Volkswagen Golf hatchback performance
The Golf comes with a seemingly endless choice of engines. The range kicks off with an 84bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder TSI petrol engine. But with a so-so official 0-62mph time of 11.9sec and barely any improvement in fuel economy over the more powerful 113bhp version of the same engine – it's certainly not a compelling choice.
The 113bhp version, by contrast, is one of our favourites. Thanks to a turbocharger, acceleration is more urgent than you might imagine for such a small engine. True, it's better suited to town driving and rural roads, but it'll hold its own on fast A-roads and motorways – you just need to work it a bit harder than some of the more powerful alternatives.
For more effortless performance you can step up to the four-cylinder petrols, which start with a 128bhp 1.5-litre that delivers a bit more mid-range oomph and revs more freely than the 1.0-litre engines. It comes with a choice of either a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed DSG auto 'box.
Opt for GT or R-line trim and you can choose a 148bhp version of the same 1.5-litre petrol. When every seat is taken by friends and family, you’ll be grateful for the extra shove it provides when overtaking. It also feels perfectly suited to the optional seven-speed dual-shift DSG automatic gearbox. However, it is significantly more expensive than the 128bhp 1.5 and fractionally less economical.
As for the diesels, the 113bhp 1.6 TDI is a sensible choice if you're a company car driver, but if you can stretch to the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel, it’s worth the extra cost for the much stronger performance it provides. A more powerful and decidedly brisk 182bhp version is also available and makes overtaking a breeze, although it’s only in the sporty (and rather pricey) GTD model.
The GTI Performance model and the range-topping R model cater for hot hatch fans. Both have 2.0-litre turbo engines and produce 241bhp and 296bhp respectively, and the R gets four-wheel drive to help it out-accelerate many 'proper' performance cars.
Volkswagen Golf hatchback ride
The Golf rides more comfortably than other family cars and is noticeably smoother than a Vauxhall Astra, Skoda Octavia or Seat Leon along rough roads. Its suspension is supple enough to take the worst out of big bumps and potholes, and the ride remains brilliantly composed over the sort of scarred and patched-up surfaces you find in most towns and cities.
However, Golfs with the 1.0 TSI and 1.6 TDI engines are fitted with a less sophisticated rear suspension than other models in the range. They still ride very well compared with the competition, but aren’t as supremely comfortable as Golfs with more powerful engines.
The heavier GTE and e-Golf are comfortable but firm suspension suspension makes them little less smooth than the petrol and diesel models. But even the performance models with 'sporty' suspension, such as the GTI Performance and R, aren't too harsh – especially if you add the optional adaptive dampers.
Volkswagen Golf hatchback handling
Few cars in any class handle as securely and predictably as the Golf. Despite its supple suspension, body sway is kept neatly in check through tight twists and turns, so you always feel confident that the car is going to respond exactly how you want it to. There’s loads of grip, too, and you can hustle the Golf along a twisty B-road surprisingly swiftly.
True, it isn’t quite as fun or as sharp as an Audi A3 or Ford Focus, but the Golf’s steering is nicely weighted, accurate and tells you everything you need to know about what the front wheels are doing.
The stiffer GTI Performance and R models are even sharper to drive. With four-wheel drive, the R has the added advantage of being able to put its power down more easily – even on slippery roads – than the front-wheel-drive GTI Performance models.
Volkswagen Golf hatchback refinement
The Golf has traditionally been one of the quietest cars in its class, and that remains the case with this latest model. True, there's a bit more wind noise than in the Audi A3 at motorway speeds, but road noise is better suppressed, making the Golf a more peaceful cruising companion. It’s also quieter than a Leon or Octavia.
Most of the engines are quiet, too. True, the 1.0 units thrum away merrily but they're not coarse, and none of the engines transmit too many vibrations up through the soles of your feet. Only the 1.6-litre diesel is a little disappointing: it sounds rattly when cold and a bit boomy when revved.
The standard manual gearboxes are light and precise and there's plenty of feel through the clutch pedal so it's easy to pull away smoothly. The optional automatic DSG gearboxes are a bit jerky when you're parking and in slow-moving traffic, but shift smoothly when you're on the move.