Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Golf's on-the-road price starts at less than £20,000 and is very competitive against premium rivals such as the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. In fact, it’s priced roughly in line with the Ford Focus, although you’ll still get more change from a comparably equipped Vauxhall Astra or Skoda Octavia.
Don’t forget to factor in resale values, though; the Golf’s look particularly strong after three years and could actually cost you less in the long run than cheaper alternatives if you're buying privately. Strong resale values and frequent promotions can make the Golf an attractive option on PCP finance, and insurance and servicing bills are generally quite competitive.
The Golf is also good news for company car drivers. You might think a Toyota Corolla 1.8 Hybrid, with CO2 emissions of just 76g/km, would offer cheaper benefit-in-kind tax (BIK), but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, the purchase price of a Golf 1.0 TSI 115 petrol is so much lower that it could end up cost you less per month in tax, even though its emissions are higher.
Equipment, options and extras
Entry-level S trim isn’t lavishly equipped; you get air conditioning and four electric windows (or two on three-door models) but there are no alloy wheels and few other niceties.
We advise plumping for the rather better-equipped SE. This adds 16in alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, power-folding door mirrors and adaptive cruise control, plus the driving aids, infotainment upgrades and safety features we've already highlighted.
Trims beyond SE steadily add more and more toys, but they significantly increase the price, we don’t reckon they offer such good value for money.
There’s a lengthy options list, and we definitely recommend adding parking sensors on S trim and metallic paint on all models. If you go for our favourite SE trim, you might want to consider adding the winter pack and dual-zone climate control.
The Golf finished mid-pack and behind the Octavia for reliability in our latest What Car? Reliability Survey. And the Volkswagen brand did no better, coming in at 17th out of 31 in the manufacturers table.
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 short of the five-year warranties that Hyundai and Toyota offer, let alone the seven-year cover provided by Kia. You can pay extra for an extended warranty that will cover your Golf for up to five years or 90,000 miles.
Safety and security
Seven airbags are fitted as standard to every Golf, including full-length curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. Rear side airbags are available as an option on every five-door version and are worth considering if you regularly carry people in the back.
SE models and above also get automatic emergency braking, which, at speeds below 19mph, can automatically apply the brakes if it detects an impending collision with a car or pedestrian. This feature helped the Golf score well in its Euro NCAP crash test in 2012; it was awarded the maximum five-star rating. You should note that comparing the Golf for safety against more modern cars, such as the Ford Focus and Mercedes A-Class, is tricky, because the later tests those rivals have been through are much tougher.
Lane-keeping assistance comes as part of a reasonably priced pack that also includes traffic sign recognition and automatic main beams, but blind-spot monitoring is a fairly pricey option.
You also need to choose at least SE trim to get an alarm as standard, although security experts Thatcham Research still awarded the Golf five out of five for guarding against being stolen and four out of five for resistance to being broken into.
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