This much improved version of the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf might just be all the car you'll ever need. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Volkswagen's Golf is the family hatchback against which all others are judged - and in seventh generation form has proved to be the best selling version of this car ever made. Now it's got a smarter look, an all-new 1.5-litre TSI engine option, more sophisticated media connectivity and a range of important detail changes. If you're shopping in this segment, you might be asking yourself why you should buy a Golf. But perhaps the more pertinent question is whether there's now really any reason why you shouldn't.
Volkswagen's modern era 'Peoples' Car', the Golf family hatchback, has been bought by an awful lot of people. Launched back in 1974 to replace the iconic Beetle, it was the model that saved the company through 29 million sales and six generations that brought us to the MK7 model that launched here in 2013. This seventh generation version has sold very well for the Wolfsburg brand, but in recent times, the launch of tough new rivals like new versions of Vauxhall's Astra and Renault's Megane has caused some in the market to wonder whether the premium required to own a Golf in the family hatchback sector is really worth paying.
This improved version is Volkswagen's response. Plusher, safer, smarter, more efficient and higher-tech, its goals actually lie beyond simply being better than a Focus or an Astra. This rejuvenated Golf also aspires to appeal to buyers who might be considering premium-badged compact hatches from brands like BMW, Audi or Mercedes. Which gives you an idea of just how good Wolfsburg thinks this car is. Are they right? Let's find out.
Most of the engineware in this Golf is carried over from before, but there is an all-new petrol powerplant - Volkswagen is calling it the '1.5 TSI Evo', a four cylinder petrol turbo that uses 'Active Cylinder Management' to cut off two cylinders under light to medium throttle loads. This engine develops 150PS in its standard form, but there is also a 'BlueMotion' version developing 130PS. The other change beneath the bonnet has been applied to the Golf GTI, which had fallen behind some of its rivals in the power stakes. Now, this model develops 230PS in its standard form, or 245PS if you go for the 'GTI Performance' derivative. The other mechanical change made to the line-up is the replacement of the old 6-speed DSG auto gearbox with a more efficient 7-speed unit.
Otherwise, things are much as before. At the foot of the range, there's the well-regarded 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit, a three cylinder powerplant developing 110PS. Most Golf buyers though, tend to want a diesel - possibly the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel, but more probably the 2.0-litre TDI, available with either 150 or 184PS. As before, only variants developing more than 120PS get multi-link rear suspension: below that level, your Golf will come with a less sophisticated torsion bean set-up. As before, there's a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4WD Golf R super hatch model at the top of the range. Or, for the same kind of money, a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid model. Want the lowest possible running costs? Then you need the all-electric e-Golf. Either way, it seems Volkswagen has almost everyone's preferences covered.
Design and Build
The first thing you'll notice about this revised Golf is probably its slightly sleeker front end. Many variants now get full-LED headlamps and the air intakes at either corner of the front bumper have been restyled too. Jewel-like LED tail lamps are now standard across the range and on top versions, there are smart animated flowing indicators too. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's a choice between three or five-door hatch and estate bodystyles, both of which sit on the Volkswagen Group's light, stiff and very sophisticated MQB chassis.
And behind the thinner multi-function steering wheel? Well, as ever, nobody does it better than this. It isn't that it feels especially plush, though the quality of materials used is excellent - and far better, incidentally, in this Wolfsburg-constructed Golf than Volkswagen's similarly priced but Mexican-built compact Jetta saloon. It's just that everything is of just the right quality and feels absolutely fit for purpose. In this revised model, the cabin has been given a lift by the addition of smarter decorative trim panels on the doors, the dash panel and the centre console, as well as classier seat covers. Out back, there's a 380-litre cargo bay in the hatch version that's much bigger than that provided by rival Focus and Astra models. It can be extended to 1,270-litres if you push forward the rear seats.
Market and Model
The UK line-up retains a familiar feel, beginning in the hatchback range with S and rising through SE, SE Nav, GT, R-Line, GTE, GTE Advance, e-Golf, GTD and GTD BlueLine to GTI, GTI Performance and, ultimately, R. As before, Golf prices sit in the £19,000 to £35,000 bracket. There's a £655 premium to go from the three-door bodystyle to the five-door bodyshape that 90% of British buyers choose and from there, you get the option of finding a further £700 more for the estate bodystyle if you want it. A key change with this revised model lies with media connectivity. An 8-inch 'Composition Media' screen now comes as standard. Plus there's the option of a really sophisticated 'Discover Pro' monitor, this being the first Volkswagen infotainment system to offer both touch and voice-command operation, with gesture control in addition to proximity sensors.
Your dealer will also want to tell you about the clever 'Media Control' app that can be used if your Golf's infotainment set-up incorporates a wi-fi hotspot. Passengers simply connect in their 'phones or tablets via the app, then the entertainment system can be operated from anywhere in the car. As you'd expect, there's full 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' compatibility so you can link in your smartphone and use your favourite apps in-car. And we like the new 'Security & Service' package that can automatically alert the emergency services in the event of a breakdown or an accident, book servicing and even advise you if the car is driven beyond a certain area, should you lend it out.
Cost of Ownership
When this seventh generation Golf was originally launched, its efficiency figures took a big step forward, thanks to the lighter MQB chassis. Those returns still look pretty good today: the 1.6-litre TDI 115PS engine is capable of returning CO2 emissions of 105g/km and well over 70mpg in regular use. Go for the 2.0 TDI 150PS variant and the figures are 109g/km and over 67mpg.
What about petrol power? Well the big news here is the replacement of a sophisticated '1.5 TSI Evo' powerplant using Volkswagen's frugal Cylinder-on-Demand technology. In its standard 150PS form, Volkswagen reckons that this unit will return close to 50mpg on the combined cycle and 110g/km of CO2. In its 'BlueMotion' 130PS guise, this engine can manage 51.1mpg and 104g/km, figures not too far off what you'd get from some diesels. We're big fans of the plug-in hybrid GTE variant, which combines a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and a 102PS electric motor. This variant claims a combined fuel economy figure of 166mpg and emissions of 39g/km and can travel up to 31 miles on all electric power. But of course that's nothing compared with the all-electric e-Golf variant, which offers a range of up to 186 miles from a full charge that can be pretty much completed in just 35 minutes through a combination of the car's special CCS combined charging system and a DC supply.
In the words of a previous Volkswagen Group Chairman, the only mistake a Golf can really make is to stop being a Golf, a failing you could never level at this improved seventh generation model. All the reasons you might want to buy one are satisfied here. It looks like a Golf and functions with all the quality you'd expect from the Western hemisphere's most recognised and most desired family hatch. This is what happens when all the resources of Europe's leading auto maker are focused on creating the definitive expression of conventional family motoring.
True, it could be more exciting in its more affordable forms and you certainly wouldn't call it inexpensive in comparison with mainstream models in this segment. But then, this isn't a mainstream model any more, as good in every meaningful respect as the premium compact hatch models from the fancy brands that are much pricier. It is, in short, a Golf made good. Which, if you're shopping in this sector, makes it very desirable indeed.