Volkswagen Golf hatchback performance
The range kicks off with an 84bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder (TSI) petrol engine. But with its official 0-62mph time of 11.9sec – with hardly any improvement in fuel economy over the more powerful 109bhp version of the same engine – it doesn't seem the best choice.
The 109bhp 1.0 is actually 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, step up to the four-cylinder petrols, starting with the 128bhp 1.5-litre unit. This 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 have a 148bhp version of the same 1.5-litre petrol motor. When filled to the brim with friends and family, you’ll be grateful for the extra shove in overtaking situations. It also feels perfectly suited to the optional seven-speed dual-shift DSG unit. However, it is significantly more expensive than the 128bhp 1.5 and is fractionally less economical.
The 113bhp 1.6 TDI diesel is a good option 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 its much stronger performance. A more powerful and decidedly brisk 182bhp version is also available. This makes overtaking a breeze, although it’s only in the sporty (and rather pricey) GTD model.
Two GTI editions – one with 227bhp and a Performance Pack model with 242bhp – and the range-topping R model cater for hot hatch fans. They have 2.0-litre turbo engines, although the R has more power (306bhp) and four-wheel drive, so can out-accelerate many proper performance cars.
Volkswagen Golf hatchback ride
The Golf rides more comfortably than other family cars; it’s 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, while the ride remains brilliantly composed over the sort of scarred and patched-up surfaces you find in most towns and cities.
However, lower-powered versions (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 the more expensive versions of the Golf.
The heavier GTE and e-Golf are comfortable, but a bit firmer than the petrol and diesel versions because of 'sportier' suspension. Even the performance models with firmer suspension, such as the GTI 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, meaning 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 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 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 A3 at motorway speeds, but road noise is better supressed, making the Golf a more peaceful cruising companion. It’s also quieter than a Leon or Octavia.
Most of the engines are muted, 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, sounding 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, making it 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.