What Car? says...
The Volkswagen Golf defies class boundaries, and looks just as at home among pricey premium models as it does with mainstream family cars.
That's an amazing feat when you think about it, and the Golf has kept it up for eight generations now. And as well as aiming to maintain its usual blend of impressive practicality and driving dynamics, this latest version adds a host of clever technologies into the mix.
So here are the big questions... Does the VW Golf provide the perfect balance of ‘everyday posh’ to win your affections? Does its clever tech really add to the ownership experience? And how does it compare with all the other family cars vying for your cash?
We'll give you all the answers over the next few pages of this Golf review. As well as telling you all about how the car stacks up against its key rivals in terms of performance and practicality, we'll let you know which engine and trim combination makes the most sense.
Those rivals, by the way, are pretty daunting. They include humbler offerings such as the Ford Focus, Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Vauxhall Astra plus the fancier alternatives, including the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class.
If you do decide to buy a Golf, or indeed a vehicle of any make and model, you can save yourself thousands of pounds by using our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They feature lots of the best new family car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
When it comes to Volkswagen Golf engine choices, you could consider the relatively affordable 128bhp 1.5 TSI 130, but we think the more muscular 148bhp 1.5 TSI 150 makes the most sense out of the petrol range. It’s swifter getting up to motorway speeds (0-62mph takes 8.5sec), or when overtaking. If you only do urban routes and want to keep costs down, though, the entry-level 108bhp 1.0 TSI 110 has plenty of poke for city traffic.
Those after efficiency will want to turn their attention to the mild-hybrid 1.0 eTSI or 1.5 eTSI, or the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) 1.4 TSI eHybrid. What’s the difference? Well, where the eTSI variants use a small electric motor for a power boost, the eHybrid can be driven on electric power alone for around 43 miles officially. All three 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. We’ll let you know about the more powerful 2.0 TDI 150 when we’ve had a go in one, but the GTD is certainly brisk. Its huge reserves of low-down shove make for effortless acceleration. It’s a shame the standard auto gearbox is frustratingly hesitant at times.
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 it's 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 and GTD models get 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, dealing 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 optional Driver Profile Selection system (standard on R Line trim) adds 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. R-Line trim and the GTD come with a stiffer sports suspension that 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 on any trim 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 looking for 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 latter 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; much more than you would in the cheaper Focus.
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 Golf also has a smoother automatic gearbox than the Focus and A-Class, and most versions have progressive brakes that allow you to stop with grace. You might notice some slight interference from the energy recovery system that charges the hybrid systems under braking in the eTSI and eHybrid models, though.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Whatever your size or shape, the Volkswagen 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. It looks tidy, but the result is that you’re often taking your eyes off the road momentarily just to perform basic actions, such as changing the interior temperature, a task that’s much less distracting in rivals such as the BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus and 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 10.0in 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.
Powerful LED headlights are standard, but you can upgrade them on lower trims 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. They're not cheap, but if you go for a GTD, they're included as standard.
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 (at great expense) add a voice control system, which doesn't always work, especially if there are noisy children in the car. Unfortunately, we’ve found that software bugs can cause the screen to freeze, although ongoing updates should hopefully fix issues that come up.
The A-Class has a more user-friendly infotainment system, while the 1 Series' iDrive system knocks the Golf's set-up for six. Both have more logical menus and supplement their touchscreens with physical controls between the front seats, so they're much easier to use while driving. The Golf's standard six-speaker stereo sounds decent, with a 10-speaker Harman Kardon system optional on all models but the GTE.
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 certainly isn’t as opulent inside as the A-Class and it isn’t bolted together as well as the 1 Series. It's not only premium-badged rivals that outshine the Golf, either. The Mazda 3 has a much nicer finish inside. It’s not all bad news, though, as the Golf still ranks above some other mainstream family cars on quality, including the Focus and the Skoda Scala.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Volkswagen 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 robs the middle passenger of foot space. 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 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 Mercedes 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, including the GTE, whereas the Skoda Scala can swallow seven.
All Golfs except the eHybrid and the plug-in hybrid VW Golf GTE 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.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Volkswagen 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, BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus and Mercedes A-Class. The Golf is predicted to hold on to its value well, with depreciation expected to be slower than for an equivalent A-Class and more in line with that of the A3 and 1 Series.
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. Company car drivers will want to go for the 1.4 TSI eHybrid, as its low CO2 emissions and electric-only mode help to keep benefit-in-kind tax payments down.
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, with even the sporty GTD managing around 50mpg.
Equipment, options and extras
We'd stick with the Golf's entry-level Life trim. It comes with all you really need, including single-zone climate control, 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.
If you’re drawn to the frugal performance of the GTD, it gets 18in alloy wheels, sporty bumpers, three-zone climate control and keyless entry. It's rather pricey, though, especially when compared with the VW Golf GTI, which is not much more expensive.
The Golf didn't do well in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey – it finished near the bottom of the family car ratings. Volkswagen as a brand performed no better placing 22nd out of 32 manufacturers. That puts it above Ford and Mercedes but below many other rival brands, including Audi, BMW, Mazda, Seat and Skoda.
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, such as the A-Class, for adult and child protection. The protection for pedestrians and vulnerable road users isn’t as good as the A-Class's, though.
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Previous Golfs were available in electric car form (the e-Golf), but VW now sells the ID 3 electric hatchback instead. The 1.0 eTSI and 1.5 eTSI Golfs have mild-hybrid electrical assistance to boost efficiency. There are also two plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) – the 1.4 TSI eHybrid and GTE. They can officially travel up to 44 miles and 38 miles respectively on electric power.
We’d go for the 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol with entry-level Life trim. It feels significantly stronger than the cheaper Golf engines, but also brings a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up that helps the car ride more smoothly. Life trim has everything you need, including climate control, automatic lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control.
The 10.0in touchscreen infotainment system that’s standard across the Golf range looks quite fancy at first glance and has lots of features. Unfortunately, style has been put before ease of use. Some of the menus are confusingly arranged, there are no physical shortcut buttons and the screen is slow to respond to inputs.
The latest Golf was awarded five stars out of five by the independent safety experts at Euro NCAP, not only because it performs well in a crash, but because there are lots of driver aids to help you avoid one in the first place.
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 one of the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants – either the 1.4 TSI eHybrid or the GTE – because their bigger batteries take up the underfloor storage area.
|RRP price range||£26,565 - £44,170|
|Number of trims (see all)||7|
|Number of engines (see all)||10|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, petrol, diesel|
|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)||£512 / £3,188|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,025 / £6,375|