Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
There are two 2.0-litre diesel engines that are badged up as a 2.0 TDI 130 and 150, with 114bhp and 148bhp respectively. Then there’s a 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol that employs Volkswagen’s 48V mild-hybrid technology (1.5 eTSI 150), and two regular 1.5-litre turbocharged petrols with 128bhp and 148bhp (1.5 TSI 130 and 150).
We’ve sampled the TSI 150 petrol and it offers plenty of performance without too much sweat. It comes with a six-speed manual gearbox (a seven-speed dual-clutch auto is reserved for the hybrid and higher-power diesel), and, while you find yourself having to change down gears when climbing a particularly steep hill or overtaking that tractor you're cursing being stuck behind, regular tasks such as nipping around town and building speed to join motorways are ticked off with ease.
The 1.5 eTSI 150 hybrid has the same power, but with assistance from its electric motor it offers a broader spread of shove. You notice this with its greater guts low down, making it happier to lug in higher gears. It also feels pretty brisk flat out — enough to see you past a BMW 118i should you line up against one at the lights — and its auto 'box is responsive when you kick it down. We’re yet to try the diesels, but will let you know what they’re like in due course.
Suspension and ride comfort
You can buy your Golf with standard suspension, but so far we’ve tried only iterations fitted with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC). That’s Volkswagen's name for adaptive suspension. With Comfort mode selected, the Golf has one of the cushiest rides in the class, dealing with road imperfections exceedingly well for a family hatchback. Impressively, it beats the Skoda Scala and Toyota Corolla in this regard, as well as the Mercedes A-Class.
It can sometimes feel a little floaty, but you can always flick it to the firmer Normal mode to dial some of that out, or go the whole hog and pop it into the stiffer Sport setting. The problem then is that you feel every little road imperfection passing beneath the car.
Uniquely for this class, if you want to find a setting outside of those three default modes, you can. Using a sub-menu in the infotainment screen, you can pick from any number of settings to find the one that suits you best.
The Golf’s light steering is great for town driving but some might prefer a bit more heft along faster, twistier roads. Sport mode adds more reassuring weight to enhance the connection between you and the road, but, while it’s intuitive, the Golf's steering still isn't as sweetly calibrated as the Ford Focus's or as alert and responsive as the 1 Series'.
With the DCC suspension, you’ll find there’s a bit of body roll in Comfort mode, but stiffening things up reduces this greatly and makes the Golf keener to turn into bends. Whichever mode you’re in, grip levels are decent and you can trim your line into bends by backing off the accelerator, with no nasty surprises or vices. Yes, a Focus or a 1 Series is more fun, but rest assured the Golf is impressively capable.
Noise and vibration
The 1.5 TSI petrol engines, including the eTSI, make themselves heard above 2500rpm but avoid sounding coarse, even at the top of the rev-range. The manual gearbox is also pleasant to use, slotting into gear cleanly with each press of the Golf's positively weighted clutch pedal. Unfortunately, the brakes on the eTSI aren’t so good. They regenerate energy under braking to charge the battery pack and this system corrupts the pedal feel, giving you an inconsistent response.
As for the automatic gearbox, it changes between gears smoothly and isn’t overly jerky in traffic. It’s far better than the fairly awful auto ‘box found in the Ford Focus. Elsewhere, you'll notice some wind and, more acutely, road noise at 70mph, and the latter is an area where the cheaper, quieter-cruising Focus outshines the Golf.