As the old adage goes, 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it,' and that's certainly the path Volkswagen has followed with the latest Golf. It's technically an all-new model but shares much with the car it replaces - that's no bad thing however as the previous generation Golf was a superb all rounder. The latest car is even better with a more upmarket interior, impressive refinement and a great range of efficient engines that also offer good performance. A Bluemotion model is available which uses a 1.6-litre diesel engine and emits just 99g/km of CO2 - making it free to tax. In terms of styling the Golf is hardly revolutionary, but on the move it feels even more solid and well built than before thanks to excellent noise insulation. It's not quite as enjoyable to drive as a Ford Focus but the Golf leads the way for sophistication in the small hatchback market.
The entry-level engine in the Golf is a 1.4-litre unit with 80bhp which is joined by a 1.6-litre with 102bhp. Both engines have been carried over from the previous Golf but with tweaks to make them slightly more economical. However, for its more powerful engines Volkswagen has concentrated on improving efficiency while still making them enjoyable to drive. As a result the top of the range engine may only be a 1.4-litre, but thanks to a turbocharger and a supercharger it delivers an impressive 160bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8 seconds - while still averaging 45mpg. It's a great engine to drive with plenty of punchy performance low down and a free-revving nature that's enjoyable to exploit. There's also a less powerful 122bhp version (that uses a single turbocharger) which will cover the 0-62mph benchmark in 9.5 seconds - but feels much quicker than the figures suggest with great in-gear performance. The diesel choice starts with a 2.0-litre TDI with 110bhp - this engine emits just 119g/km and averages 62.8mpg - the same as the Bluemotion version of the previous Golf while a 140bhp version of the same engine is available. Both variants are quiet and refined with plenty of low down grunt and a smooth power delivery. The Bluemotion model uses a 1.6-litre TDI engine which emits just 99g/km of CO2 and will average an incredible 74mpg - the same as the Polo Bluemotion. The standard gearbox is a five or six-speed - both versions of which are positive and precise, while a DSG semi-automatic transmission (with either six or seven gears) is available as an option.
Safe and comfortable best sums up driving the Golf - it corners neatly with precise and well-weighted steering while there's only minimal body roll. It's incredibly reassuring and never loses its composure, even if you have to suddenly brake or change direction, while the standard stability control will prevent the car from losing traction or skidding. It's an enjoyable car to drive along a twisting road, with the ability to effortlessly flow between corners plus there's plenty of grip too. An adjustable suspension system is available as an optional extra - called ACC (which stands for Adaptive Chassis Control) it uses pneumatics to control the suspension and allows the driver to choose between comfort, normal and sport. Changing the setting, which also alters the steering and throttle response, makes a noticeable difference and the comfort mode is particularly good for rough surfaces. However with the standard ride striking such a good balance between ride and handling there seems little point paying extra for it.
Thanks to the use of new door seals and thicker glass, the cabin is well insulated from outside noise - although there is noticeable wind noise around the top of the doors at higher speeds. Overall, however it's incredibly quiet and refined while the suspension does an excellent job of absorbing bumps and potholes in the road making it ideal for long motorway journeys. The seats are comfortable and supportive, there's a decent amount of legroom in the back for rear passengers plus all cars come air conditioning as standard.
Boot space is identical to the previous model with 350 litres available with the rear seats in place and 1305 litres with them folded down. This isn't as large as alternatives like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus but it's more than adequate for everyday use and happily swallows a couple of medium sized suitcases. Compared to the old model, the boot opening is wider making it easier to load bulky items while up front there are cavernous door pockets with sculpted bottle holders, a good-sized glovebox and a large central cubby.
There are three trim levels available - S, SE and GT (all available in three or five-door bodystyles) and standard equipment on every Golf includes air conditioning, a CD stereo system, electric front windows, seven airbags, central locking, multifunction display, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), gloss black or aluminium trim highlights and body-coloured exterior trim. The Adaptive Chassis Control system (or ACC for short) is available as an option as is Automatic Distance Control (ADC) a cruise control function which can vary vehicle speed to maintain a predetermined gap behind the car in front. Also on offer is ParkAssist which has the ability to operate the steering automatically during reverse parallel parking manoeuvres.
Behind the wheel
Volkswagen has attempted to give the Golf an even more upmarket interior with finishes and materials usually associated with premium executive cars. It's certainly been a big success and wouldn't look out of place in a car costing £30,000. The wonderfully comfortable cabin exudes quality with neat air conditioning controls, a stylish touchscreen stereo system and easy to read white-backlit dials. The design is similar to the previous model but now feels ever better built, while all the switchgear has a slick feel. The driving position is superb too, with plenty of adjustment in both the seat and steering column while all round visibility is good.
With seven airbags as standard (including a knee airbag for the driver) the Golf is one of the safest cars in its class and all models come with ESP stability control as standard. The previous model gained a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating (plus four stars for child safety) and the sixth-generation car will at least equal that. The Golf also features faster sensors for the airbags and seatbelt tensioners.
Volkswagen has a superb reputation for reliability and the new Golf should be no exception to that. The majority of the engines have been proven in either the previous Golf or other models and so will doubtless prove reliable.
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