Now in its seventh generation, the Volkswagen Golf remains a firm fixture in the list of the UK’s best-selling cars, and accounts for one-third of VWs sold in this country. For that you can thank the combination of understated looks and an upmarket image, along with efficient engines and strong resale values.
The Golf gained new headlights and bumpers as part of a mid-life facelift in early 2017 which also resulted in a revised infotainment system and the option of a new turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine.
The range starts with a 1.0-litre petrol engine and goes on to include plug-in hybrid, pure electric and high performance variants (plus a VW Golf Estate), so there really is a Golf to suit almost every need.
- Latest deals:Check Volkswagen Golf lease prices
Roomy for passengers and boot is a good size
The Golf’s boot is nowhere near as big as that of the SkodaOctavia or Nissan Pulsar, but will still take a fold-up baby buggy and several bags of shopping without any difficulty. You also get a false boot floor that lets you divide the space in two and raise the load level so that you’re less likely to strain your back when lifting in heavy items, and the rear seats fold almost flat to accommodate longer loads.
Large, square door openings make it easy to get into the Golf’s rear seats without banging your head, and once in there’s enough legroom and headroom to keep four six-footers happy. A fifth person can be squeezed into the middle seat, but as with most rivals will need to straddle a lump in the floor.
Almost impossible to fault
Even the sporty GTI model is good at soaking up bumps in the road, while lesser Golfs are about as comfortable as family hatchbacks get.
This isn’t just down to the suspension. There’s a huge range of adjustment to help you find a good driving position, and the seats are supportive, with only the cheapest, S-specification cars missing out on adjustable lumbar support.
The petrol engines are particularly smooth and quiet, and while the diesels are noisier at tickover they are no worse than the units you’ll find in rivals. The fact that the Golf shuts out wind and road noise better than rivals adds to its credentials as a long-distance cruiser.
Book a free Volkswagen Golf home test drive
Dashboard layout 8/10
Not as classy as an Audi A3, but not far off
The Golf has rotary air-conditioning controls that make it easy to adjust the temperature inside the car. An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard on all models, and is generally slick to use with an excellent satnav on higher-spec versions. Our only complaint is that it’s possible to accidentally tap the shortcut buttons either side of the screen when twisting the volume knob.
Optional equipment includes a larger 9.2-inch touchscreen, although this misses out on the rotary control knobs and shortcut buttons of the smaller screen, plus an Active Info Display that is much like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and replaces the traditional dials with a digital display that can also show functions such as the satnav.
In terms of quality, the Golf doesn’t feel quite as special as the Audi A3, but it is still classier than most other rivals.
Easy to drive 10/10
Precise controls and excellent visibility
Few cars in any class offer a better all-round view than the Golf because it has large, deep windows that keep blind spots to a minimum.
The steering is light enough to make parking pretty easy, too, while well weighted pedals help you drive smoothly in stop-start traffic.
We are yet to try the 84bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine that is used in the entry-level model, but the 108bhp version of the same engine copes admirably, even with four people on board, as does the 1.6-litre diesel. You can specify an excellent automatic gearbox with every engine.
Fun to drive 8/10
Above average, but not the best
It grips well in corners, resists body lean and the steering is precise and responsive. What’s more, the engines pull well, with enough oomph to make overtaking easy. The larger engines feel genuinely quick, and if you want a car that’s properly fast but still easy to live with, the Golf GTI or all-wheel-drive Golf R are about as good as it gets.
Volkswagen has a pretty good record
Volkswagen finished sixth out of 27 manufacturers in the 2016 UK Vehicle Dependability Survey, above Mercedes, Audi and BMW.
Volkswagen provides a year’s worth of breakdown assistance as standard.
Fuel economy 10/10
Up with the best hatchbacks
For ultimate economy, the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE returned more than 100mpg in EU tests, although in order to achieve anywhere near that you’ll need to regularly charge it to make the most of the 20-mile or so electric range. Alternatively, if you only ever cover short distances VW offers a pure electric e-Golf with a range of just over 100 miles in normal driving.
Of the conventional engines, the most efficient Golf is the 1.6-litre TDI diesel, which managed more than 70mpg in official tests, and will manage almost 60mpg in everyday use, with the 2.0-litre TDI not far behind.
Petrol Golfs are also very efficient. You can expect up to 50mpg in normal driving from the 1.0-litre model, and even the high performance GTI and R will exceed 30mpg when driven gently.
A good long-term buy
The Golf costs more to buy than an equivalent Skoda Octavia, but it holds its value much better, so it will actually cost you less in the long run.
Pricing is slightly below that of the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series, whether you are buying outright or leasing, and running costs are similarly low.
The Golf’s impressive official fuel economy figures translate into low CO2 emissions, so it’s relatively cheap to run as a company car – particularly if you go for a diesel. For private buyers, there remains a question mark over diesels due to the emissions scandal and growing concern over diesel emissions in urban centres.
Most versions of the Golf have lots of safety aids
The Golf comes with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee ’bag, and this helped it earn the maximum five-star rating when it was crash tested by car safety specialists Euro NCAP.
It scored particularly highly for adult occupant and child occupant protection, beating rivals such as the Ford Focus and VauxhallAstra. However, the Focus and Astra had the edge for pedestrian protection.
Like its rivals, the Golf comes with a stability control system that helps correct skids. What’s more, most versions of the Golf have a city emergency braking system that can stop the car for you if it detects a collision is imminent (only the S model misses out on this), and you can add a traffic jam assist function that will steer, accelerate and brake for you at low speeds provided you keep your hands on the wheel.
Standard spec 8/10
Mid-spec SE models hit the sweet spot in a comprehensive range
The cheapest version of the Golf is the S, which comes with air-conditioning, front electric windows, an 8-inch touchscreen with digital radio and a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection.
We reckon it’s worth upgrading to the SE model, though, because this adds 16-inch alloy wheels, power folding wing mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, electric rear windows (on five-door models) and an adaptive cruise control system that keeps you a set distance from the car in front. However, if you want satnav as well you’ll need to opt for SE Navigation.
The GT version of the Golf also comes with satnav, 17-inch wheels and sports suspension, but this and the sporty looking R-Line model are a bit pricey.
For a more performance oriented Golf the diesel GTD, or petrol GTI and R are all well equipped, although we’d consider adding Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive suspension to ensure the best possible ride quality.
Our favourite version
1.0 TSI 110 SE Navigation 5dr, list price £20,120
Options you should add: Metallic paint (£570) and front and rear parking sensors (£455)
The verdict 9/10
The Volkswagen Golf remains one of the best all-rounders on sale, with a level of space, quality and performance that puts it a long way ahead of most mainstream rivals. The higher-powered 1.0-litre petrol is a delight to drive, with fuel economy figures that aren’t far off what you’d get from a diesel. It’s still worth trying an AudiA3 as well, but the Golf’s price advantage might just be too hard to ignore.
For all the latest news, advice and reviews from Telegraph Cars, sign up to our weekly newsletter by entering your email here