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First Drive: The Volkswagen Golf remains a classy and credible all-rounder

First Drive: The Volkswagen Golf remains a classy and credible all-rounder

By Swansway Motor Group 21-02-2020

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Ted Welford tests VW’s eighth-generation Golf to see if it’s set to remain as popular as ever

What is it?

Few cars can rival the longevity of the Golf, which has survived eight generations and is fast creeping up on 50 years of existence. Times have changed massively in that time, and so have the people buying them.

And yet it remains Volkswagen’s most popular model, and it’s arguably one of the most important new cars on sale, given it was the UK’s second best-selling car in 2019. A remarkable 45 million Golfs have been produced since the model first arrived in 1974. This latest model is crucial for Volkswagen to get right, so does it?


What’s new?

In typical Volkswagen fashion, this latest model - on face value alone - looks little more than a facelift. But it’s underneath the surface and inside where the changes soon begin to build.

Volkswagen Golf interior seats

The interior is the revolutionary bit, with Volkswagen completely digitalising the cabin with touch pads all over the place, as well as a new 10-inch touchscreen and digital dials – the latter being unique in this hatchback, or for now anyway.  Mild-hybrid technology (badged as the eTSI) is also being introduced to selected versions of the 1.5-litre petrol engines, when paired with a DSG automatic transmission.


What’s under the bonnet?

Powering our test car is the 128bhp version of the 1.5-litre petrol engine (not a mild-hybrid – you need the 148bhp option for that), which is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. This is expected to be the best-selling configuration, and be a popular choice with the fleet market.

It’s a good choice for the Golf – delivering all the power that many will ever need, as it will accelerate from 0-60mph in nine seconds and reach a top speed of 133mph. It’s also impressively refined, as you can barely even hear it at low revs. Cylinder deactivation technology has also been added to aid efficiency, though figures aren’t available just yet.

While not delivering the punch of the larger petrol option, it’s a good all-rounder, feeling plentiful at motorway speeds and delivering a dose of buzz for swift overtakes, though if you aren’t in the right gear it can feel sluggish.

Further engines joining the range include a turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol, a 2.0-litre diesel and also a plug-in hybrid.


What’s it like to drive?

For years the regular (non-GTI) Golfs have been known for being comfortable and refined options, though lacking in driving enjoyment, and this continues with the latest version.

Volkswagen Golf driving on a road

Even at higher speeds, this model is remarkably refined, and it’s only the odd bit of wind noise that makes its way into the cabin. Add in a comfortable and supple ride, which doesn’t even seem phased by the larger alloy wheels our test car was riding on, and you soon realise why the Golf is a popular motorway cruiser.

But, as was the case before, this isn’t a model that is a byword for driver enjoyment. You’ll have to wait for the Golf GTI, TCR and R versions to arrive for that.


How does it look?

Volkswagen tends to take an evolutionary approach to the way its cars look, and this is the same with the Golf, which has slowly changed over time. But if a formula works, why would you go to the bother of radically changing it?

Viewed side on with a seventh-generation Golf, you would be hard-pressed to spot the difference. However, the front is the most different part of it, as it features more distinctive headlights (now LEDs as standard), as well as a full-length apron to give the car a more aggressive look.

Head to the rear and you’ll see Volkswagen’s new slimmer logo, as the Golf is the first all-new model to feature this, as well as a more prominent ‘GOLF’ logo.

So, this might not be a revolution on the exterior, though you can’t blame Volkswagen for taking ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach.


What’s it like inside?

Things might not have changed much on the outside, but they sure have on the inside, which is headed up by a huge 10-inch touchscreen that seems to control just about everything. It’s positioned next to a digital cockpit, which is crisp, clear and easy to use. Just about all physical buttons seem to have been binned, with a new ‘Hello Volkswagen’ voice control service (imagine Siri but for your car) as well as touchpads to control the lights and even the sunroof.

Interior of the new VW Golf 8

It certainly looks the part, and will ensure the Golf remains fresh for years to come, but it personally feels like a step too far – using a touchscreen for something as simple as changing the climate control is just distracting and more time consuming that using a traditional button or knob would be.

But aside from that it’s business as usual for practicality, with the Golf being spacious enough for family duties, if not class-leading.


What’s the spec like?

Many of us are probably familiar with Volkswagen’s naming structure – comprising of S, SE, SE L etc. However, Volkswagen UK is adopting the German trim levels this time, which means the new grades are Golf, Life, Style and R-Line – the latter being the only trim carried over from before.

Standard kit is generous, with the highlight being the impressive twin digital displays. LED headlights are also fitted, while keyless entry and plenty of safety kit only bolsters the Golf’s appeal.

Prices haven’t yet been announced, though they’ll be revealed shortly, but we expect a slight price increase over the outgoing model’s starting price.


Verdict

With the Golf having such a loyal customer base, and with Volkswagen already having a near class-leading model with the outgoing Golf, Volkswagen didn’t need to do a great deal to bring this version up to the highest class.

Rear view Volkswagen Golf

This 1.5-litre petrol engine is an absolute gem and leaves you wanting for little, while the new range of standard kit only adds to the appeal. The digitalised interior won’t appeal to all and it will take some time to adjust to, but it ensures that the Golf’s interior won’t feel outdated in a couple of years.

It seems that the Golf will to continue being the benchmark in the family hatchback class.


Facts at a glance

Model as tested: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 130 Style

Price (as tested): £TBA

Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol

Power: 128bhp

Torque: 200Nm

Max speed: 133mph

0-60mph: 9.0 seconds

MPG: TBA

Emissions: TBA

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