Volkswagen Golf Review (2013-2020)
A premium-quality interior, low running costs, a fine driving experience and a huge model range make the Volkswagen Golf one of the best mid-size cars.
Published: 15 November 2022
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf (on sale new 2013-2020) is one of the best used mid-size cars you can buy. It’s such a good all-rounder that it has you covered under pretty much all circumstances. It’s spacious and practical enough for family life but doesn’t feel too big if you don’t have children. You can travel hundreds of miles at a time very comfortably or have a really enjoyable drive along a country road. Running costs for most models are low and quality is high. And there’s a truly vast range of models to choose from.
Five bodies are available: a three-door or five-door Hatchback, an Estate, an SUV-style Alltrack and an open-top Cabriolet. There’s a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, plug-in hybrid and electric models, and the high-performance GTi and R models. Plus you can have a manual or automatic gearbox. There really is something for everyone in the Golf range.
- Huge range of models to choose from
- Premium-quality interior
- Smooth and comfortable to drive
- Model range can be confusing
- Costs a bit more than most rivals
- Lacks wow-factor
Dashboard & tech
Every model in the Golf range has a touchscreen infotainment system. A brand-new system with more features (including support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) was added when the car was updated in 2017. Whichever system is fitted, it’s easy to navigate via the screen, or you can use the shortcut buttons which take you directly to the feature shown on the button’s label. Some models sold from 2017 also have a large digital driver’s display that can show speed and distance information, music selections, call logs and sat nav maps. Other features like the air con are controlled by knobs and buttons.
The Golf’s seats are really comfortable, feeling soft and supportive, so you can sit in them for many hours without developing additional aches and pains. The seats in high-performance models also hold you tightly in place when going around corners. Some models have leather upholstery for an extra touch of luxury.
Most people shouldn’t have any trouble getting into the Golf. There’s quite a long drop down into the seats, but the door openings are large so there’s plenty of space to manoeuvre in. You need to be quite nimble to get into the back of three-door and Cabriolet models, slotting yourself past the front seats. In five-door models, getting into the back is just as easy as getting into the front.
You might not be wowed by the design of the Golf’s interior, especially compared with rivals such as the Peugeot 3008 that have a more high-tech look, but all of the materials you regularly touch in the Golf have a high-quality look and feel, creating a more premium ambience than you get in most other mid-size hatchbacks. Everything feels very sturdy, too.
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Practicality & boot space
The Golf has enough legroom and headroom in the front and back seats for four six-feet-tall people to travel together in comfort. So families with two children should have all the space they need. Three adults can fit onto the back seat, though only for shorter journeys because it’s a bit of a squeeze. Cabriolet models feel tighter in the back (with the roof up) because there’s less headroom.
Each door has a pocket that can hold a drinks bottle, plus your phone and wallet. There’s also a large glovebox; a cubby hole under the front armrest; two cupholders and a keyfob slot in the centre console; and another cubby in front of the gear stick that’s ideal for keeping coins and packets of sweets.
Hatchback Golf models have 380 litres of boot space – fairly average for a car this size. That’s enough for a family’s weekly food shopping, school bags and pushchair, all at once. You might need to pack carefully when going on holiday, though.
If you regularly need to carry a lot of stuff in your car, the Golf Estate is a better bet. Its boot has 605 litres of space – more than most of its rivals – so you won’t need to worry about packing light. Loading the boot in the hatchback or estate is easy – there’s a large opening and a small drop from the back bumper down to the boot floor. The plug-in hybrid Golf GTE and electric e-Golf have smaller boots, sacrificing some space to accommodate the batteries. And the Cabriolet’s boot is smaller again.
The back seats in all Golf models fold down in a two-section, 60/40 split. There’s no step between the seats and the boot floor but they sit at an angle rather than flush with the floor, so it takes a bit of effort to heave stuff in. There’s also a ‘through-loading’ hatch in the back seat that folds down so you can carry long loads without dropping the whole seat down.
The Golf feels right at home whatever type of road you’re driving on. Its compact size and light, responsive steering makes nipping around town and manoeuvring into parking spaces a doddle. And it feels solid as a rock cruising along the motorway at 70mph. It can even be quite good fun on a winding country road, especially the sporty GTi and R models. Put all that together and the Golf is a rather satisfying car to travel in, however long the journey.
You and your passengers get a smooth ride in the Golf, too. Sporty models have firmer suspension and bigger wheels that make things a bit more jiggly over bumps, but they’re still very comfortable.
The engines available in the Golf cover a very wide range of performance – the most powerful model has more than three times as much bhp as the least powerful. The most popular Golf models, both petrol and diesel, have around 120bhp. At that point, you have enough power to provide responsive acceleration, combined with excellent fuel economy. The more powerful engines might be a better bet if you do lots of long journeys, the high performance GTi and R models appeal to enthusiastic drivers.
The gearshift in manual models feels light and slick. Automatic gearboxes are generally smooth and responsive, but can be a little slow to react if you suddenly press the throttle pedal hard.
Fuel economy & CO2 emissions
As a type, mid-size hatchbacks generally don’t use much fuel. Even by those standards, the Golf costs relatively little to run. According to official figures, models fitted with a petrol engine can give average fuel economy of 35 to 57mpg. The high-performance GTi and R models are at the lower end of that range; the other petrol models can give at least 50mpg. Diesel models can give average fuel economy of at least 60mpg and as much as 74mpg.
With high mpg figures come low carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Petrol engines produce CO2 emissions 113 to 155g/km, and diesels emit 98 to 144g/km. Estate and Alltrack models are a bit less efficient than Hatchbacks because they’re heavier.
The plug-in hybrid Golf GTE can give average fuel economy of 160mpg and CO2 emissions of just 40g/km with a range of up to 20 miles when driving on battery power. The electric e-Golf can give a range of 119 miles in cars sold from 2014 to 2017 and 186 miles in cars sold after being updated in 2017.
Value for money
The Golf is pretty good value overall. You get a good amount of features as standard, a premium-quality interior and (for most models) low running costs. The Volkswagen brand carries a bit of a price premium, but you may feel it’s worth paying for. Some of the high-performance models are quite pricey, but they’re particularly desirable so there’s lots of demand for them.
Reliability & Warranty
The Golf feels very well made and its interior has more of a premium feel than most other mid-size hatchbacks. Volkswagen provided a three-year warranty on this generation of Golf; the most recent cars sold in 2020 will be covered until 2023.
The Volkswagen brand placed in the top half of the rankings in the 2019 J.D. Power UK Vehicle Dependability Study.
Safety organisation Euro NCAP awarded the Golf a full five-star safety rating. It scored very high marks for protecting adult and child occupants, which is reassuring should an accident happen. Extra driver-safety features were added as VW developed them. From 2017 all Golfs have automatic emergency braking, road sign recognition and headlights that block out part of the high-beam to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers.
Trims & Engines
There’s a broad range of trim levels to choose from on the Golf, noticeable because of their different wheels, styling details and feature packages. The entry point is S, followed by Match and SE. Then there’s the sporty-looking R-Line and more luxurious GT. The high-performance models sit at the top of the range: the petrol GTi, diesel GTD, plug-in hybrid GTE and, right at the top, the extremely fast R.
The features fitted to these trim levels changed many times as Volkswagen developed new technology. So we can only provide a broad outline of what features you can expect to find in a Golf. They include a touchscreen infotainment system, DAB radio, CD player, Bluetooth, aux-in and USB ports, air con, front electric windows and electrically adjustable door mirrors. Many models also have sat nav, cruise control and heated front seats.
There’s a variety of engines available in the Golf: five ‘TSI’ petrols and two ‘TDI’ diesels. There’s also the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE and the electric e-Golf.
Each of the petrol and diesel engines is a different size, between 1.0 and 2.0 litres. Then each of those engines is available with several different amounts of power. Petrol engines have between 83bhp and 316bhp, diesels have between 113bhp and 181bhp.
The Golf GTE combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and has 201bhp. There are two versions of the e-Golf, one with 113bhp, one with 133bhp, the latter sold after the Golf range was updated in 2017.
You’ll find some of these engines feature what VW calls Bluemotion Technology, a package of tech that improves fuel economy and reduces exhaust emissions.
Petrol and diesel Golfs are available with manual or automatic gearboxes. The Golf GTE and e-Golf are automatic-only. Some models also have four-wheel drive.
Any of these engines is a good choice. Even the lower-power options give a responsive performance and the higher-power options in GTi and R models can accelerate very quickly.
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