Volkswagen Golf hatchback (2017 - ) review
The Volkswagen Golf is Europe’s best-selling family hatchback, which says an awful lot when you consider it’s up against some phenomenal opposition, including the Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and BMW 1 Series.
Interested in buying a Volkswagen Golf?
How good does it look?
The Golf hasn’t exactly changed a whole lot over the years, but why change when you have such a successful formula? Despite its familiarity – not to mention its conservatism – the Golf still manages to look smart and desirable thanks to its subtle, crisp lines. The entry-level S cars miss out on alloy wheels and front fog lamps, but second-rung Match or SE trims ticks those boxes, and as you move further up the range, you get more and more styling trinkets. GT models have 17-inch alloys and tinted windows, while 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 GTE hybrid models have blue trim at the front end to highlight their clean credentials, while the all-electric e-Golf also has its own look, with C-shaped daytime running lights, a blue stripe on the grille and a unique design of bumper.
What's the interior like?
The Golf’s interior fixtures and fittings are simply sensational. Everything you come into contact with, from the steering wheel’s classy design and finish, to the gear shifter’s feel and the precision of the switches, is almost impossible to fault. Together with loads of thoughtful touches – like the large, flex-free door pockets rolled over at their top edges to avoid scruffy manufacturing seams, the substantial door handles, and the way the latches have been deliberately engineered to produce a solid reassuring thud when you close the doors – all ensure the Golf smacks of quality and scrupulous attention to detail.
What’s more, the Golf is also brilliant at the basics, with loads of seat and steering wheel adjustment, along with comfortable, supportive seats. Having said that, taller drivers should try the GTI seats before they buy, as we found the headrest pushed the head uncomfortably forwards. This generation of Golf is a facelifted version of the car launched in 2013, and has a different, touchscreen infotainment system. It suffers slightly from the same issue as other touchscreen systems, namely that the lack of physical buttons makes it more difficult to change settings on the move. But it’s otherwise well designed and easy to navigate.
How practical is it?
We can only applaud Volkswagen’s attention to detail, which can only have come about from thousands of hours of intensive testing. Interior space is more than decent, with plenty of room for four adults and five at a push. Anyone still bemoaning the Golf’s old-school boxy styling need only sit inside for a minute or two to appreciate the excellent all-round visibility and the masses of light that enters the cabin via the large side windows. The boot lip is usefully low and the boot space in most models measures 380 litres – which is about the same as most of its rivals – but it's a very good, square shape. However, be warned that the boot is a little smaller in the e-Golf, while you lose more than 100 litres of capacity if you go for the hybrid GTE.
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. There’s also the option of a folding front passenger seat, a swivelling tow bar, and even Park Assist, meaning the car can automatically steer itself into an appropriate space.
What's it like to drive?
Depending on which version you choose, you get different suspension setups. Less powerful versions have a fairly basic rear suspension, slightly more powerful versions have a more sophisticated setup at the rear, while the sporty versions get various arrangements that are lowered and stiffened to varying degrees. The interesting thing is, you can’t really go wrong with any of them, as even the most basic gives you a superbly comfortable and quiet ride. The sportiest versions are very comfortable when compared with their hot hatch rivals, but they 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 dream. The one exception to that rule is the e-Golf, which doesn't feel quite as comfortable or as quiet as the other Golfs, although it's by no means bad, and the noise is only really an issue at motorway speeds.
How powerful is it?
There’s an engine to suit every taste in the Golf range, and every one we’ve tried is – in its own way – very impressive. The most affordable of these is the lower powered 85 horsepower version of the two turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engines, but it’s worth stepping up to the more powerful 110 horsepower one. It’s not particularly quick, but it’s a lot perkier than you might expect. And with plenty of flexibility thrown in, it makes it a very easy car to live with.
Further up the petrol range are turbocharged 1.4- and 1.5-litre engines, both of which are quick and wonderfully smooth. The 1.5 is especially sweet. Yes, it is prone to the odd stumble as you come on and off the throttle at low revs – no doubt a by-product of limiting emissions – but in truth, only a hopeless pedant will take issue with this. The rest of the time, the engine is creamy smooth, with a strong lust for revs and an impressively linear power delivery right up to the red line.
Both the legendary GTI and bonkers fast R models come with exceptionally strong, smooth 2.0-litre turbo units so, it’s simply a case of just how hot do you need your Golf to be? Diesel choices start with a 1.6-litre unit, which is very flexible if not all that quick, and it could be quieter and smoother, too. The 2.0-litre diesels address these issues, are much more flexible, and throw in a fair bit more pace.
The GTE plug-in hybrid has both a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to deliver 201 horsepower, 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; and, believe us, it does feel pretty quick, as it responds very quickly when you try and accelerate. Most versions get a slick-shifting manual gearbox as standard, but are also available with a smooth twin-clutch gearbox as an option.
If you're interested in the e-Golf, you might want to check out our favourite electric cars.
How much will it cost me?
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 110 horsepower, three-cylinder petrol has low CO2 emissions, meaning very keen tax rates, and it also delivers a strong fuel economy. The GTE returns even more sensational figures , while the e-Golf has no tailpipe emissions at all. That translates into exceptionally low tax liabilities and exemption from the London congestion charge, as well as making the car eligible for a significant government grant to help towards its relatively high purchase price.
How reliable is it?
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. More up to date information, from JD Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, suggests an upturn in fortunes, as VW as a brand scores better than average. The three-year/60,000-mile warranty is about par for the course, but not especially generous.
How safe is it?
The Golf scored a full five-star crash-test rating from safety organisation Euro NCAP. 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. A pre-crash system, which in the event of an imminent collision, will close windows and the sunroof to ensure the airbags can work most effectively is also included, as is pedestrian monitoring, complete with low-speed autonomous emergency braking. There’s also traffic jam assist as an option. Although the driver still has to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times, the system enables the car to steer around obstacles, accelerate and brake automatically.
How much equipment do I get?
Mainstream Golfs are offered in plenty of varieties. Entry-level S cars come with a decent amount of kit, including remote locking, air-conditioning, electric front windows, and a touchscreen infotainment that brings together Bluetooth, DAB, and eight speakers. SE trim is well worth the upgrade, though, because it brings alloys, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, and adaptive cruise control to the car. SE Nav adds sat-nav to that list.
The Match sits alongside the SE model, and has a very similar level of kit. The GT version has some posh interior flourishes and lowered sports suspension, 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, as does the electric e-Golf, and all of them are as extensive as you would expect from some of the dearest models in the range.
It’s perhaps easier to ask yourself the question; why wouldn’t you? No matter how you look at it, the Golf is simply a superbly rounded and highly accomplished performer. As well as offering a great drive, exceptional refinement and comfort, the cabin is immaculately finished and roomy enough to satisfy most people’s needs. The engines are yet another positive, as most provide exceptional refinement, strong performance and affordable running costs, while hybrid GTE and all-electric e-Golf are also among the very best cars of their type. Throw stellar resale values into the mix, and it’s easy to see why the Golf occupies top billing in the family hatchback class.