Volkswagen Golf Review
The Volkswagen Golf impresses thanks to its modern technology, all-round practicality and comfortable driving experience.
Published: 15 November 2022
Even if your knowledge of cars is limited, you’ll probably recognise a Volkswagen Golf when you see one because it’s a hugely popular model that tends to evolve only subtly from one generation to the next. This latest (eighth-generation) Golf looks familiar on the outside, then, but has a futuristic vibe inside that sets it apart from mainstream rivals such as the Ford Focus and the Kia Ceed.
All Golfs have a generous level of equipment as standard, so even if it’s a little more expensive than some rivals, it’s decent value. You have a choice of trim levels and engines, plus the option of high-performance hot hatchbacks or a plug-in hybrid.
- Plenty of versions to choose from
- Premium-feeling interior
- Good to drive
- Digital dashboard can be tricky to use
- More expensive than some rivals
- Not the most practical option
Dashboard & tech
If you’re a fan of high-tech design, chances are you’ll love the latest Golf’s dashboard. It’s dominated by a pair of 10-inch displays, which are standard across the range. The first is an infotainment system that controls features such as the audio, climate control and sat nav. The second is a screen that VW calls a ‘Digital Cockpit Pro’, which replaces traditional dials behind the steering wheel with a digital screen that has customisable menus.
If you’re coming from a car with a more traditional layout, it might take a while to get used to the Golf’s futuristic approach. You do get used to it, but some people might prefer the immediacy of physical buttons and dials.
Voice control comes as standard, which lets you talk to the system and change settings without removing your hands from the steering wheel. Smartphone connectivity includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and what VW calls ‘Car2X’ intelligent vehicle networking, which communicates with nearby cars to warn drivers of potential hazards and provide real-time traffic updates.
Making yourself comfortable in the Golf should be easy, thanks to a steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach plus multiple adjustments for the front seats, and lumbar support across the range. The entry-level Life trim includes climate control air conditioning as standard, but other models feature an impressive three-zone system, so you can set different temperatures for the two people in the front and the passengers in the back.
You’ll need the Golf R-Line trim if you enjoy the warmth of a heated steering wheel on a cold morning, but heated seats come as standard on all trims except the Life. The outer back seats can also be heated on the R-Line, if selected as an option when new.
The high-tech displays and minimalist layout combine to give the Golf a premium look and feel. It’s more upmarket than the Ford Focus or the Vauxhall Astra, feeling more like an Audi A3 or a BMW 1 Series. The Golf is even more impressive once you’re beyond the Life trim, with the Active featuring matt silver inserts on the dashboard, stainless steel pedals, carpet mats, tinted windows in the back, heated front seats and ambient lighting with a choice of 30 colours. You even get a welcome light, which projects a VW logo onto the pavement when you approach the car and helps you avoid stepping in puddles on a dark night.
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Practicality & boot space
The Golf has a decent amount of interior space for a car of this size. There’s lots of headroom and legroom in the front, but although you can fit three adults in the back, it works best as a four-seater with the middle back seat reserved for only occasional use. (The Skoda Octavia and Seat Leon offer more seating room in the back.)
The armrest in the back folds down to reveal a pair of cupholders, while extra storage is provided by large door bins and pockets, plus handy smartphone holders in the back of the front seats. In the front, there’s a central storage bin, large door pockets and cupholders adjustable to suit the size of the bottle or cup. All models have a wireless smartphone charger.
If you’re comparing the Golf’s boot with other mid-size hatchbacks for space you’ll find that it sits right in the middle of the class. A boot space of 380 litres is average for this type of car. Most rivals – including the Ford Focus and the BMW 1 Series – give you a very similar amount of space. The exception is the Skoda Octavia, which has a 590-litre boot. If maximum load space is a priority, you could consider the Golf Estate, which has a 611-litre boot.
As it is, the boot in the Golf hatchback is large enough to hold a week’s worth of family holiday luggage or a fortnight’s worth of grocery shopping. A frisky Labrador won’t mind travelling in the back – just remember to remove the parcel shelf!
All versions have a movable boot floor, which is both height-adjustable and removable. In its raised position, it sits flush with the bottom of the boot opening to make it easy to load heavy items. There’s also a ski hatch in the back seats, which is handy for carrying longer items like, well, skis.
You can fold down the back seats to create a larger flat surface. They fold in a 60/40 split, which is similar to most other rivals, although a few – such as the Mercedes A-Class – offer a 40/20/40 split for extra versatility.
Whether you’re after something comfortable and relaxing, or fun and exhilarating, there’s almost certainly a Golf for you. Most people will buy the Life, Active or Style models, which give you and your passengers a smooth ride, especially on the smaller 16-inch alloy wheels of the Life and Active. Opt for the Style, which has 17-inch wheels with lower-profile (less-cushioning) tyres and your ride comfort drops a little.
Thanks to its lowered suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels, the R-Line gives you a firmer ride, but a sportier drive. But for the most fun behind the wheel, you need the Golf GTI or Golf R. These high-performance cars are amongst the best hot hatchbacks sold today.
On a more practical level, all Golfs have front and rear parking sensors and speed-sensitive steering (which means you need less effort to turn the wheel at lower speeds) for ease-of-use in congested streets and when parking. Unlike some rivals, the Golf’s rear-view camera is optional rather than standard, so keep an eye on the details of the used cars you’re checking out.
There are petrol engines (which Volkswagen calls TSI) and diesel engines (called TDI) available in the Golf, with an ‘eTSI’ mild-hybrid system available with the seven-speed automatic transmission. The 1.0-litre petrol engine has a bhp figure of 108 and is surprisingly good at powering the Golf, providing a great balance of diesel-like fuel economy and the performance of a larger engine. It’s only available in Life and Active trims, but it’s ideal for city driving.
The 1.5-litre petrol engine is available with 128bhp or 148bhp. Both versions are smooth, quiet and powerful, with the more-powerful engine better for overtaking and getting up to motorway speeds on longer trips. Choose the automatic transmission and you get mild-hybrid tech for a small boost in performance and fuel economy.
There’s only one diesel engine: a 2.0-litre with either 113bhp or 148bhp, and while it’s not particularly suited to short trips, it’s great when you’re carrying heavy loads or on a long journey. The GTI, GTI Clubsport and R versions are powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine tuned for maximum performance.
Fuel economy & CO2 emissions
The Golf gives you excellent fuel economy for this type of car. According to official figures, the diesel-powered Golf can give 58.9mpg to 62.8mpg, with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of just 117g/km to 125g/km. The GTE plug-in hybrid is even better, with figures of 235.4mpg to 256.8mpg, but you must remember to recharge the battery. If you do, you can look forward to up to 37 miles of zero-emissions electric range.
Petrol models can give 47.1mpg to 54.3mpg if you opt for one of the regular models, with the best figures achieved with a manual gearbox and on smaller wheels. GTI and R models are less economical, but figures of 35.3mpg to 38.7mpg are respectable for a hot hatchback.
Value for money
The Volkswagen Golf costs a little more to buy than some of its rivals, but no other car of this price point offers a better blend of quality and technology. This is especially true when you consider the standard specification of the most-affordable Golf model. The Golf is also good at holding its value, which means you’ll get more for the car when it’s time to sell.
Reliability & Warranty
The Golf is a well-made car with engines that have been tried and tested in many cars made by Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda. Volkswagen as a brand occupied a mid-table position in the J.D. Power 2019 UK Vehicle Dependability Study, ahead of Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Audi and BMW.
The Golf’s three-year, 60,000-mile new-car warranty is standard for the industry, but some rivals offer cover for five or even seven years. An extended warranty is available for an additional cost, and is transferable to new owners for a small fee payable to Volkswagen.
The Golf was awarded a full five-star rating when it was tested by safety experts Euro NCAP in 2019. It scored particularly highly for adult and child occupant safety, while the figures for pedestrian safety and driver assistance tech were also impressive.
There are many driver-safety features fitted to the Golf, including adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and a driver-attention monitor. The mid-range Style uses camera and radar to accelerate, brake, steer and maintain distance to vehicles ahead.
Trims & Engines
There are four core trim levels: Life, Active, Style and R-Line. You could discover that the entry-level Life has everything you need, but cars with a few added options or accessories could create your ideal Golf. Active trim feels a little more upmarket than the Life, while the Style adds a range of cosmetic and technology upgrades, leaving the R-Line as the sportiest Golf, short of buying a high-performance GTI, GTI Clubsport or R.
The Golf is available with one diesel and three petrol engines, plus the option of a plug-in hybrid. The 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine gives you 108bhp and the option of manual and automatic transmissions, with the 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine available with 128bhp and 148bhp. The 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine is reserved for the high-performance variants.
The diesel engine is a 2.0-litre TDI which offers 148bhp and a choice of manual and automatic transmissions. Finally, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to offer the performance of a hot hatchback with the fuel economy of a diesel car. It’s available in Style trim or the performance GTE model.
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