Volkswagen Golf: car review

Posted on November 21st, 2012 by James Luckhurst

We can’t find serious fault with this cracker

Volkswagen Golf: car review

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What’s it like?
The new Volkswagen Golf is the seventh generation of the car which has sold 29 million examples worldwide. It’s more spacious, lighter and more fuel-efficient than before.

Would it help me stay safe?
It should do. The old Mk6 scored a five-star verdict from Euro NCAP. Volkswagen claims the new car has a stronger structure than before and has added a number of new safety features to the design.

Who should buy it and how much does it cost?
Anyone looking for a small hatch would be wise to take the Golf for a spin before buying anything else in this class. Prices start from £16,330.

Our review: Good Motoring, Winter 2012

Volkswagen Golf: car review

There’s a choice of petrol and diesel engines from launch, with more to follow over the next few months. For now, petrol buyers can choose from two 1.2 TSI engines (with 84bhp or 104bhp) or a pair of 1.4 TSI engines (120bhp or 138bhp). Diesel buyers can choose a 104bhp 1.6 TDI or a 148bhp 2.0 TDI.

We’ve driven the 2.0-litre diesel and the higher-powered 1.4 TSI. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is ‘just a 1.4’. Turbocharging gives the TSI the performance of a much larger engine, and delivers plenty of pulling power even from low revs. It’s lively and willing when you want to press on, yet just as happy to cruise along quietly at 70mph.

The 2.0-litre diesel will suit high-mileage drivers. It pulls effortlessly from low revs, with a strong mid-range for effortless overtaking. The diesel sounds mild-mannered however heavy your right foot.

In fact, refinement is probably the biggest area of improvement between the Mk6 and Mk7. There’s very little wind or road noise to disturb the peace and quiet on a long motorway drive.

Turn off major roads and the Golf shows another side to its character. The steering is accurate and well weighted, and cornering is nimble and balanced. This poise doesn’t come at the expense of ride comfort – the Golf does a fine job of soaking up the worst lumps and bumps in the road surface.

All but the entry-level models get a ‘driver profile selection’ system to tweak the car’s throttle and engine management. The test cars we’ve driven have also been fitted with Adaptive Chassis Control (a £795 option). Together, these systems give the driver the choice of eco, sport, normal, individual and comfort modes. ‘Comfort’ is fine around town but a little too slack at speed. ‘Sport’ firms things up nicely, although since the ‘normal’ setting is such a good compromise that’s the mode we’d choose for day-to-day driving.

Volkswagen Golf: car review

With an extra 59mm between the front and rear wheels, VW has made the Golf’s cabin more spacious. There’s a small but noticeable improvement in rear legroom, and the wider cabin should make travelling three-up in the back more comfortable.

Those in the front have plenty of space, and the new-look dashboard has a high standard of fit and finish. The centre console is now angled slightly towards the driver, although not to the extent that the passenger can’t easily adjust the air-con or change the radio station.

Boot space has improved 30 litres to 380 litres with the back seats upright. That’s 205 litres less than a Skoda Octavia but more room than you’ll find in a Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra. Fold the 60/40 split rear bench down and there’s 1270 litres of space, although the load floor isn’t entirely flat. There’s room to stow the parcel shelf under the boot floor so you won’t need to leave it behind if you load to the roof for a family holiday.

Volkswagen Golf: car review

The old Mk6 had strong safety credentials, but the Mk7 works that little bit harder to keep you and yours from harm.

There’s no need to look beyond the entry-level versions for a good level of active and passive safety equipment. Driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags are standard, as well as an airbag to protect the driver’s knees. Touch wood, stability and traction control systems should help avoid an accident in the first place.

A couple of year ago you’d need deep pockets to afford a car with an automatic braking system, but this feature is standard from SE spec upwards. VW calls its take on this technology City Emergency Braking.

The PreCrash system automatically pretensions seatbelts and closes the windows if sensors detect that a crash is likely. It’s standard on SE and GT models.

Volkswagen Golf: car review

One or two manufacturers have been launching entry-level models with headline grabbing prices but a kit list as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Fortunately even the cheapest Golf has a reasonable level of equipment.

Go for S spec and you get air conditioning, electric front windows, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors, a digital radio and a multifunction trip computer.

Step up to SE trim for alloy wheels, a leather trimmed steering wheel, electric rear windows, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, additional storage and a more upmarket dashboard finish.

GT spec is a stepping stone to the much anticipated GTI model, with lowered sports suspension, chrome exterior highlights, front fog lights, sports seats, sat nav, gloss black interior trim and front and rear parking sensors.

Volkswagen Golf: car review

If you expect to pay a premium for a Volkswagen compared with other bread-and-butter brands, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Golf’s pricing. It’s a long way from the cheapest car in its class but it’s competitive. The 84bhp 1.2 TSI three-door costs £16,330. Diesels start from £18,955.

Get anywhere close to the official figures, and you’ll enjoy exceptionally low fuel bills. The smallest petrol returns 57.6mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 113g/km of carbon dioxide. Not so long ago those numbers would have been respectable for a diesel.

The 1.6 TDI achieves 74.3mpg and emits 99g/km of carbon dioxide. The 2.0 TDI returns 68.9mpg and puts out 106g/km.

The Golf is known for strong resale values, despite selling in large numbers, and there’s no reason to expect the Mk7 to be any different. However, VW’s three-year/60,000-mile warranty now looks rather short when so many rivals offer five or seven-year packages.

It’s hard to find serious fault with the brilliant new Golf.

Price: £21,960
Performance: 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds
Economy: 68.9mpg
Insurance: TBC(1-50)
Tax: Band B (£0 first year)
(Figures for 2.0 TDI SE 5dr)