Volkswagen Golf - £318 pm
There's no doubt that the Volkswagen Golf has earned its place near the top of the family hatchback tree. Over 43 years and seven generations it's been a stalwart in the sector, and the latest model is more complete than it's ever been.
It's been on sale in Mk7 form for a few years now, but a facelift in 2017 helped freshen it up. VW has been clever with the update, as it targets areas where the Golf needed subtle improvements As a result, class-leading quality is now backed by cutting-edge tech.
The Golf's strong points include its air of solidity, classy and understated looks, peerless refinement and a wide variety of engines with varying levels of performance and economy. It's slightly more expensive than its closest rivals, but it does hold on to its value like no other mainstream family hatchback, so VW is often able to offer it with competitive monthly finance payments.
As the latest Golf uses VW's MQB platform, it offers safe yet engaging handling and excellent ride comfort, while a variety of driving aids mean the Golf can be extremely safe yet reasonably enjoyable to drive.
Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 150 Match 5dr
Name a hatchback off the top of your head, and you're likely to come up with the Volkswagen Golf. Since it was introduced in 1974, it has established itself as one of the leading lights of the class, thanks to its practical shape, decent engines and accessible performance in the shape of the GTI version.
The Golf on sale now is the Mk7, which was introduced in 2012 and given a minor update at the start of 2017 to keep it competitive against a number of new arrivals in the class. The Golf is currently available as a three or five-door hatchback and as an estate, which has also spawned a high-riding 4x4 model called the Golf Alltrack. Elsewhere, the Golf SV (or Sportvan) is a variant that has slightly larger dimensions to create a bit more boot and interior space, but isn't quite as big as the Touran MPV.
- Volkswagen Golf 1.0 S review
If you want a four-door saloon, the VW Jetta is available, although this is based on the older Mk6 Golf, so isn't as good to drive or as well equipped as the latest Golf. And if you want a sportier looking Golf, it's the same story with the Scirocco, because while it has coupe looks, it's also based on the older Golf platform.
Image 2 of 27Volkswagen Golf - rear
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Volkswagen's most recent update focused on improving the on-board technology, as the basic structure, engine and performance of the Golf Mk7 was largely fine as it was. It also tweaked the looks slightly, although you'd need to be a hardcore fan of the Golf to be able to spot the differences, and the car's relatively simple appearance means it's not the kind of car to draw attention to itself.
Under the skin, the Golf Mk7 uses VW's latest MQB platform, which combines weight saving and safety with sharp handling. As a result, the Golf is one of the best handling cars in its class, especially if you go for a car with a 2.0-litre engine. These versions get a multilink rear suspension setup that offers an improved driving experience. The standard cars are fine, but the multilink system takes the car to another level, and this is the main reason why the performance models - the GTI, GTD and Golf R - are near the front of the hot hatch pack.
Image 3 of 27Volkswagen Golf - dash
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Engine options are broad, and all the petrol and diesel units meet current Euro 6 emissions regulations - the diesel versions are in no way affected by the Dieselgate scandal. The petrol range is all turbocharged, and comprises a 1.0 TSI in 85PS and 110PS guises, a 1.4 TSI 125PS, the 1.5 TSI EVO with either 130PS or 150PS - this engine features cylinder deactivation to save fuel - while the 2.0 TSI comes in 230PS, 245PS and 310PS versions in the GTI, GTI Performance and Golf R respectively.
As for diesels, there are fewer choices, with the 1.6 TDI 115PS and 2.0 TDI 150PS available, while the GTD gets the latter engine in 184PS form. As well as these conventional engines, there's also the GTE plug-in hybrid with 1.4 TSI petrol engine and electric motor for 204PS, while the all-electric e-Golf is also available.
In terms of gearboxes, the 1.6 TDI gets a five-speed manual, while the rest of the range gets a six-speed manual as standard. VW's seven-speed DSG auto box is now offered across the range, but on every model, while the GTE gets it as standard. All models are front-wheel drive - if you want 4MOTION four-wheel drive, the only choices are the Golf Alltrack estate or Golf R hot hatch.
Prices for the Golf start from just under GBP 18,000, and the five-door body carries a premium of about GBP 650 over the three-door. The most expensive model in the range is the Golf R Estate, which is about GBP 36,000.
There are plenty of alternative choices in the hatchback class. The Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus, Renault Megane, Honda Civic and Peugeot 308 all offer quality cabins, low running costs and enjoyable drives to varying degrees. The SEAT Leon and Mazda 3 are sporty alternatives, while the Skoda Octavia majors on practicality and space. Top-end versions of the Golf challenge premium hatchbacks like the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes A-Class, Volvo V40 and Lexus CT.
Elsewhere, the Toyota Auris, Nissan Pulsar, Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee'd all offer reliable everyday usability, although none are very exciting to drive.
Engines, performance and drive
Golfs span every taste, from a mild-mannered shopping car to a fire-breathing hot hatch
The Volkswagen Golf has always delivered high levels of comfort, refinement and handling poise, and the facelifted Mk7 is no exception. Enter a series of corners, where the Golf responds swiftly to the direct and well weighted steering. There's also bags of grip and rock-solid body control, which make the VW a confidence-inspiring machine. Better still, this agility is matched to impressive refinement and comfort. The ride isn't as soft as a Renault Megane's, but it's better controlled over big bumps, while engine, wind and road noise are isolated from the cabin.
This is particularly true of the 1.5 EcoTSI petrol that comes as part of the Mk7's revisions. It's a 148bhp unit, and it is astonishingly refined; indeed, at motorway speeds, even the Golf's low levels of wind and road noise do become audible, just because the engine has faded so far into the background.
Regardless of engine, the Golf is almost ghost-like over bumps; it just glides over them. Progress can be made even more fluid by choosing the adaptive damping system as an option.
In addition to the effortless ride, drivers benefit from well weighted steering, a precise gearshift and strong brakes, while an electronic differential helps deliver sharp turn-in to corners and extra traction when exiting. Overall the MQB platform offers safe, balanced handling - not perhaps the last word in driving excitement, but it's a superb all-round effort.
Volkswagen fits all Golf models with over 118bhp with a more sophisticated multilink rear axle to help improve handling - although in most situations the standard torsion beam set-up feels nearly as composed. The small wheels and thick tyre sidewalls on entry level versions make it a superbly cossetting car for the money.
With the exception of the five-speed manual in the entry-level 1.0 edition, the standard gearbox across the Golf range is a six-speed manual. But one key switch in the 2017 facelift is the phasing out of the old six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic in favour of a smoother-shifting seven-speed unit across all models.
Image 4 of 27Volkswagen Golf R-Line - front
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Volkswagen reset the Golf's range at facelift, so at present there are no eco-focused BlueMotion models.
If fun is top of your priority list, then opt for a GTD, GTE, GTI or R version. The GTD offers plenty of torque for effortless overtaking. Don't be fooled by the GTE though: despite the name, it's no hot hatch. It's faster in a straight line than the GTD, but the added weight means it's not much fun in the corners.
True performance fans will be drawn to the flagship R model. Available as a hatchback or an estate, the Golf R gets 306bhp and four-wheel drive, so it should feel very sharp to drive and pack a tremendous amount of grip.
However, for most keen drivers, the legendary Volkswagen Golf GTI delivers an ideal mix of performance, value and fun. Standard cars now get 227bhp as part of the 2017 facelift, although you can get an extra 15bhp on top of that, and a limited-slip front differential, by choosing the Performance Pack.
We'd recommend going for the (hardly costly) Performance Pack, offering a trademark GTI blend of fun performance, agility and everyday usability, but with a more focused driving experience on the limit.
The GTE hybrid is less of a hot hatch to drive, mainly thanks to the additional weight of the powertrain harming responses in the bends. It's not as quick or as characterful as the GTI, either, but it does impress when you take it easy with its efficiency and smooth, silent town driving.
The revised Golf features a few new engines, but most of the line-up remains intact. It's also still the only mainstream car on sale that offers the choice of petrols, diesels, a plug-in hybrid and a full-EV.
The petrol engines are badged TSI and they start as small as a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit producing just 84bhp (this motor replaces the old 1.2 with the same output). It's not as slow as you might expect thanks to a turbocharger, and it's exceptionally smooth.
The 84bhp unit is available in S trim only, though; to best combine power, efficiency, kit and price, you'll need to step up to its more powerful 1.0 sibling which offers 109bhp. It retains the refinement of the base car, but adds useful extra punch for overtaking or carrying heavier loads.
This three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol was previously only available on the ultra-efficient BlueMotion. Despite its diminutive capacity, the turbocharged engine puts on a strong display. We recorded a 0-60mph time of 9.6 seconds in one, which was half a second faster than a more powerful 1.0-litre turbo Honda Civic, while it had a larger-capacity Renault Megane 1.2 TCe beaten during our in-gear assessments. For instance, it covered the fourth gear 30-50mph increment in 5.6 seconds, which was 1.1 seconds ahead of the Megane.
On the road, the Golf feels more lively as its more powerful rivals, pulling smoothly and eagerly from as little as 1,500rpm, even in the higher gears. With 200Nm of torque at just 2,000rpm, there's little need to work the smooth engine hard - but the unit will spin sweetly to the 6,000rpm red line.
Image 7 of 27Volkswagen Golf - front cornering
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The mid-range petrol engine is a 1.4 with 123bhp, although in the medium term this will be replaced by a 1.5 that closes cylinders down to save fuel when they're not needed. The new unit produces a hefty 148bhp in its initial form, but an eco-focused version (which closes down completely when you're cruising along, almost like a hybrid) will offer 129bhp and be a more direct swap with the old 1.4.
The 2.0-litre petrol power is all reserved for the GTI and R models, with outputs from 237bhp to 306bhp.
On the diesel side, there's a 1.6 with 114bhp that's available right across the Golf range. It's capable enough for most uses, but if you want something with a little more guts (and a little less noise), VW offers a 2.0 diesel producing 148bhp and barely any more CO2. There's also a potent 181bhp 2.0, but it's reserved for the GTD.
The GTE plug-in hybrid mixes a 1.4-litre petrol and an electric motor for a combined output of 201bhp, while the e-Golf has been given a more efficient battery as part of the 2017 facelift, so it now promises 186 miles on a single charge. It's as smooth and easy to drive as it's always been, but with improved fast charging - you can now top it up to 80 per cent in 45 minutes with a fast charger, while a 21bhp power upgrade means it feels more sprightly than before.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Advanced engine tech means most versions in the Golf range are very efficient, offsetting the high initial purchase cost
Volkswagen has ensured that the Golf is very easy on the wallet - so much so that even the racy 2.0-litre GTI returns an impressive 44.1 with CO2 emissions of 148g/km.
If you're after properly frugal motoring, though, then it's good to know you can choose between either the 1.0-litre petrol with 109bhp, or the 114bhp 1.6 diesel, and still have CO2 emissions of less than 110g/km - and that's regardless of whether your gearbox is a manual or a DSG automatic.
Of course, there should be a Golf with less than 100g/km of CO2 emissions - and we expect a BlueMotion variant later this year that will achieve that feat.
In the meantime, the gutsy new 1.5-litre unit with 148bhp isn't bad at avoiding the pumps either; its cylinder deactivation technology means it returns a claimed 55.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 116g/km.
The Golf GTE's economy figures are pretty much identical for 2017, with the promise of up to 157mpg combined. Like all plug-ins, that figure needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, as to stand any hope of getting close to that figure you need to be able to run on electric power only for a large chunk of your commute. When the batteries are drained, you should manage about 50mpg. Its big appeal comes as a company car, thanks to its low Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax rate making it very cheap to run.
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The e-Golf is, like most EVs, costly to buy from the outset, but that initial expense can be offset by it costing only a few pounds to fully charge up (depending on when and where you charge). Expect around 130-14o miles of range from a charge in the real-world, although that varies hugely depending on your driving style and usage.
Insurance ranges from Group 11 for the entry-spec Golf 1.0 TSI S - up from Group 7 for the old 1.2 petrol - to a sky-high 39 for the rapid Golf R. We've found insurance quotes are competitive with class rivals, so the percieved prestige of the VW badge doesn't come with any financial penalty.
Image 10 of 27Volkswagen Golf - side
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Private buyers that are looking to maximise their returns will likely be swayed by the Golf's impressive residual forecast. Our experts predict the Golf will still be worth an impressive 48.2 per cent of its new value after three years and 36,000 miles, which is better than almost any other rival.
It may not look or feel very exciting, but the Golf is well made and well equipped. Its new infotainment system can be fiddly, though.
There's no denying that the latest Volkswagen Golf can't quite match the Mazda 3 or SEAT Leon for head-turning appeal. But what the Golf lacks in the wow factor department, it more than makes up for in cool Teutonic understatement.
The Golf manages to pull off the neat trick of looking both classless and classy. The facelifted version of the seventh-generation car may not appear overly different to previous versions, but key visual tweaks include a bold crease cut into the body flanks, which gives it a low, sporty stance.
However, it's the interior of the Golf that really impresses. The wraparound dash looks a little plain, but look closer and you'll see Volkswagen has laid it out intuitively and put it together using first-rate materials. Soft-touch plastics feature throughout, and any extra trim on the centre console is of a high enough grade to look classy, not kitsch.
Better still, the switchgear in the Golf operates with precision and the car's low-slung driving position is one of the best in the business. It's also a pleasant surprise to find that the flat-looking seats are surprisingly supportive.
The Golf's understated looks aren't particularly helped by the entry-level Golf S having steel wheels and plastic rims. However, move slightly higher up the range and things get better quickly. SE brings 16-inch alloy wheels, plus chrome-effect flourishes on the air vents and light switches, and ‘brushed dark silver' inserts in the dashboard and door panels.
You get more chrome effect in GT, as well as chunkier 17-inch alloys, and R-Line brings decorative inserts in the dash and door panels, along with a different design of 17in wheel and trapezoidal exhaust pipes.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
VW paid special attention to the Golf infotainment during the recent facelift - and its efforts have paid off. All versions get the eight-inch Composition set-up that features a DAB radio, Bluetooth and a USB connection, plus the brand's Think Blue trip computer that gives tips on efficient driving. SE models and above add the desirable Car Net 'App Connect', which brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone apps, while Nav models get a three-year subscription to online services.
The unit has sharp graphic, and the straightforward menu system rivals the Vauxhall Astra's for ease of use. Like the old set-up, there's a motion sensor that brings up hot keys when your hand approaches the screen, while the touch menu buttons respond well.
On Nav models, you can upgrade to the GBP 1,325 Discover Pro, which features a large 9.2-inch screen, gesture control and a 64GB memory. But really, the standard system delivers all the features you'll need - its core hardware is impressive, with an ultra-crisp touchscreen, but the interface itself is flawed. That's because Discover Pro does away without the physical shortcut keys down either side of the screen, and you can't use a dial to zoom in and out either.
You end up pressing on-screen buttons to move between core functions - and if you're in the navigation, you have to pinch to zoom as if you're using a smartphone. The whole set-up is fiddly to use on the move - and VW's much-hyped gesture control, which also comes as part of Discover Pro, is equally flawed, being unreliable to the point of worthless.
At least you won't have any problem getting the sounds you want coming through the speakers. A DAB radio is standard on even the S models, along with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and a single CD player.
Image 14 of 27Volkswagen Golf - infotainment
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On a more positive note, VW's Active Info Display was made available on the Golf as part of its spring 2017 facelift. This is a 12.3-inch screen that replaces the traditional instrument dials with a more configurable, adjustable interface. It's crystal clear and has smooth animations as moves items around to prioritise either basic driving data or navigation info. It's not a cheap option, but we can see why many will tick the box.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Decent space inside the cabin and the boot make the Golf a solid family car choice
We're looking at the regular Golf hatchback in this review, although if you need extra practicality from your Golf, it's also offered in MPV-style SV and five-door estate bodystyles.
While the Golf might not have class-leading interior space, it's hardly a significant flaw. In both three-door and five-door formats, Volkswagen's Golf hatchback ticks all the important boxes: it's got plenty enough space for five passengers and the capacious boot has a practical shape, too. Visibility is better than most hatchbacks in its class, as well.
The Golf seems to grow with each successive generation, and the Mk7 is 150mm longer, 13mm wider and 4mm lower than the Mk6. But it's still far from the being a huge car by class standards: it's more compact in every measure than the current Ford Focus, for example.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
There's loads of space up front, while rear passengers get plenty of head and legroom. The wide, flat rear seat can take three people without too much of a squeeze, although the centre passenger may find things a bit uncomfortable on longer journeys.
Getting in and out is a simple matter (especially with the five-door), and child seats are easy to fit in the back using either the car's seatbelts or Isofix.
Image 16 of 27Volkswagen Golf - rear seats
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Volkswagen has given the Golf lots of handy storage spaces, including a deep cubby under the front armrest between the driver and front passenger, a large air-conditioned glovebox and numerous cup-holders. Buyers also benefit from vast door bins that are flock-lined to stop their contents from rattling around noisily on the move.
As ever, the large VW boot badge doubles as the tailgate release and opening it reveals a well-shaped 380-litre boot. Better still, there's a wide opening and low load lip, while below the adjustable-height false boot floor provides a handy hidden storage area. If you need more room, you can liberate a generous 1,270 litres of capacity by folding the 60:40 rear seats; the load platform is usefully flat, too. Useful additions to the load space include a 12V power supply and a pair of bag hooks, plus there's a ski-flap for longer items.
Of course, those looking for even more practicality can opt for the Estate model with a capacious 605-litre boot that expands to 1,620 litres with the rear seats folded flat. The Alltrack version retains this practicality, but adds a raised ride height and four-wheel drive for added versatility.
It's worth noting that the e-Golf and GTE are slightly less practical, because their batteries are mounted under the boot floor. As a result, the e-Golf gets a 343-litre load bay, while the hybrid GTE shrinks to 272 litres. That's still a very usable amount of space, but you do sacrifice any form of under-floor storage.
Most Golfs can be used for towing (the exceptions are the e-Golf, GTE and R). Depending on model, the maximum unbraked towing capacity varies between 600kg and 670kg, while the braked figure ranges from 1,100kg to 1,600kg.
Reliability and Safety
Top-notch safety is a big plus point, but the Golf may not be quite as reliable as VW would have you imagine
VW has always played heavily on its reputation for building durable and reliable cars, so the brand's 14th place result in our Driver Power 2017 satisfaction survey may be seen as a bit of a disappointment. Still, the Golf Mk7 comes in at a creditable 18th place overall in the Driver Power top 75, and Golf owners responding to the survey have been keen to praise their cars' build quality, performance, comfort and handling.
Certainly the Golf exudes an air of being built like a tank. The shut lines are consistent and narrow, the quality of the materials is high throughout and there is a pleasing lack of squeaks and rattles.
Further peace of mind comes in the form of the VW's strong safety record. All cars get seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), while the five-star Euro NCAP rating is impressive, especially the 94% rating for adult occupant protection.
Standard safety gear across the range include an electronic parking brake with auto hold function, electronic tyre pressure monitoring, stability control, front passenger airbag deactivation and hydraulic brake assist.
All but entry-level S editions get Front Assist, which now incorporates city emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
Safety options include lane assist with side scan, blind spot monitoring and dynamic light assist, park assist and rear side airbags.
Latest VW Golf Hatchback deals, save from GBP 3,526
VW's three-year, 60,000-mile warranty is about average by industry standards, although you can extend it, at extra cost, up to a maximum of five years or 90,000 miles.
The service schedule for the Golf is every 12 months or 10,000 miles, whichever is the sooner. Fixed-price servicing is available from VW dealers, although VW doesn't offer the sort of low-cost all-in servicing package that many rival manufacturers do, so costs are likely to end up being higher than some competitors.
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