What are you driving?
It takes the merest of glances to know that we are testing a Volkswagen Golf. Despite the design revamp that ushered in the Golf 8, it's clearly still from the same school of design as the seven generations before it. We're testing the Style version, powered by the 150hp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine. Both it and the 115hp variant of this unit can be paired with a DSG automatic gearbox for maximum ease of use, though our test car featured the standard manual gearbox, and costs from €36,145 on-the-road.
At the time of writing, which means a VAT rate returned to 23 per cent since March 1, 2021, the Golf line-up starts at €25,100. That's for a base-level Golf 1.0 TSI 90hp, which compares with the entry-level TDI 115hp model, at €29,485. Comfort and Life grades sit below the Style trim level, while the sporty looking R-Line is above. The new plug-in hybrid version of the Golf, the 204hp eHybrid, is offered solely in Style specification, for a price of €38,560 - including the €5,000 SEAI grant.
Even the base versions of the Golf are well-equipped, featuring electric windows all-round, automatic LED headlights, Bluetooth, digital instrumentation, climate control, keyless start, smartphone mirroring (wireless for Apple CarPlay), four USB-C ports and an impressive suite of active safety systems.
The Golf Style model also includes adaptive cruise control, parking sensors front and rear, wireless device charging, automatic wipers, ambient interior lighting, a voice control system, a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, rear-view camera and more built in, three-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated and folding door mirrors, upgraded seats and upholstery and a massive list of subtle specification enhancements inside and out. It's worth taking a look at the latest product guide on www.volkswagen.ie to see what you get for your money. And don't rule out the Life version, as it comes with a lot of this equipment, too.
Name its best bits
Although the interior of the Golf 8 is no bigger than that of its predecessor, the cabin still impresses, mostly thanks to the new high-tech design and, in the Style version at least, a sense of high quality and tactility. Sure, I'd still prefer physical climate control operation, or at least a separate set of permanent switches for it (the new Tiguan does it well), but this Golf's big screen and clear menu system won't fail to impress prospective buyers in the showroom.
And they will continue to be impressed when they take it for a test drive. The Golf is simply very good at most things. Even in diesel format you'll notice how quiet and refined it is on the move, with barely a whisper of wind roar over the windscreen and roof, with road noise also kept at bay. The driving controls are well-weighted, too, giving you a sense of connection to the car, whether you actively enjoy driving or not. Likewise, everyone will appreciate the Golf's rock-solid stability and body control, plus its astounding damping over all kinds of surfaces. It's a finely honed chassis, basically, that manages to be comfortable as well as rather engaging when you want it to be.
This latest evolution of the age-old Volkswagen TDI engine is a good one, too, smoothly doling out its considerable power and torque without making too much noise about it. I didn't do a long motorway run in it, sadly, but still managed about 6.0 litres/100km in a few days' pottering about on a mix of hilly open roads and traffic-choked urban roads. The six-speed manual gearbox is equally smooth in its operation.
Anything that bugs you?
It hardly 'bugs' me, but I don't really like the look of the new Golf's face. I'd go so far as to say it's the least attractive front-end on any current new Volkswagen. Other than that, the Golf 8 doesn't move the nameplate's game on in terms of practicality, so its rear legroom and luggage space are nothing special. Not that that has ever hampered its sales success... Finally, I found the driver assistance systems a little overzealous at times, in terms of 'helping' with steering inputs.
And why have you given it this rating?
Our rating of this car is based purely on its merits, and doesn't take into account the fact that demand for diesel cars is waning. This is the best non-GTD diesel Golf yet, which makes it a fine creation by any measure. I don't love the looks of the Golf 8; it's barely average when it comes to interior and boot space; and the obsession with banishing physical controls from the cabin is questionable. However, somehow, none of that takes from the fact that the latest Golf is a seriously good car. And for those that need the long-distance economy of a diesel, the TDI one is a cracker.
What do the rest of the team think?
Thanks to the pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named, I'm yet to drive the Golf 8 on Irish roads. However, I have driven it in Spain, and can say that while it's not necessarily the best Golf ever, nor perhaps the sort of major advance on the Golf 7 that it ought to have been, it's still an exceptionally good car. And even though that 150hp engine is a diesel, it remains a brilliant power plant, if your driving regularly and constantly puts you on long motorway runs. Smooth, quiet and efficient pretty well sum it up. I love the overall quality (although not the shoddy plastic surround around the touchscreen nor the too-fiddly heating controls) and while it's not the greatest Golf ever, it's still a great Golf.
Neil Briscoe - Editor-at-large