By Jonathan Crouch
Volkswagen's Golf is the family hatchback against which all others are judged. The seventh generation version became cleverer and classier than ever before, particularly in the improved 2017-2019-era guise we're going to look at here from a used car buyer's perspective. If you're shopping in this segment for a family hatch made in this period, you might be asking yourself why you should buy one. But perhaps the more pertinent question is whether there's really any reason why you shouldn't.
Back in the Seventies, the original Golf saved its brand from bankruptcy. This revised version of the seventh generation model didn't face a task quite on that scale, but it did arrive at a post-'dieselgate' period when Volkswagen as a manufacturer urgently needed a period of solid product continuity. Loyal buyers needed to be reassured by strengthened brand values. Conquest customers needed convincing that paying a premium to own a Volkswagen was still worth doing. Quite a task. But then this was a Golf, a car that by 2017 was in its fifth decade of a production run that had previously generated over 33 million sales. When it comes to family hatchbacks, it was, we're told, 'the definitive article'.
It needed to be, for by 2017, the family hatchback market was in an era when the marque needed to step up its game. Volkswagen's in-house Skoda and SEAT brands were offering Golf technology for less, the South Korean competition was improving and more familiar mainstream family hatch rivals were adding premium quality and technology that, in the words of their marketeers, made them 'more Golf-like'. In response, Volkswagen launched this car at the end of 2016, still recognisably a seventh generation Golf - but perhaps not as you might know it.
There was a dazzling array of optional infotainment, with top-end technology buyers could even operate by gesture control. If specified correctly, a post-2017-era Golf could drive itself in traffic jams and take over completely if the driver was ever incapacitated. Plus there was also a fresh 1.5-litre TSI Evo petrol engine, a new 7-speed DSG auto gearbox and more power for the performance models. Along with subtle changes to cabin quality and exterior styling that took the look and feel of this Volkswagen even further up-market. In short, it was claimed that this car had been thorough rejuvenated. It sold until the all-new MK8 Golf was launched in late 2019.
What You Get
It's a Golf. You don't need us to tell you that. This is one of those cars that almost everyone recognises. What's less likely is that your friends and neighbours will pick up on the fact that you've bought into the revised post-2017-era version of this seventh generation model. The changes that distinguish this improved design were, after all, extremely subtle - intentionally so, to preserve the residual values of the previous version. The design of this car has been painstakingly evolved over more than forty years and for the 2017 model year, Volkswagen had no intention of dramatically changing it.
If you're familiar with the original version of this MK7 model, you won't find the interior to be very different - which is a very good thing indeed because that design set fresh ergonomic standards in this segment that in 2017, many rivals were still struggling to match. To further underline this model's superiority in this regard, Volkswagen added new trim panels in the centre console and the doors and smartened the upholstery, but what you're more likely to notice is the bigger centre-dash infotainment screen. Previously, you only got an 8-inch monitor as large as this one if you pushed the boat out with one of the costly premium navigation packages. From 2017 onwards though, a display of this size was fitted as standard across the range, upgraded in some models to the 'Discover Navigation' system that's fitted to plusher variants and was optional lower down the range.
What about back seat space? Well those of you already familiar with the MK7 Golf will know that this seventh generation model grew quite significantly in size over its predecessor, with benefits across the rear bench in both head and legroom. As a result, this Golf's back seat remained one of the more spacious rear seat areas in the segment.
And the boot? Well the 380-litre space provided here is 64-litres more than you get in a rival Ford Focus, but this Golf's capacity is still significantly down on what you'd find in segment rivals from this era like Skoda's Octavia, Honda's Civic, Toyota's Auris and Peugeot's 308. Freeing up more cargo capacity is easier to do than it would be in a rival Focus from this era where you've got the faff of having to pull up the rear seat cushion before you can push forward the rear seatbacks. Here, you just push the 60:40-split backrests forward and they fold almost completely flat, creating a cargo area that's 1,270-litres in size.
What to Look For
Most Golf MK7 owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there have been those who have had problems you'll want to look out for. One owner reported squeaky noises coming from the suspension over speed humps. Another noted that his steering wheel made a slightly wheezy noise when going round bends slowly. There were reports of the boot juddering when closing. And fuel caps that were difficult to open, making re-fuelling a struggle. One owner reported vibration from the door cards at the front and the rear. And another reckoned that his infotainment system was choosing not to function in very cold weather - and at times, was choosing to control itself.
As for mechanical stuff, well we came across one owner who'd had a clutch go after just 4,600 miles - but that's very unusual. Another experienced faulty injectors. And another experienced a power failure related to his DSG auto gearbox. Also look out for smearing wipers, problems with the cabin air blowers and a rattle from the gearbox over speed humps.
[based on a 2017 model 2.0 TDI diesel] An air filter will be priced in the £13 to £20 bracket, an oil filter will sit in the £5 to £10 bracket and a fuel flier will cost in the £9 to £20 bracket, though a pricier brand could cost you up to £35. A radiator will likely cost between £95 and £115. The brake discs we came across sat in the £50 to £70 bracket, with pricier-branded discs costing between £80 and £135. Brake pads are in the £18 to £30 bracket for a set but for pricier brands, you could pay up to nearly £80. A drive belt is around £12, though go for a pricier brand and you could pay as much as £60 for one. A timing belt is around £60, though go for a pricier brand and you could pay as much as £110 for one. Wiper blades cost around £8, though go for a pricier brand and you could pay as much as £30 for them. Tyres sit in the £35 to £40 bracket.
On the Road
Nothing about the driving experience really changed with this improved post-2017-era seventh generation Golf - but then you could argue, as Volkswagen did at the time, that nothing really needed to. There's a polish to this car that's evident not only in the way it's built, the way it looks and the quality of its interior fittings but also in the way it drives. Get used to your Golf and you'll find that progress can be effortless, thanks to a combination of stability, poise and control that makes journey times shrink rapidly. That'll be evident whichever powerplant you choose, engines across the range available with the option of a more sophisticated 7-speed DSG auto gearbox that's offers quicker response and greater efficiency than the 6-speed unit it replaced.
As with the 2012-2016-era versions of this MK7 design, the model line-up was effectively split in half by Volkswagen's decision to adopt two quite different rear suspension systems across the range. Lower-order engines like the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel and the three cylinder 1.0-litre petrol unit in 110PS form get a relatively unsophisticated torsion beam suspension set-up. Go for the 1.5-litre TSI Evo petrol engine, the 2.0-litre TDI diesels or one of the 2.0 TSI petrol units used in the uprated GTI and Golf R models and you'll get a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up that provides an exemplary ride and handling balance. Across the range, efficiency is well up to class standards - this 110PS 1.0-litre TSI unit for example, manages 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and 109g/km (NEDC figures). For ultimate frugality though, you'll need one of the electrified Golf models. We highly rate the clever GTE Plug-in hybrid, but it's also worth looking at the full-electric e-Golf which in 2017 got a higher-capacity battery that increased its NEDC-rated operating range to as much as 186 miles.
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 post-2017-era seventh generation model. All the reasons you might want to buy one secondhand are satisfied here. So there are classy looks, a meticulously-crafted interior and 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 from the 2017-2019 era. Volkswagen's argument in response is that by 2017, this car had become as good in every meaningful respect as pricier premium compact hatch models from prestige brands. There's some truth in that. Certainly when it comes to media connectivity and electronic safety provision, this improved post-2017-era Golf has a premium feel. As before though, most of the really clever features are optional and you've to find a highly-trimmed example if you're to get a Golf that really feels luxurious.
If that doesn't bother you, then with this Volkswagen, you'll be getting a family hatch with quality that runs deep. For nearly half a century, this car's been a benchmark in the segment it originally helped to create. Nothing's changed in that regard. And it probably never will.