakened by trust issues, all of which centred around the car’s driver assistance systems.

My car has the Travel Assist package (£785), which I added for the promise that it would make driving more relaxing, and for the extra safety that its lane-keeping system theoretically brings. Sure enough, its Side Assist feature – which sounds an alert and takes evasive action if you erroneously pull into the path of an overtaking car – was on my side when I didn’t quite crane my neck far enough to spot an overtaking car in my blindspot.

The lane-keeping assistance side of things, though, is more a hindrance than a help. When it recognises lane markings on my local country roads, for example, it does the steering for me, then when it loses sight of the lines, it doesn’t. You can turn the lane-keeping assistance off, of course, but that requires diving into a menu, and it defaults to being on again when you next start the car.

Volkswagen Golf 2021 safety systems menu

It doesn't necessarily get better on the motorway, either. Although I had been cruising for some distance in a perfectly central position within my lane, the system suddenly demanded that I put my hands on the wheel. They already were, of course, but because I hadn't made any steering inputs for a while, the system took it that I was no longer keeping control. I had to deliberately wiggle the wheel in order to silence the warnings. 

One potentially brilliant feature is the system’s ability to recognise speed limits posted on signs then automatically adjust the cruise control to suit. For the most part, it works a treat. However, its copybook was seriously blotted when it recognised a 30mph sign on a road that runs parallel to the M25 and slammed the brakes on in the second lane at 70mph to comply. Plus, later on in the journey, in the Dartford Tunnel, it spotted a 60mph sign on the back of a lorry and read that as an instruction to abandon the tunnel’s 40mph limit and speed up. 

Frankly, I felt like I was keeping the driver-assistance system under control, rather than being supported by it. Surely that's the reverse of what it's supposed to do. I think, next time round, I'd hold on to my £785.

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