Volkswagen Golf long-term test review
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...
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.
Miles 1848 List price £24,560 Target Price £22,690 Price as tested £28,700 Test economy 42.0mpg Official economy 50.5mpg, Running costs Fuel (£263), Dealer trade-in value now £16,682 Dealer price now £17,816 Private price now £15,836
6 June 2021 – Holding back the years
Everybody loves a Tudor building, right? Exposed timber frames, leaded light windows and herringbone brickwork that fills our heads with thoughts of an age long ago. Somewhere deep inside, we seem to be obsessed with the past; perhaps that explains the thousands of newbuild Victorian-style houses that spring up every year, with fake “window tax” bricked up windows and other cod-historic pastiches. House buyers lap them up.
The Volkswagen Golf, by contrast, is a rolling testament to evolution. New technologies; new fuels; ever more daring design. But the thing is, after living with the latest version, for me it feels like Volkswagen has been a little reckless in its pursuit of tomorrow.
From the beginning I was looking forward to seeing just how far the Golf has progressed over the years, and was immediately reassured to find it's easily spacious and practical enough to addresses the family car basics. Less welcome, though, is how it seems to have abandoned the common-sense design ethos that made previous generations so easy to live with.
I never did gel with the Golf's pretty-but-baffling infotainment system (which is the main means of accessing many of the car's systems) or its non-illuminated, touch-sensitive ventilation controls; being able to operate features instinctively would now appear to be an old-fashioned concept. Perhaps worse, though, while the car seemed very nicely assembled, none of the interior materials made me feel pleased that I’d chosen a Golf over one of its rivals, whereas perceived quality used to be a Golf hallmark.
More positively, the car very much drove like a Golf, combining an easygoing nature with the ability to engage if I upped the pace. Only a slightly hesitant power delivery limited my Golf’s get-up-and-go, but it’s far from the only car with that failing – brought about, no doubt, by the need for car makers to meet ever-tightening emissions regulations.
If I had my time again, I wouldn't bother specifying the Travel Assist system – a £785 option with my car’s Life trim level. Designed to reduce the driver's workload on long motorway trips, I found it actually achieved the opposite, and that driving was far more relaxing with it disabled.
On the other hand, the head-up display (£625) was a godsend – every car should have one. And the Golf’s is one of the best I’ve encountered; by projecting onto the screen, rather than a separate clear panel like that of a Ford Focus or Mini hatchback, the information it displays appears to be hovering in the middle distance ahead of the car. That’s fantastic for reducing eye strain, because you don’t have to refocus to check your speed.
Indeed, aside from those annoying control quirks, there was much to enjoy. The 1.5-litre engine proved impressively economical, particularly when its cylinder deactivation system came online, and the ride was unfazed by an A12 whose surface has much in common with the dark side of the moon.
Which brings me to a handy closing metaphor. Pink Floyd's seminal 1973 album of that name is widely regarded as a masterpiece, albeit one that resonates most with people of a certain age. Imagine the surviving Floyd members re-releasing Dark Side today, but with rap vocals and a dubstep beat in order to make it current and relevant to a hip young audience. I mean, some people would love it, and I'd applaud the effort, but I'd still have a special fondness for the original.
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