Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The 1.5 TSI 150 petrol 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 comes with a six-speed manual gearbox (a seven-speed dual-clutch auto is reserved for the eTSI 150 mild hybrid 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 mild-hybrid 1.5 eTSI 150 petrol also has 148bhp but, with assistance from a small electric motor, it pulls even more strongly from low revs. 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 auto 'box is responsive when you ask for a quick burst of pace.
The 128bhp 1.5 TSI 130 petrol engine is fine if you're looking to keep the price down, but its performance, especially out of town, is noticeably less spirited. There’s also a cheaper 108bhp 1.0 TSI 110, but we’re yet to try it. 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. It’s not exactly what you’d call fast, though. We’ll let you know about the more powerful 2.0 TDI 150 when we’ve tried it.
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.
Unusually for this type of system you can make really subtle adjustments if you want, but to make things simple there are three main settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport. In Comfort, the Golf is one of the smoothest-riding cars in the class, dealing with scraggy roads exceedingly well, but with a bit of float over dips and crests, and you can dial that out by switching to the slightly stiffer Normal setting. The downside is that DCC is quite pricey, so we wouldn't say it's a necessity to add if it means stretching your budget.
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 Sport mode, with more steering weight to enhance your sense of connection to the front wheels. It 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 a Seat Leon is more fun to drive all round.
There’s also more body lean in bends than you get with those rivals. R-Line trim comes with a stiffer sports suspension, and if you add the optional adaptive DCC suspension to any trim you can stiffen it up on demand – doing so does make the Golf a bit keener to change direction. In short, the Golf is capable and there's always plenty of grip, but the Focus, 1 Series and Leon are all more fun.
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 hits a gravelly, coarse note if you rev it higher. At certain points in the rev range, this engine also sends some vibrations through to the inside of the car, although not as many as the coarser 2.0 TDI. That said, the latter is still one of the smoother diesel engines in the class.
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 a route to all six gears pretty easily. The Golf also has a smoother automatic gearbox than the Focus or A Class. All versions of the Golf have progressive brakes that allow you to stop with grace – except for the eTSI 150. It can recover energy under braking to recharge its battery pack, but, in action, this process makes it hard to judge how much pedal pressure to apply to slow down smoothly.
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