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.
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 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 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.
This 84bhp three-cylinder petrol is available only on entry-level S trim with a five-speed manual gearbox. We haven’t tried it yet but, judging by the lethargic official 0-62mph time of 11.9sec (with hardly any improvement in fuel economy over the more powerful 109bhp version of the same 1.0 engine), it doesn't seem the best choice.
1.0 TSI 110
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 engines. If you're a company car driver, this is the engine we'd recommend.
Our pick 1.5 TSI Evo 130 Bluemotion
This free-revving 128bhp four-cylinder petrol offers gutsier performance for more relaxed acceleration than the 1.0-litre engines. Comes with a choice of a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed DSG auto.
1.5 TSI Evo 150
Available only in the more expensive GT and R-line trims, this engine pulls hard from low revs and builds speed in a very progressive way. It remains near-silent at cruising speeds, too. Helped by its ability to shut down cylinders when they’re not needed, it can top 50mpg in real-world conditions.
2.0 TSI 230 GTI
This engine is reserved for the GTI and pulls strongly from low revs. However, the real joy comes from letting it rev, at which point acceleration becomes properly rapid.
2.0 TSI 245 GTI
This comes as part of an upgrade package for the GTI, bringing an extra 15bhp as well as larger brakes and a limited-slip differential.
2.0 TSI 310 R
Only the range-topping R model is available with this seriously powerful 306bhp petrol engine that, combined with four-wheel drive, gives the Golf R the sort of acceleration to worry proper sports cars. Comes with a choice of a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed DSG auto.
The all-electric e-Golf delivers a smooth rush of powerful and virtually silent acceleration around town. It runs out of steam on faster roads, but is perfect for nipping between traffic lights in the city and for stop-start urban driving.
Combines a turbocharged 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor. The instant shove of the electric motor means the GTE is particularly rapid moving from a standstill. Super-low CO2 emissions help make it a tax-efficient choice for company car drivers and the car can manage around 20 miles on pure battery power.
1.6 TDI 115
This diesel engine has 113bhp and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed DSG auto. It’s the least refined engine in the Golf range, with performance that is adequate rather than sparkling, although it does offer very competitive claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
2.0 TDI 150
If you want a diesel and can stretch your budget, we’d take this 2.0-litre engine over the 1.6 TDI 115; it’s stronger from low revs and always smoother, yet still returns good claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Available with a standard six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed DSG auto.
2.0 TDI 184
This most powerful diesel engine is reserved for the sporty GTD. It delivers brisk acceleration, getting from 0-62mph in as little as 7.4sec and on to a top speed of 144mph. At the same time, it’s claimed to return upwards of 60mpg with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. An optional seven-speed DSG auto is also available.