Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The 1.5 TSI 150 petrol engine makes the most sense. Its healthy whack of 148bhp translates as plenty of performance without too much sweat (0-62mph comes in a sprightly 8.5sec). It has a six-speed manual gearbox (a seven-speed dual-clutch auto is reserved for the eTSI mild hybrids and 2.0 TDI 150 diesel), and while you’ll occasionally need to change down a gear to climb a particularly steep hill or overtake that tractor you've been cursing, nipping around town and building speed to join motorways are tasks that are ticked off with ease.
The 128bhp 1.5 TSI 130 petrol engine is a decent alternative to the TSI 150 if you're looking to keep the price down, but its lower power is noticeable when joining a motorway. Even the entry-level 1.0 TSI 110 is worthy of your consideration if you’ve no need for zesty acceleration; there’s plenty of urgency down low, so it feels plenty pokey enough for urban driving. Its outright performance, especially out of town, is noticeably less spirited, though.
The mild-hybrid 1.5 eTSI 150 offers 148bhp but, with assistance from a small electric motor, it pulls even more strongly from low revs than the regular petrol version. It feels pretty brisk when you work it hard, too — enough to see you past a BMW 118i should you line up next to one at the lights — and its automatic 'box is responsive when you ask for a quick burst of pace. Diesel fans, meanwhile, will enjoy how strong the entry-level 2.0 TDI 110 feels at low revs; it makes for relaxed progress when you’re not in a hurry, although like the 1.0 TSI, 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.
To read about the Volkswagen Golf GTI, click the link to our dedicated review.
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, but not downright annoying, manner. The BMW 1 Series is certainly firmer, but it's also better tied down on motorways and A-roads.
Opt for a ‘150’ engine and you get a more sophisticated rear suspension setup that makes the ride less fidgety, but the Golf has another trick up its sleeve, too. If you add Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), which is Volkswagen's name for 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 cars in the class, 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 outside of those three default modes, so you can be sure of a set-up that'll suit you to a tee; the downside is that DCC is quite pricey, so we wouldn't say it's 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 (standard on R Line trim) system adds a weightier Sport mode, which works to an extent, but the Golf's steering still isn't as sweetly calibrated as the Ford Focus's or as alert and responsive as the 1 Series'.
And if a sharper drive is your thing, those two aren't your only alternatives: the Seat Leon is also more agile and fun, with less body lean than the Golf in bends. There are ways you can liven up the Golf's handling and make it keener to change direction, though. R-Line trim comes with a stiffer sports suspension, or you can opt for adaptive DCC suspension on any trim and gain the ability to stiffen it up on demand.
Noise and vibration
All of the 1.5 TSI petrol engines, including the eTSI 150 mild hybrid, make themselves heard when you rev them beyond 2500rpm. However, only the 1.5 TSI 130 becomes coarse if you rev it higher. At certain points in the rev range, the TSI 130 also sends some vibration through to the inside of the car, although not as noticeably as the 2.0 TDI diesel. That said, the latter is still one of the smoother diesel engines in the class, while the 1.0 TSI is one of the more refined three-cylinder engines out there, with little vibration and a muted soundtrack.
In every Golf you'll notice some wind and, more acutely, road noise at 70mph – the latter is another area where the cheaper Focus outshines it.
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 or A Class and most versions have progressive brakes that allow you to stop with grace. The eTSI 150's aren't quite as good because there's a bit of interference from the energy recovery system that charges the mild hybrid system's battery under braking. They're still pretty good, though.
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