The VW Golf has been setting the family hatchback standard for forty years. Rivals such as the SEAT Leon, Skoda Octavia and Ford Focus narrowly beat the VW for style, practicality and driving fun, but none can quite match the Golf’s blend of talents and upmarket image.
Now in its seventh generation, the evergreen Golf is better than ever. Underpinned by VW’s new lightweight MQB chassis, the latest version is around 100kg lighter than its predecessor, yet also more refined and sharper to drive. It also comes packed with the sort of cutting edge kit that wouldn’t look out of place on an executive saloon.
Of course, the VW isn’t exactly cheap to buy when compared to the opposition, but if offsets its higher price tag with a high quality cabin, sophisticated driving experience and upmarket image.
The VW also boasts one of the best engine line-ups in the business, with everything from frugal TDI diesels through to the muscular 296bhp petrol used in the flagship R model.
The range starts with the entry-level S, which gets desirable kit such as Bluetooth phone connection, a DAB radio and air conditioning. Move up to the Match model and you benefit from adaptive cruise control and alloy wheels, while the racy GT adds sat-nav and parking sensors.
As ever, there’s an ultra-efficient Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion that combines a new 1.6-litre TDI diesel and slick six-speed gearbox to deliver CO2 emissions of just 85g/km and promised fuel returns of 88.3mpg. At the other end of the performance and efficiency spectrum is the range-topping Golf R, which packs a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a grippy four-wheel drive transmission.
However, for most keen drivers, the legendary Volkswagen Golf GTI delivers the best mix of performance, value and fun. Standard cars get 207bhp, but we’d recommend upgrading to the Performance Pack. This addition costs £995 and includes a 10bhp power boost, bigger front brakes and a clever electronically controlled front differential that boosts traction and reduces understeer.
For buyers wanting hot hatch looks but much cooler running costs there’s the GTD. Powered by a 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel, it promises 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds yet will return 67.3mpg at the pumps.
Finally, for buyers who love the latest in cutting edge kit there’s the electric e-Golf. Costing more to buy than Performance Pack GTI, it features a punchy 113bhp motor and a range of around 100 miles.
Our choice: Golf 2.0 TDI Match
There's no denying that the latest Volkswagen Golf can't quite match the Mazda 3 or the SEAT Leon for head-turning appeal. What the Golf may lack in the wow factor department, however, is made up in cool Teutonic understatement.
The Golf manages to pull of the neat trick of looking both classless and classy. This seventh generation car may not appear overly different to the previous Mk6 Golf but changes under the skin are comprehensive and there are key visual tweaks outside too. For example, this latest incarnation of Volkswagen's hatchback now features a bold crease that's cut into the flanks, and this gives it a low, sportier stance.
However, it's the interior of the Golf that's really impressive. The wraparound dash looks a little plain, but look closer and you'll see Volkswagen has laid it out intuitively, putting it together using first-rate materials. Soft-touch plastics feature throughout, while eye-catching metal-effect trim covers the centre console.
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. The Match model is fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels, plus some tasteful chrome trim for the front grille and lower air intake.
To highlight their performance flagship status, the Volkswagen Golf GTD and GTI models feature bespoke bumpers and 18-inch alloy wheels. The stylish black tartan cloth seats and the golf ball gear knob on both manual and DSG automatic versions are also a nice nod to the hot Golf’s history.
The Volkswagen Golf R comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, too, but you can also opt for 18-inch rims. The Golf R gets a unique bodykit, redesigned lights and quad exhausts.
Finally, the electric e-Golf is marked out by its flush fitting wheel trims and its distinctive ‘C’ shaped LED running lights that are set into the front bumper.
The Volkswagen Golf has always delivered high levels of comfort and refinement and it's good to know the latest Golf Mk7 is no exception.
Even at motorway speeds, the Golf features hardly any wind or road noise and it's 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, Volkswagen has made the Golf engaging to drive. 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 then, the Golf is always composed and inspires confidence in its driver.
Furthermore, Volkswagen fits all Golf models with more than 118bhp with a sophisticated multi-link rear axle to help improve handling – although in most situations that standard torsion beam set-up feels equally composed.
Even better, the eco-friendly BlueMotion models now drive in exactly the same manner as other versions. This is thanks largely to the adoption of a six-speed manual gearbox in place of the old five-speed unit, plus the addition of a smoother and more powerful 1.6-litre TDI diesel.
In terms of gearboxes, both the manual and twin-clutch DSG are precise, and on the latter, there is also the option of steering wheel-mounted paddles. However, the seven-speed unit used on lower powered models in smoother than the six-speed version that’s optional on 2.0-litre TDI and 2.0-litre petrol models.
The Volkswagen Golf Mk7 finished a strong 18th in our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction, while Volkswagen as a manufacturer finished 19th out of 33 manufacturers.
Volkswagen has ensured that one area in which the Golf excels is safety. All cars get seven airbags, ESP and post-collision braking, while our SE adds a city safety kit. Extras such as lane-keep assist and an auto braking system are also available - no surprise then that the Volkswagen Golf achieved a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
If you’re looking for a significant flaw in the Golf’s make-up, you won’t find it in the practicality department. Once again, Volkswagen’s hatch ticks the important boxes in some style.
Rear passengers get plenty of head and legroom, while the wide, flat bench seat should take three people without too much of a squeeze.
Elsewhere, Volkswagen has given the Golf lots of handy storage space, which includes a deep cubby under the front armrest between 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 is a handy hidden storage area.
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. If you need more room, you can liberate a generous 1,270 litres of capacity by folding the 60:40 rear bench.
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 47.1mpg with CO2 emissions of 139g/km from its petrol TSI engine.
If, however, properly frugal motoring is your thing, then it's worth looking at the Golf BlueMotion. Powered by a 1.6-litre diesel TDI engine, it returns 88.3mpg and emits 85g/km of CO2, meaning it beats the equivalent Ford Focus ECOnetic.
Our choice of engine for the Volkswagen Golf is the 2.0-litre TDI that produces 148g/km and returns an incredible 68.9mpg with 106g/km of CO2. Throw in the automatic DSG gearbox, and figures improve to 72.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 102g/km.
In addition to the 2.0-litre TSI engine found in the Golf GTI and Golf R, there are 1.2 and 1.4-litre TSI units that use the similar turbocharging technology.
The 1.2-litre powerplant with 83bhp returns 57.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 113g/km, while the 105bhp variant puts out 114g/km and returns the same mpg. What's more, the 105bhp engine can be mated to the automatic DSG gearbox and when it is, it returns 56.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 115g/km.
The 1.4-litre unit has either 140 or 122bhp. When combined with the latter, it manages 53.3mpg as well as 123g/km of CO2. Again, when combined with the DSG transmission, this figure drops.
The Golf GTD is powered by a 185bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine and it returns 67.3mpg - the 150bhp version of the same engine found on the Golf GT manages the same figures.
For the ultimate in low running costs, then look no further than the electric e-Golf. Powered by a 113bhp electric motor and boasting a range of around 100 miles, the battery-powered machine is a perfect commuting car and costs around £1 to charge from a mains socket.
Of course, the e-Golf won’t fit in with all types of journey, and for longer trips you’ll be better off with the forthcoming Golf GTE range-extender. Using a combination of 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and electric motor, the plug-in model blends a punchy 201bhp power output with 35g/km CO2 emissions, 188mpg and an electric range of around 30 miles.
Our experts predict the Golf will still be worth an impressive 48.2 per cent of its new value after three years.
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