Volkswagen Golf hatchback (2012 - 2017) review
If you don’t already know that the Volkswagen Golf is a high-class family hatchback, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few decades. It also happens to be one of the best cars of its type.
Interested in buying Volkswagen Golf?
The Golf hasn’t exactly changed a whole lot over the years, but why change when you have a successful formula? Despite its familiarity – not to mention its conservatism – however, the Golf still manages to be smart and desirable thanks to details that are sharp and crisp. The entry-level cars miss out on alloy wheels and front fog lamps, but second-rung Match trim checks those boxes, and as you move further up the range, you get more and more styling trinkets. R-Line models provide a sporty body kit without you having to splash the cash on one of the performance – GTD, GTI or R – models.
The cabin is another reason why buyers find the Golf so desirable. When you compare the quality of its materials and build with most other family hatchbacks, it’s a real cut above, and it also compares well with cars that are considerably more expensive. This classiness is also combined with exemplary ergonomics. All the dials and switches sit exactly where you’d expect to find them and all are clearly marked and intuitive. The touch-screen infotainment system – aside from the one exception that’s it’s stupidly fiddly to enter a postcode into the navigation – is also very easy to use. The driving position has bags of adjustment and your all round visibility is crystal-clear, all of which helps make life at the wheel of the Golf even sweeter.
We must applaud Volkswagen’s attention to detail on the Golf, which can only have come about from multiple shopping excursions. The boot lip is usefully low and the bootspace measures 380 litres – which is about the same as most of its rivals – but it's a very good, square shape.
The Golf also features stepless door angling, meaning you can open the door to any angle and it’ll stay there: perfect for any tight car park squeezes. While there’s also the option of a folding front passenger seat, a swivelling towbar and even Park Assist, meaning the car can automatically steer itself into an appropriate space (40cm additional length required in front and behind). What’s more, the Golf is also brilliant at the basics, with lots of passenger space in both the front and the back, along with supportive, well-shaped seats.
Ride and handling
Depending on the version you choose, you get a different suspension setup. Less powerful versions have a fairly basic rear suspension, slightly more powerful versions have a more sophisticated setup on the back, while the sporty versions get various arrangements that are lowered and stiffened to varying degrees. The interesting thing is that you can’t go wrong with any of them. Even the most basic arrangement gives you a superbly comfortable and quiet ride, while also delivering enough control to make the car genuinely enjoyable to drive. Some rivals are more fun in the twisty bits, but very few of those have the Golf’s smoothness. The sportier versions are also very comfortable when compared with their hot hatch rivals, but also deliver bigtime on the thrills. Throw in steering that’s responsive, consistent and accurate, plus control weights that are perfectly finessed, and you’ll find that driving your Golf, whatever flavour it is, is an absolute pleasure.
There’s an engine to suit every taste in the Golf range, and all the ones we’ve tried are, in their own way, very impressive. The most affordable of these is the turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, and with 113bhp, it’s all the engine most buyers will ever need. It’s not that fast, but it’s a lot perkier than you might expect and this flexibility makes it very easy to live with. It’s also impressively smooth and quiet, and really economical.
Further up the petrol range are turbocharged 1.4s with 123bhp and 148bhp, both of which are quick and wonderfully smooth, while the GTI and R models have 2.0-litre turbo units with 217bhp and 296bhp, respectively. Unsurprisingly, both are sizzlingly fast.
Diesel choices start with a 108bhp 1.6, which is very flexible if not all that quick. It could be quieter and smoother, too, but the 2.0-litre diesels – which have 148bhp, or 181bhp – are much better on that score and deliver quite a bit more pace. The GTE plug-in hybrid has both a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to deliver 201bhp, meaning it has near-hot hatch pace but with unbelievably low running costs.
There’s also an all-electric e-Golf, which is eerily quiet and smooth as it fizzes up to speed. Most versions get a slick-shifting manual gearbox as standard, but are also available with a smooth twin-clutch gearbox as an option.
The Golf sits at the pricier end of the spectrum compared with most other family hatchbacks, but it’s not that much more expensive than most of its mainstream rivals, and it definitely feels worth the money you pay. What’s more, it has stronger resale values than most of its rivals, meaning you’ll get a bigger slice of your dough back when you sell the car on.
All the engines are competitive when it comes to fuel economy and CO2 emissions, but there are a couple of superstars in the range. For example, the 113bhp three-cylinder petrol has emissions of 99g/km, meaning very keen tax rates, and it also delivers official fuel economy of 65mpg. The GTE returns even more sensational figures of 39g/km and 166mpg, while the e-Golf is completely emission-free.
Volkswagen has managed to carve itself a strong reputation for reliability, but this isn’t necessarily reflected in the various surveys we’ve seen. Indeed, the brand is fairly entrenched in the bottom half of the manufacturer standings on Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, while as an individual model, the Golf’s score is – historically at least – pretty disappointing. The three-year/60,000-mile warranty is about par for the course, but not especially generous.
The Golf scored a full five-star crash-test rating from Euro NCAP, and all versions get front, side, curtain and knee airbags, plus Isofix points for two child car seats in the back. There’s also a system that locks the brakes on during a crash to prevent further impact. Match models get City Brake, Driver Alert and a PreCrash system which, in the event of an imminent collision, will close windows and the sunroof to ensure the airbags can work most effectively.
Mainstream Golfs are offered in four flavours. Entry-level S cars come with a decent amount of kit including remote locking, air-conditioning, electric front windows and a touch-screen stereo that brings together Bluetooth, DAB, and eight speakers. Match trim is well worth the upgrade, though, because it brings alloys, automatic lights and wipers, powered back windows (on five-door models), front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, radar cruise control, sat-nav and a wifi hotspot in the car. The GT version has some posh interior flourishes and a panoramic roof, while R-Line cars have a body kit and some racy interior touches. GTE, GTD, GTI and R model have their own specific kit lists, all of which are extensive.
Because you want the best, and you’re prepared to pay for it. Yes, the Golf is one of the pricier cars of its type, but it’s also one of the finest, so it’s worth every penny. Quality, desirability and sophistication are all provided in abundance, and that makes it a must-see for any family hatchback buyer.