The Volkswagen Golf. It is to cars what pizza is to takeaway, what popcorn is to cinema; it’s probably the first thing that your average person would say if you simply asked them to name a car. Its fame and familiarity aren’t that surprising, though, given that by 2014, VW had sold 30 million of them.
In the Golf’s case, it’s numerous with good reason; because it’s literally all the car you’ll ever need, and quite possibly ever want.
Body Style: 5 door hatchback
MRP from £17,765-£32,190
Did you know? VW has produced a Golf every 40 seconds since 1974. Scary, eh?
This current Mk7 model faces stronger competition than ever yet, whether you’re buying with your heart or your head, the Golf is top of the family hatchback pile. It’s practical, comfortable, refined, has a great range of engines including a plug-in hybrid, a smart interior, quality infotainment and really good purchase or finance costs. It’s virtually a plague on British roads, it is so common, yet it still manages to look down its nose at the Ford Focus’ and Vauxhall Astras of the world. Ultimately, this current Mk7 Golf faces stronger competition than ever, yet whether you’re buying with your heart or your head, it is still top of the family hatchback pile.
Smart, logical dash
Tidy handling and comfort
An engine for everyone, including electric options
We Don't Like
You have to pay for climate control on most trims
Feels drab inside in lower spec
It costs more to buy than many rivals
The Golf’s design is certainly a safe one, but it’s got the sort of appealing familiarity and classless, any-occasion appropriateness as a well-pressed shirt. Simple? Yes, but excellent also.
Plus, that boxy shape means that the Golf has got just about the best all-round visibility in the class. Base S trim gets 15in steel wheels, but every other model gets alloy wheels of 16in or bigger, and there are various wheel designs to choose from.
R Design models look particularly snazzy and aggressive, and GTD and GTE models look much like the full-fat GTI hot hatch, which is no bad thing.
The Golf’s dash is dominated by its 8.0in touchscreen, through which you control the vast majority of the car’s functions. It’s easy to see and doesn’t suffer too much glare, while the straightforward rotary air-con controls beneath it make adjusting the temperature (all cars get air-con).
Simple dials are easy to read, while a colour display in between the two dials gives you all your trip info and the next nav direction.
Sure, the Golf feels a bit grey and drab in base trim, but it steps up its game with gloss and metal finishes and more colourful touches as you graduate through the trims, and every model has a leather-trimmed, slim-rimmed steering wheel that’s a pleasure to use.
More than that, everything feels well screwed together and is characterised by classy-feeling material combinations that help to elevate its perceived quality above the likes of a Ford Focus or Kia Cee’d, even if it falls short of the Audi A3 that has the best interior of the family hatchback brigade.
You have to pay extra for lumbar adjustment on entry-level S trim, but it’s worth adding if you’re going to do a lot of mileage. Otherwise the seat has enough adjustment that you’ll be able to find a comfortable driving position, although the fully electric seats with memory function are a surprisingly affordable, circa-£500 option depending on what trim you’re adding them to, so they could be a worthwhile luxury.
The Golf is one of few cars in this class that you can actually get with three doors. This does limit practicality, as you have to clamber over the tilted-forward front seat to get into the back seats, so we'd always say go for the five-door.
Every Golf gets plenty of room up front even for leggy drivers, while two adults will be fine in the back thanks to a high roof and decent legroom. Sure, the rear seat bench is a bit flat and firm, and a middle passenger will be tight for foot- and elbowroom, but the Golf is still one of the brightest and most comfortable cars for rear passengers in this class.
The seats fold flat easily in a 60/40 split, and you get a variable-height boot floor as standard (apart from in the GTE, which sacrifices some boot depth to its batteries). A Peugeot 308 has a bigger boot, but it also has a lot less legroom in the rear seats, so if you don’t want the substantially longer body and frumpier looks of the Skoda Octavia that is the most practical car around the Golf’s price, the VW’s well-shaped, sizeable boot is about as good as it gets for practicality in the family hatch stakes. SE and up get a couple of bag hooks in the back and a through-loading hatch in the rear seats so you can stick a long item through while still seating two people in the back.
Every Golf gets an 8.0in touchscreen complete with DAB radio, USB input, Bluetooth handsfree and audio streaming, and the ability to connect two mobile phones simultaneously. There’s also a healthy 8 speaker sound system as standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all but base S trim cars.
The screen has great graphics and is generally easy to see, plus it’s fairly logical to use thanks to the touch-sensitive shortcut buttons that allow you to hop between functions. It is subject to a few irritating niggles, though. For instance, if you’ve got sat-nav, the postcode entry is buried a good four or five prods into the nav menu, and serves up some occasionally unfathomable nav instructions.
Still, in the scheme of things this is still one of the best systems in the class, and if you upgrade to the 9.2-inch system then you get a haptic function that senses your hand moving near and enlarges the icons.
One of the best engines in the Golf range is also one of the cheapest – the 1.0-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine. We haven’t tried the entry-level 84bhp 1.0 TSI 85, but the 1.0 TSI 110 is great. It’s got enough oomph at low revs that you don’t have to rev it, and can just bumble along enjoying the reasonable refinement and good economy, but it’s also great fun to wring this little motor’s reserves out and enjoy the peppy three-cylinder’s free-revving nature and thrummy soundtrack. If you’re not doing endless motorway miles and want an affordable Golf, you should seriously consider the 1.0 TSI Golf, which gets a six-speed manual as standard.
Other petrol options include a 1.4 TSI, which is still available but is being phased out in favour of the newer 1.5 TSI, which we’ve tried in other VW Group models where it’s proved to serve up junior hot-hatch levels of verve and easy use in all kinds of driving. So, if you can justify the circa £1500 price jump from the 1.0 TSI 110 to the 148bhp 1.5 it could well be the more enjoyable option. And given that it’ll switch off two of its four cylinders when appropriate to improve efficiency, it shouldn’t be too expensive to fuel either.
There’s a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid model called the GTE as well. This is billed as a semi-sporting hatch as well as an efficiency champion, which’ll do around 25 miles on electricity alone before the 1.4 TSI engine kicks in. It’s one of the better plug-in hybrid hatchbacks around, which switches between engines or uses both very effectively, and is usefully quick in outright acceleration.
You can read all about the e-Golf in our full review.
Diesel options include a 1.6 or 2.0-litre diesel; we favour the latter as it’s more refined, comes with a six-speed rather than the five-speed manual of the smaller engine, and isn’t even far off on price and emissions. You can have it in two different power outputs, the most powerful being solely available as the 'GTD' model. This has got properly urgent performance and it looks like a GTI, too.
A seven-speed dual-clutch ‘DSG’ automatic is offered on every engine except the entry-level 1.0 TSI 85, and it’s never disappointed in anything we’ve driven it in.
Obviously if performance is a priority for you then you should look to the Golf GTI or Golf R, so check out our review of those models.
Handling and comfort
It’s worth noting that the more powerful engines in the Golf range have different suspension at the rear – multilink rather than torsion beam – and that does bring with it a more supple ride comfort and fractionally more composed handling.
Having said that, the difference is marginal enough that it’s not very noticeable in everyday driving, and ultimately every Golf swings through corners and soaks up poor road surfaces with deft precision. It’s composed and predictable enough on standard suspension that you don’t need to add the optional £890 adaptive dampers, although they do bring a touch less body lean and more pliant ride comfort. They’re certainly worth adding if you opt for GT trim, which gets lowered suspension as standard over the other everyday Golf models.
The GTD gets some of the bits from the GTI's chassis to make it handle with more panache; it still falls short of the Golf GTI that it mimics in appearance, but it does have a satisfying bite and balance to its cornering ability, and ride comfort is still pretty good, if firmer than on lesser models.
Engine choice: 1.0 TSI 110 manual
The Golf got the full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test, albeit under less stringent tests than were introduced in recent years. Every model gets a space saver spare wheel, automatic city emergency braking with pedestrian detection, seven airbags including driver’s knee airbag and even a system to try and help avoid secondary collisions following an initial bump.
An alarm is optional on base S trim, as is pre-crash occupant protection (where the car increases tension on the seatbelts when it senses an imminent accident), which is a bit remiss and many rivals have both on every model. They are included on all the other Golf trims.
Blind spot and lane-assist are optional, as are even more high-end safety aids such as ‘Emergency Assist’, which sense when a driver has become unresponsive and sounds an alarm, flashes it hazards and then brings the car to a stop.
It’s a shame that traffic sign recognition – where the speed limit comes up on your dashboard - isn’t standard until GT trim, and is expensive to add.
Depending on your trim, the Golf is available with either grey, black or white as the standard colour, but most will choose something a bit more interesting, even if it’s the cheap £280 Tornado Red rather then the exotic and more adventurous (and expensive) metallic shades of Peacock Green or Turmeric Yellow (pictured). There’s a good choice of colours to suit most tastes, and we've included lots of images of the colours on offer in our gallery below to help you pick which one you'd like.
Avoid entry-level S trim. It adds an impressively low starting price to the Golf range, but given that it misses out on alloy wheels, lumbar support and an alarm, you’re going to be reminded of how cheap it was every time you sit in it.
SE is a much better bet, coming with a pretty comprehensive standard kit list that you don’t really need to add to. Auto lights and wipers, heated wing mirrors, cruise control, variable drive modes, 17in alloys and front-and-rear parking sensors, plus fully kitted infotainment on the standard 8.0in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The only thing you’ll likely want is factory sat-nav, which means opting for SE Nav trim, at an extra cost of £750, and it’s a bit shocking that dual-zone climate control costs £415 extra on everything except the electric cars, which get it as standard.
GT trim gets lots of style upgrades including contrasting black air intakes, piano black interior inserts, sports seats and paddles on the steering wheel for DSG models. R-Line is even sportier looking, but it pushes prices up significantly.
Size and Dimensions
Max towing weight unbraked - braked
750kg – 2000kg
Provided you go for a run-of-the-mill Golf, you’re going to be getting a car that’s affordable to own and maintain even by the high standards of the family hatchback class.
Depreciation is better than on many rivals, and the emissions and economy will also be on a par, if not one of the better options in this class. Again, we’d settle for the 1.0-litre 110 if you’re not doing masses of miles, as it’ll still do around 40mpg or more when driven gently, while the 2.0 TDI 150 is hard to beat if you are covering a lot of motorway miles – it’ll return over 50mpg.
Of course, there’s always the e-Golf for pure-electric driving, or the GTE if you want electric-powered short journeys in the week and the convenience of petrol power for the longer weekend jaunts.
Reliability and servicing
VW provides a three year, 60,000 mile warranty on all of its new cars, which is the industry standard warranty, and exactly the same as that offered by many of the Golf’s peers. You can extend it up to five years, and also spread the cost of fixed price servicing into monthly payments if you want to.
It is, however, a long way behind the likes of Kia with its seven year warranty, and Hyundai and Renault who offer five and four-year cover respectively.
Condition-based; car alerts when a service due
Condition-based; car alerts when a service due
The VW Golf does that thing of being ‘reassuringly expensive’ in this class. It’s not quite as pricey as the Audi A3, but it is some four-figures more expensive than something like a Ford Focus, Seat Leon, Renault Megane or Hyundai i30. The Peugeot 308 is closer on list price but is much more generously equipped.
In essence the Golf is one of the more expensive family hatches going on brochure price, but bear in mind that you can often haggle significant savings on the Golf where you might struggle to get such a big chunk of money off those rivals that are already very keenly priced. VW also offers very healthy finance offers – rarely with zero interest or low deposit, but certainly with really competitive monthly costs.
At the time of writing, our pick of the range for low mileage users – the Golf 1.0 110 SE Nav 5dr – gets a £1000 deposit contribution, and after a £5k deposit you’ll pay less than £200 per month over four years.
Still, a Mazda 3 or any of the other multitude of more ‘budget’ offerings are likely to be cheaper on finance or on outright purchase costs.
Of course, business users should investigate the costs of the electric GTE and e-Golf. You should be able to lease it with a low deposit for around £300 per month, while those paying Benefit In Kind will have much lower monthly tax payments than if you went for the 1.6 TDI, which is the other obvious company car choice.
Go for SE Nav, and add keyless entry for £365 – it’s the best thing ever when you’ve got your hands full and don’t have to search for the key.
Go for GT and add the Navigation Pro for a bigger touchscreen, the Dynaudio sound system upgrade, climate control, keyless entry and the panoramic glass roof, all of which are also optional on R-Line.
Company Car Buyer
The Golf GTE is a great car; good to drive, well equipped and the best of both electric- and petrol worlds. It’s a no brainer for company car users.
Much the same as a Golf, but feels cheaper inside. You might not mind that given that it’s cheaper to buy, too. No electric models on offer.
Smart looks, a decent drive and very well equipped. The big boot comes at a cost of tight rear passenger legroom, though, so avoid this one if you regularly ferry tall kids or adults.
You’ll pay more for it, but it’s got the best interior of the class, and holds it value very well. Do the maths on this one before committing to the Golf – the actual cost might be closer than you expect.
Sweet handling and ride balance, and keen finance offers and savings appeal. It’s feeling dated, though, and is due for replacement soon.
Should be first on your list if practicality is a priority, as it's way more spacious than the others. Good value, too, but refinement and ride comfort aren't as good as the Golf's.