Good points: well equipped, TDI engine offers great mix of performance and economy
Not so good: still more expensive than its rivals
Volkswagen's Golf, since its introduction in 1974, has been an incredible success story for the company, and has consistently been one of its best-selling models. So naturally when it came to replacing the hatchback with a new version, the German brand wanted to be extra careful not to make any mistakes.
The seventh generation Golf isn't a huge departure from the previous model visually; after all, with such a proven formula, why change it? Many of the Golf's characteristics remain; the near vertical back end, thick C-pillar and well-proportioned body shape make it instantly recognisable. It's under the skin where Volkswagen has made some real advances.
Much has been said about the MQB platform system that the new Golf is built on. Volkswagen has spent circa €50 billion developing this in order for it to underpin a multitude of models across the ever-expanding Group. The new setup allows for a greater number of different body and engine combinations to be assembled on the one platform. In the case of the new Golf the net result is a car that, despite being only marginally bigger than the previous model, feels a good deal more spacious inside. The door is also now open to further variations down the line, which it is assumed will include plug-in hybrid and fully electric possibilities.
The interior of the Golf is very well laid out; the centre console in this particular test car is dominated by the larger eight-inch (a €1,524 option) Discover Pro navigation system, which offers the usual guidance features, but presents it in a manner that one would expect from a car several times more expensive. Leaving this luxury aside, the Highline spec does still come equipped with a very good 5.8-inch colour display that is more than adequate. There is a certain high-quality feel all over the cabin of the new Golf in a way that almost acts like reassurance. You will no doubt find yourself saying "yes, perhaps I have paid a slight premium over the rivals, but boy is it worth it".
On the road the sense of quality is reiterated in how the Golf drives, particularly on poorer road surfaces. The suspension gives a settled ride and thanks to a rather well insulated cabin makes for a quiet journey. Feedback from the steering is precise and direct, something keener drivers will appreciate. Keeping the front end in check is the XDS electronic 'differential', which works in tandem with the ESP (stability control) to improve handling in corners by applying the brakes to the inside wheel if it begins to spin. The real world result is a system that feels like it intervenes less frequently and with more subtlety.
Partnering the ever-so-smooth DSG automatic gearbox with the range-topping 150hp 2.0-litre TDI engine means the sort of combination that can be filed under the 'all-you'll-ever-need' section of motoring. Despite the relatively low emissions, the 320Nm produced by the four-cylinder diesel makes having to pay that little bit of extra road tax each year well worth it. If you remain somewhat unconvinced by automatic gearboxes, or if you haven't experienced a DSG version, then we would strongly recommend doing so. It is of a standard that even the purists out there will have to tip their hats to - although other manufacturers are now starting to catch up on this front.
Given the success to date of the Volkswagen Golf it would have been quite easy for the company to simply perform a few nips and tucks to send out a new car. Instead it has taken an already good formula and made it significantly better yet again from the ground up. It seems that, just as soon as the competition begins to catch up, Volkswagen makes another leap forward.
SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI: not only does the SEAT share much of the same hardware as the Golf, the quality levels now make it very hard to ignore.
Ford Focus Zetec 2.0 Powershift: looks cheaper on paper, but less refined engine, higher emissions and road tax make it feel dated.
Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 TDI: shares much of the same DNA, although priced slightly higher it occupies the premium segment.