We road test the all-new Volkswagen Golf – arguably the most significant launch of 2020 in terms of sales…
After 45 years and more than 35 million examples built, the eighth generation VW Golf is the latest incarnation of a legend.
Taking on the likes of the Ford Focus, Seat Leon, Kia Ceed, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class in the hotly-contested family hatchback sector, it’s a sleek evolution of the outgoing model, which still managed to be the UK’s second best-selling car in 2019.
Just as importantly for some, there’s also stacks of new digital technology available, including voice activated control, which allows you to manage a whole range of functions without touching a button.
Initially available in three trim levels (Life, Style and R-Line), there’s a choice of petrol (with mild hybrid options) and diesel engines, plus a plug-in hybrid version to follow.
Lower and sleeker than its predecessor, its slim LED headlights and modest grille give it a slightly meaner look up front, but otherwise that familiar profile is much the same.
The new Golf is far more revolutionary inside where the conventional dashboard has been replaced by a state-of-the-art minimalist look.
For starters, there are two big screens – a 10-inch central infotainment system, featuring a customisable display, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, plus a 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle ahead of the driver (standard across the range).
More controversially, virtually all the traditional switches have been replaced by touch-sensitive surfaces. So, for instance, the temperature is adjusted by sliding a finger across a panel at the base of the main display.
The Mark 8 Golf has a longer wheelbase, which adds up to more interior space. Rear seat passengers have never had it so good, while luggage space is a healthy 380 litres with the seats up and 1,237 litres with them flipped down.
However, there are a few too many hard surfaces in the cabin for a car that’s always had more of a premium feel than its hatchback rivals.
Priced from £23,300, the new Golf is well equipped, with entry-level Life spec cars getting 16-inch alloy wheels, plus LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, and automatic air conditioning. Standard safety tech includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition and lane keep assist.
The wide engine choice includes 1.0 and 1.5-litre petrols, 2.0-litre diesels and a swift plug-in hybrid (GTE) which develops 242bhp via its 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and electric motor.
The three mild-hybrid versions of the petrol engines are called eTSI. They all use a small electric motor and battery pack to boost their conventional engines and improve fuel economy.
We tested the smaller of the 2.0-litre diesels (113bhp) in entry-level Life trim, and with a 0-62mph time of 10.2 seconds and a top speed of 126mph, it’s no slouch.
Fuel economy of up to 68.8mpg is claimed (55-60mpg is achievable in everyday driving) and with CO2 emissions as low as 108g/km, it’s impressive on paper.
The good news is that it seems faster than the stats suggest and there’s no shortage of grunt.
With this kind of economy, the diesel makes sense if you do a lot of motorway miles. Otherwise, the super-efficient 1.5-litre (128bhp) petrol model will do just fine.
It’s a shame that diesels have been demonised, because today’s generation are cleaner, more economical and refined than ever, and the Golf is a shining example.
Given the choice, we’d always go for VW’s superb seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, but the six-speed manual on our car was well matched with a smooth action and short throw.
Steering is sharp, while ride quality is on the firm side, but good. Whether you’re looking for a motorway cruiser, a frugal commuter or a practical everyday car, the Golf ticks all the right boxes. It’s surprisingly entertaining when pushed too.
Our only gripe is the fussy touchscreen tech. Yes, the design is clean, but these systems work best with shortcut buttons below.
Instead we get gesture-controlled sliders for adjusting the climate control, for instance, which can also be triggered when accessing the touchscreen for the multitude of other basic functions.
As for the “Hello Volkswagen” voice assistant feature.. as ever with these systems, it’s hit and miss. Give me Google’s Android Automotive (as fitted to Polestar 2, any day).
To summarise, the Golf’s digital interface looks cool, but usability (and possibly safety) has been compromised.
Verdict: The all-new Volkswagen Golf is more refined, spacious and connected than ever. Add excellent fuel economy and serious badge appeal, and it’s got success written all over it. Just make sure you receive a masterclass in using the infotainment system before leaving the showroom.