Now into its eighth generation, the Volkswagen Golf continues to be consistently ranked as one of the top-selling cars in the UK. It’s the hatchback all other hatchbacks are measured against. The car that ticks all the boxes.
It begs the question, why?
Over the past 45 years, rivals have come and for the main part stayed, but certainly with nowhere near as much success as Volkswagen’s most popular car of all time.
And when competitors have approached, Volkswagen has simply honed and tweaked their model so finely that most can barely tell the difference – and yet it’s always better.
The answer could be in the amount of choice there is. Nowadays, there’s a Golf for everyone.
Whether you’re looking to screech around quiet country roads with the metaphorical wind in your hair, or simply want something to get you from A to B, VW has catered for you.
Or it could be that it’s simply a good all-rounder. You’d be hard-pressed to find a car that looks so good, is as fun to drive, and remains as functional.
Whatever the key to the Golf’s success is, it certainly doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. So let’s take our time and see what has made every other hatchback look at the Golf in unashamed envy.
The Golf has always been a car you can rely on for fun driving, sleek styling and good value for money. And the Mk8 is no different.
Its wide engine range – which comes in your choice of petrol, diesel or hybrid – make for a smile-provoking drive. It’s also still as practical as ever, making it great for families. And there’s now loads of new tech inside, which gives the Golf a very premium feel.
The design won’t suit everyone’s tastes, particularly at the front. And it’s a shame there’s no all-electric version – for that, you’ll have to go for the VW ID.3.
But the old Golf exited VW’s production line as the class-leading hatchback. And the new Golf Mk8 has slipped into that role with ease.
For your money, it’s still the best all-round hatchback available on the market right now.
Design and styling
If there was a problem with the Golf (and let’s face it, we haven’t found one yet), it would be the bewildering amount of choice. When it comes to design, though, VW has taken a very much ‘if it ain’t broke’ stance, retaining the Golf’s iconic silhouette.
Even in its basic form, the Golf looks classy. Its entry-level trim is now the Life and even though its chunky grille, boxy shape and oversized lights have slimmed down considerably in the last decade, it’s still unmistakably a Golf.
The front end now comes with a lower nose, sleeker bonnet styling and new air intake fins which makes it look as though it’s on the move even when it isn’t. But the design hasn’t changed too much. It’s very much as you were, with a lot of elements refined rather than replaced.
Although, that’s not the case with the headlights, which now come in three different versions. The top specification features matrix LEDs that swivel to point in corners and also automatically dip around cars and signs while illuminating the road ahead.
It’s not brand-new technology – we’ve seen it in Audis before – but rarely is it an option in an affordable hatchback such as this.
Vehicle design often comes down to personal preference. And although its styling won’t suit everyone’s tastes, particularly the Golf’s low and squished front end, it still boasts better looks and more interesting design elements compared to the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.
Against its more expensive rivals – the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 – it doesn’t look as refined, although you usually have to pay a premium for that extra added class.
MPG, running costs & environmental impact
One of the many virtues of the VW Golf is its reasonable running costs. And although it all varies according to engine choice, every powertrain in the range offers competitive CO2 emissions and fuel economy.
The entry-level 1.0 TSI petrol manages up to 53.3mpg and produces a reasonable 121g/km of CO2. Meanwhile, the comparative diesel is a 2.0-litre power source claiming up to 62.5mpg and 118 g/km of CO2.
One of the most affordable Golfs to run is the GTE. Thanks to its petrol-electric power unit, it comes with a combined WLTP mpg of 246.1 and produces just 26g/km CO2s – making it a great choice for company car drivers.
And if you’d prefer a nippy diesel, the GTD returns more than 60mpg; giving the Golf a good balance of performance and economy.
Of course, if you’re purely after ultimate performance, even the Golf R provides a respectable 36.2mpg, which means you only have to fill up its 50-litre fuel tank every 400 miles or so.
There’s not a huge difference between the efficiency of the VW Golf and its competitors for the most part. You may get the odd extra few miles here and there, but it’s almost negligible.
However, when it comes to electric performance, only Mercedes-Benz offer something to rival the GTE, and it’s usually more expensive. So, if you’re looking for an option to keep your running costs low, the GTE comes out on top.
Engines, drive & performance
The Volkswagen Golf is a much-loved car. And a big reason behind that is its drive.
|Fuel||Petrol. Diesel & Hybrid|
|Drive||Manual & Automatic|
The Golf’s engine line-up starts with a 108bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit which is paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It manages 0-60mph in 9.9 seconds and will do 126mph.
Not lightning-quick speeds, but the entry-level powertrain is enough if most of your driving is around town.
And the lowest-cost diesel also pulls in good figures, producing 113bhp from its economical 2.0-litre form, which will get you from 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds.
At the other end of the scale, you have the Volkswagen Golf R, which delivers a whopping 316bhp from its turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. And as you’d expect, it uses its power well off the mark – reaching 60mph in 4.7 seconds and climbing all the way up to 155mph.
There’s also a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid, which is now more powerful than ever. It combines a 1.4-litre TSI 148bhp petrol engine with an 85kW electric motor, creating a total system output of 242bhp. It also offers an all-electric WLTP-rated driving range of 36 miles.
Behind the wheel is where the Volkswagen Golf makes its name. Against the likes of the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra; Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3 even, its streets ahead thanks to its dynamic control and precise handling.
Arguably, it’s also a better driver’s car than the BMW 1 Series. It certainly gives you better feedback through the corners and feels an overall more balanced vehicle. Although, which you prefer will come down to personal preference.
One big step forward the Gold has made from its predecessor is the interior. And it had to be.
Not because the old Golf was dated or old, but the fact all of the Golf’s competitors have really upped their trim level game in recent years.
Inside the Golf now, you’re welcomed by a smart, clean, modern and high-tech cabin with plenty of space.
There’s also a really nice touch in the angle of the central console, which automatically leads your gaze to a well-refined touchscreen infotainment system, digital driver display and the most important part of a Golf, its driver.
On top of that, the efficient door seals and thicker glass mean the interior remains almost completely protected from road noise, even at higher speeds. The seats provide a good level of support and there’s a decent amount of legroom in the front and back too.
The new, smarter suspension in the Golf Mk8 also does a magnificent job of soaking up bumps and potholes in the road, allowing you to focus on enjoying the drive.
As we already touched on, the Golf’s competitors have put a lot of time, thought, money and energy into developing their own respective modern cockpits.
But for the most part, the Golf’s is nicer. It’s definitely a better quality finish than you find in the Focus and Astra, and it even competes well with the Mercedes, Audi and BMW.
However, if you’re willing to spend decent money, the A-Class’ stunning full-width infotainment and driver display is best in class. The Audi’s virtual cockpit is a league of its own. And although we think the 1 Series’ interior doesn’t look as modern as the Golf’s, there are plusher materials and it feels a touch better quality.
Practicality & boot space
After all the excitement of the glossy interior, the practicality of the Golf is something that remains unchanged from the previous model. However, simple is often best, and VW has stuck to what works.
There’s plenty of space both above your head and to the floor to accommodate you and your passengers comfortably. You can also find a fair bit of storage peppered around the car – two cupholders in the centre, a tray just ahead, plus storage in the central armrest, too.
The Golf has a 380-litre boot capacity, but it can be extended to over 1,000 litres by dropping the seats – the same as what you got in the old Golf. And as per a run-of-the-mill hatchback, the seats are split 60/40 and lie pretty much flat.
One interesting thing about the Golf is that you can adjust the boot floor, effectively giving you two separate compartments – useful for when you want to keep the muddy football kits away from your weekly grocery shop.
Although the Golf’s boot space hasn’t changed in its newer form, it’s still as big or bigger compared to all of its competitors.
The BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 also share the same 380-litres of room. Meanwhile, the Ford Focus (375 litres), Vauxhall Astra (370 litres) and Mercedes-Benz A-Class (350 litres) all come up short.
So, if you’re looking for a practical hatchback, you can’t beat the roomy Golf.
Reliability & safety
As you’d expect of this stalwart of the roads, the Golf has a good history of reliability and safety.
No matter which model you choose, you’ll have automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, traffic sign recognition and a driver fatigue monitor.
It also has crumple zones built into the tough safety shells and some models can see up to nine airbags.
As an added helpful extra, the Golf also features Volkswagen’s Car2X driver assistance system, which is an on-board tech feature that warns you of potential problems like roadside hazards and vehicle breakdowns.
All this helped contribute to the Golf’s maximum five-star NCAP safety rating when tested in 2019. With 95% adult occupant and 89% child occupant safety ratings, it’s clear why the VW hatchback is chosen by many as the perfect family car.
There are ten model variants of the Volkswagen Golf.
- 16-inch alloy wheels
- Light & Sight pack
- Adaptive cruise control
- 16-inch alloy wheels
- 3-zone climate control
- Winter pack
- 17-inch alloys
- LED ‘plus’ headlights
- High beam assist
- 17-inch grey alloys
- Sports styling
- Sports seats
- Keyless entry
- Illuminated grille
- LED Matrix headlamps
- 18-inch alloys
- Illuminated grille
- LED Matrix headlamps
- Travel assist
- Heated sports steering wheel
- R styling pack
- Discover Media
Unique Clubsport styling
GTI Clubsport 45
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- Titanium sports exhaust
- Progressive steering
- Speed limited increased to 166mph
Cost & deals
The VW Golf is good value for money. But of course, it gets pricier the more options you add – and there are a lot to choose from.
Ranging from around £23,000 – £39,000, you could also have to fork out quite a bit for insurance depending on which model you pick.
At the lower end of the scale, the Golf sits in insurance group 7, but that runs all the way up to group 39 in the sports-focused models.
So, we definitely recommend doing your research before deciding which Golf is right for you.
It’s also worth noting that the Golf comes with an industry-standard 3-year/60,000-mile warranty, which can be extended if you wish.
However, all in all, you pay for what you get. And the premium price really is reflective of this class-leading hatchback.