What Car? says...
There are household names and then there’s the Volkswagen Golf. Indeed, it’s been around for so long and has become so popular that it’s almost guaranteed that you know someone that owns one.
It’s arguable that the reason for the Golf’s continued success has been its ability to defy class boundaries. It looks just as at home among pricey premium models as it does with mainstream family cars – an amazing feat when you consider that it’s been doing that for eight generations.
Over that time, the Golf’s recipe hasn’t changed: it's designed to mix impressive practicality with driving dynamics and the latest features VW has to offer. This time round, one of updates has been hybrid assistance on some of its engines, helping to boost performance and increase efficiency.
So, does this newest generation of VW Golf still have the everyday usability to take on the Ford Focus, the driving dynamics to rival the Seat Leon or the practicality to go against the Skoda Octavia?
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
When it comes to VW Golf engine choices, you could consider the relatively affordable 128bhp 1.5 TSI 130 petrol, but we think the 148bhp 1.5 TSI 150 petrol makes more sense.
It’s swifter getting up to motorway speeds (0-62mph takes 8.5 seconds), or when overtaking. If you only do urban routes and want to keep costs down, the entry-level 108bhp 1.0 TSI 110 has plenty of poke for city traffic.
What’s the difference? Well, where the eTSI variants use a small electric motor for a power boost, while the eHybrid can actually be driven on electric power alone, for up to 42 miles officially. All the hybrids have instant power from a standstill, pull well at low revs and feel fairly brisk during normal driving.
Diesel fans will enjoy how strong the entry-level 2.0 TDI 115 feels at low revs. It makes for relaxed progress, but is by no means fast. The more powerful 2.0 TDI 150 should be more than quick enough for everyday driving.
Suspension and ride comfort
On its standard suspension, the Golf rides potholes and ridges around town pretty adeptly, and with similar ease to the Mercedes A-Class.
At higher speeds, it can get a little unsettled over minor imperfections, shimmying from side to side in a mildly irritating manner. The BMW 1 Series is firmer, but also better tied down on motorways and A-roads.
Opting for a ‘150’ engine gives you a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up that makes the ride less fidgety, while R-Line gets lowered sports suspension that’s noticeably firmer, but still perfectly acceptable.
The Golf has another trick up its sleeve too. If you add Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) adaptive suspension, the "comfortometer" needle pings round to cushy. It has three main settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport.
In Comfort, the Golf is one of the smoothest-riding family cars you can get, and deals with craggy roads exceedingly well. There's a bit of float over dips and crests, but you can dial that out by switching to the slightly stiffer Normal setting.
Unusually for this type of system, it also has numerous subtler settings beyond those three default modes, so you can be sure of a set-up that suits. The downside is that DCC is quite pricey, so we wouldn't call it a necessity.
The Golf’s light steering is great for town driving, but some might prefer a bit more heft and directness for faster, twistier roads.
The R Line trim comes with a Driver Profile Selection system to add a weightier Sport mode, which helps to an extent, but the steering on the Golf still isn't as sweetly calibrated as on the Ford Focus or as alert and responsive as with the 1 Series.
If a sharper drive is your thing, consider the Seat Leon, because it's more agile and fun, with less body lean in bends than the Golf.
There are ways you can liven up the Golf's handling and make it keener to change direction, though – the lowered sports suspension that comes with R Line trim brings a little more agility to the table, with less body lean and more willingness to change direction.
Alternatively, you can opt for the adaptive DCC suspension that we’ve previously mentioned and gain the ability to stiffen things up on demand. If that’s still not sporty enough, the Golf GTI and Golf R should be enough to scratch the itch for anyone chasing hot-hatch performance.
Noise and vibration
The entry-level 1.0 TSI is one of the more refined three-cylinder engines out there, with little vibration and a muted soundtrack, while all of the 1.5 TSI petrol engines, including the eTSI 150 mild hybrid, make themselves heard when you rev the Golf beyond 2500rpm.
The 1.5 TSI 130 is the only one that becomes coarse at higher revs and sends vibrations through to the inside of the car, although not as noticeably as the 2.0 TDI diesels. That said, the 2.0 TDI is still one of the smoother diesel engines in the class, whichever power output you pick.
When running solely on electricity in the eHybrid, the only thing you’ll hear is a small amount of suspension noise and a small amount of road noise. Regardless of which Golf you’re in, you’ll notice a fair amount of wind at road noise at 70mph – more than in the Focus, in fact.
The manual gearbox has a defined clutch biting point and the gear lever is precise enough to find your route to all six gears easily. The automatic gearbox is frustratingly hesitant to pull away from the line, and slow to kick down through the gears when you want a sudden burst of acceleration.
Things improve tenfold when you’re on the move, and the Golf’s gearbox flicks through the gears smoother than the Focus and A-Class, in normal driving.
Most versions have progressive brakes that allow you to stop with grace, but you might notice some slight interference from the regenerative braking system that charges the hybrid systems under braking in the eTSI and eHybrid models, though.
Strengths Good engines; comfortable ride around town; refined petrol engines
Weaknesses Hesitant automatic gearbox; not as agile as a Seat Leon; wind noise at motorway speeds
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Whatever your size or shape, the VW Golf has plenty of adjustments in seat height and steering wheel rake and reach, so you should be able to find a decent driving position. There’s even a movable centre armrest with lots of cushioning for added support.
Lumbar support is standard on all seats, although some of our testers didn’t have enough lower back support with the seats fitted to entry-level Life. The sports seats found on Style trim and up are much better and offer excellent side support through corners.
Most of the dashboard controls have been loaded on to the central touchscreen, with a few supplementary touch-sensitive sliders or "buttons" left behind for frequently used commands. R-Line trim and up add touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel, too.
It looks tidy, but they’re fiddly in practice and the result is that you’re often taking your eyes off the road to perform even basic actions, such as changing the interior temperature, a task that’s much less distracting in a BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus or Mercedes A-Class.
Mercifully, Life, Active and Style Golfs still have physical controls on the steering wheel that can be used to easily interact with the standard 10.25in digital instrument cluster. The display can be configured to show lots of driving information and used for basic controls on the radio, phone and built-in sat-nav.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The Golf's large windscreen and side windows give you good visibility at junctions, although you might have to crane your neck at roundabouts for a clear view around the front pillars.
Likewise, the pillars at the back of the car are large enough to obscure what's lurking behind you when you're looking over your shoulder, although not nearly as much as they do in the Mazda 3. Fortunately, front and rear parking sensors are standard on all trims, and a rear-view camera is optional on all but Black Edition trim, which gets it as standard.
Even the entry-level Life trim comes with powerful LED headlights, and those can be upgraded to the same LED 'Plus' headlights fitted to Style that can direct light around corners. Alternatively, matrix LED headlights are optional on all models, allowing you to leave full beam on without dazzling other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every Golf comes with a 10.0in touchscreen infotainment system that’s mounted high up so you don't have to look too far from the road to use it. The graphics are sharp and there are lots of helpful standard features, including wireless phone-charging, built-in sat-nav, Bluetooth, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
It’s a shame ease of use wasn’t prioritised over making the infotainment look swish, though. Some menus are confusingly arranged, and there are no shortcut buttons to take you quickly from one menu to the next.
You can add a voice control system, which doesn't always work, especially if there are noisy children in the car. In the past, we’ve found the system to be prone to software bugs but ongoing updates have increased stability, reducing the chance of the screen freezing.
The BMW 1 Series' iDrive system knocks the Golf's set-up for six. It has more logical menus and supplements its touchscreen with a physical control between the front seats, making it much easier to use while driving. The Golf's standard six-speaker stereo sounds decent, with a 10-speaker Harman Kardon system available as an option.
At first glance, the interior of the VW Golf looks smart, clean and modern. There are even some soft-touch surfaces on the upper parts of the dashboard and the tops of the front doors. Look a little deeper and you’ll start to find lots of harder and scratchier plastics, especially in the rear. When you consider the Golf is usually a paragon of quality, that’s disappointing.
It's certainly not as opulent inside as an A-Class, and isn’t bolted together as well as the 1 Series. The Mazda 3 also has a much nicer finish inside. It’s not all bad news, though: the Golf still ranks above some mainstream family cars on quality, including the Ford Focus and the Skoda Scala.
Strengths Comfortable driving position; great digital driver display
Weaknesses Interior quality could be better; compromised over the shoulder visibility; fiddly infotainment system
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The VW Golf has plenty of head room to suit even exceedingly tall occupants, and its front seats go back far enough to accommodate those with long legs. It's wide in the front, too, so you won’t be clashing elbows with your passenger.
The front door pockets are each big enough for a 500ml bottle of water and there are two cupholders in the centre console. In front of the gear lever there’s a handy tray for your phone that includes wireless charging. You’ll also find a storage bin under the front centre armrest, plus there's a decent-sized, air-conditioned glovebox.
The Golf’s interior dimensions allow a pair of six-footers to sit relatively comfortably in the back. Head room is very generous, although leg room isn't outstanding. If the front seat occupants slide their seats fully back, taller folk in the rear won't have much space in front of their knees.
Shoulder room becomes tight when a third rear passenger is introduced, and the raised section of floor that runs along the centre of the car steals some foot space from the middle passenger.
Still, the Golf is marginally more accommodating in the back than the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class, although you’ll find lots more room in certain cheaper alternatives, such as the Ford Focus and the Skoda Octavia.
Seat folding and flexibility
The Golf's rear seats don't do anything clever, such as sliding or reclining. As with most hatchbacks, you can fold down the 60/40 split seatbacks (the A-Class gets a more flexible 40/20/40 arrangement) by pulling levers next to the outer rear head restraints.
Once dropped, the seatbacks lie virtually flat. There’s also a ski hatch, which keeps the outer rear seats in play while allowing you to carry longer loads. Meanwhile, the front passenger seat is height adjustable and comes with lumbar support as standard.
There’s room in the boot for the weekly food shop and you can just about squeeze in a small set of golf clubs or a fold-up baby buggy. However, boot space is only average for the class: five carry-on suitcases will fit below the parcel shelf of all versions, whereas the A-Class can swallow six and the Skoda Scala seven.
The Golf has a 380-litre boot, which is about average by the standards of the family car class. Just bear in mind that you get less space if you go for the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant – the 1.4 TSI eHybrid – because the batteries take up the underfloor storage area.
All Golfs except the eHybrid have a height-adjustable boot floor. That lets you create two separate compartments and, when raised, irons out the step that's otherwise created when the rear seats are folded down. With the floor on its highest setting, there’s barely any lip to negotiate when you're lifting heavy items in and out.
Strengths Lots of interior space; plenty of front storage; decent boot space
Weaknesses Tight for three rear passengers
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The VW Golf slots roughly in the middle of its range of family car rivals on price. For a cash buyer, it’s pricier than the Skoda Scala and a little more expensive than the more popular versions of the Seat Leon but it's cheaper than the Audi A3, the BMW 1 Series, the Ford Focus and the Mercedes A-Class. For the latest prices see our VW Golf deals page.
The Golf is predicted to hold on to its value well, with depreciation expected to be around the same as the A3, 1 Series and A-Class.
All the petrol engines offer competitive CO2 emissions and the real-world fuel economy should be similarly good. In our tests, the 1.5 eTSI 150 averaged more than 42mpg on a mix of roads – much better than you can expect from a BMW 118i automatic.
As for the diesels, the 2.0 TDI 115’s trip computer regularly recorded an average economy figure of more than 65mpg during our testing, while the more powerful 150 version will officially manage 62.8mpg.
Equipment, options and extras
We'd stick with the Golf's entry-level Life trim. It comes with all you really need, including air conditioning, 16in alloy wheels, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, automatic lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control, and all the infotainment, visibility and parking aids we've discussed in the previous sections.
Style and R-Line trims add a few more toys and sharper styling, but aren't really worth their price hikes. If you want more toys for your money, have a look at rivals such as the Mazda 3, Skoda Octavia and Toyota Corolla.
The exception is if you’re after the 1.4 TSI eHybrid PHEV, as that’s only available with Style trim and should offset some of the additional cost due to its economy figures.
Black Edition comes with pretty much every option box ticked, while the sportier GTI and R hot hatch versions come with sportier styling and performance-focused driving modes.
The Golf didn't do well in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey – it finished one place above the bottom of the family car ratings.
Volkswagen as a brand performed no better, placing 22nd out of 32 manufacturers. That puts it above Mercedes and Audi but below many other rival brands, including BMW, Mazda, Ford, Skoda and Seat.
Like most VWs, the Golf comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and one year’s roadside assistance. That's not exceptional these days, falling behind the five-year warranties Hyundai and Renault offer, and the seven years of cover provided by Kia.
Safety and security
Every Golf comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance, a driver fatigue monitor, traffic-sign recognition and something called Car2X. All cars fitted with Car2X share information on traffic conditions and any hazards within a radius of 800 metres so you can be sent an early warning of any dangers that lie ahead.
The Golf achieved a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, with excellent category scores that all but matched the best cars in the class. It scored similarly to the A-Class, but due to the Mercedes being tested in 2018 and the VW in 2022 under stricter regulations, it’s difficult to directly compare.
Strengths Strong depreciation; good safety rating; efficient engines
Weaknesses Reliability record isn’t great; so-so warranty
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Yes. While it’s not perfect, largely due to the fiddly infotainment system, the Golf remains a great all-rounder in the family car class. For that reason, our expert reviewers awarded it four stars out of five.
|RRP price range||£26,705 - £44,310|
|Number of trims (see all)||7|
|Number of engines (see all)||10|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||diesel, hybrid, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||235.4 - 67.3|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£514 / £3,198|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,029 / £6,396|