Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The 1.5 TSI 150 petrol engine makes the most sense. With its healthy whack of 148bhp you get plenty of outright performance (0-62mph take a sprightly 8.7sec) as well as enough mid-range get-up-and-go to pull the Golf Estate along with a full boot. Occasionally you may need to drop a gear to climb a particularly steep hill or overtake a tractor, but if that sounds like a chore there’s the eTSI 150, which has a responsive seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. By the way, all the petrol engines with an auto ‘box are eTSI. The ‘e’ means they have 48-volt mild hybrid electrical assistance but that doesn’t make them noticeably quicker; the motor just adds a tiny bit of background assistance to the petrol engine – for a fairly hefty price hike, it must be said.
The 128bhp 1.5 TSI 130 petrol engine is not a bad alternative but it slows the 0-62mph time down to 9.4sec and there’s such little difference in cost (over the TSI 150) that it begs the question “why would you?” Even the entry-level 109bhp 1.0 TSI 110 isn’t night and day cheaper. Despite its tiny capacity it’s surprisingly flexible and pokey most of the time (0-62mph is 10.5sec), but struggles a bit with a fully laden car.
The diesels won’t struggle to pull heavy loads and are definitely the best option for towing. There’s a choice between the 2.0 TDI 115 that makes for relaxed progress but, when you’re in a hurry, it’s no quicker than the 1.0 TSI 110. At the time of writing we hadn’t tried the more powerful 2.0 TDI 150.
Suspension and ride comfort
On 17in wheels and the standard suspension, the Golf rides potholes and ridges around town more adeptly than the Ford Focus Estate. At higher speeds it’s also very comfortable, making motorway jaunts a real treat. The Skoda Octavia Estate is slightly softer overall – if you really enjoy wafting gently – but the Golf is better tied down and less like being on a trampoline over big crests and dips.
The optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which is adaptive suspension, swings the 'comfometer' needle round to ‘proper cushy.’ If you leave it in the softest mode the Golf Estate is one of the supplest cars for the money. Outside of its three default states of tune there are numerous subtler settings, so you can be sure of a set-up that'll suit you to a tee. The downside is that DCC is quite pricey, so we wouldn't say it's a necessity.
R-Line trim has lowered sports suspension that’s noticeably firmer but still acceptable.
The Golf Estate’s light steering is great for town driving but some might prefer a bit more heft and directness for faster, twistier roads. The optional Driver Profile Selection button (standard on R-Line trim) had a weightier Sport mode, which helps to an extent, but the Golf's steering still isn't as sweetly calibrated as the Ford Focus's or as alert and responsive as the Seat Leon Estate’s.
Both those alternatives are more agile and fun with less body lean than the Golf in bends. There are ways you can liven up the Golf's handling and make it keener to change direction, though. R-Line trim’s stiffer sports suspension is one way, bringing a little more agility to the table. It helps make the most of the Golf’s nicely balanced chassis but it still won’t make enthusiasts smile like the Focus will.
Alternatively, you can opt for adaptive DCC suspension on any trim and gain the ability to stiffen things up on demand.
Noise and vibration
The entry-level 1.0 TSI 110 is pretty refined for a three-cylinder engine, producing a muted soundtrack and little in the way of vibrations. The 1.5 TSI 150 (and eTSI) petrol engine is the smoothest of the lot but still makes itself heard when you rev it past 2500rpm. It’s the 1.5 TSI 130 that’s noticeably coarse at peak revs and you can feel it buzzing the gear lever and pedals. That’s also true of the Golf Estate’s diesel engines, but those are still smoother than a lot of the diesel competition.
At speed in every Golf you'll notice some wind and, more acutely, road noise. Of its nearest price rivals, the Focus Estate is the quieter cruiser.
The manual gearbox’s gear lever is good enough for finding a route to all six gears easily and the clutch biting point is distinct. The Golf also has a smoother automatic gearbox than the Focus, and most versions have progressive brakes that allow you to stop with grace. The eTSI 150's aren't quite as good; there's a bit of interference from the energy recovery system that charges the mild hybrid system's battery under braking. You can still brake smoothly, though.
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