General competence. Ownability. A great drive if you spec it right
Compulsory glass cockpit isn't actually that sorted
What is it?
It’s a mainstay of the motoring world, is what it is. The Volkswagen Golf hatchback is now in its eighth generation, having long ago become the definition of a sensible choice. Need something for the school run? Get a Golf. Commuting to work? Get a Golf. Circumnavigating the globe? Yeah, a Golf would probably take that in its stride too.
The Golf is the lingua franca of the hatch world, universally known and understood. Although it’s always bang up-to-date, each generation is an evolution, springing few surprises. That’s key to its success. No Golf buyer ever had to engage with a conversation that began, ‘You’ve bought a what?’
Same old, same old then?
Something’s different here though. This generation Golf lies at a crossroads. At the same time as it hit the streets, VW launched the ID.3. The ID.3 is a mass-market electric car that you can own for similar money (probably more to buy but less to run). A future-facing pod propelled by new energy – literally and metaphorically.
So in some ways the Golf faces backward, like the Cutty Sark, last of the great tea-clipper sailing ships. A highly perfected version of something the world might no longer need.
Surely the Golf isn't looking outdated?
A little backward, maybe. It’s even got a diesel engine, albeit a new one with a double urea cat to get rid of the NOx. The stuff that means people no longer trust diesels. Which was, lest we forget, VW’s doing in the first place.
But it also looks forward, with a glass cockpit running new highly connected systems for info, entertainment, control and hazard warning.
Which bits are new?
The Mk8 uses the same MQB platform as the Mk7, so you’ll find no significant changes in dimensions or basic hardware. Instead most things in the suspension and powertrains are gently improved and finessed. The usual plethora of Golf derivatives are present and correct too: there’s a Golf Estate, a Golf GTI, a Golf R, a GTI Clubsport, a plug-in hybrid GTE and that diesel Golf GTD. Golf galore.
All panels are new. If only a bit. Recognise it by the new front graphic, a blade that slashes across the vestigial grille and into the shallow all-LED headlamps. On the side, a new crease runs through the door handles. Out back we find new-shape tail-lamps and, because it’s more tear-dropped, a more slit-like rear screen.
What are its main rivals?
Anything you might consider a mainstream hatchback, so the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Kia Ceed, Peugeot 308, Mazda 3, Renault Megane, BMW 1 Series, Honda Civic and Hyundai i30, to name but a few. It shares a platform with the Seat Leon, Skoda Octavia and Audi A3 as well.
What's the verdict?
There wasn’t a whole bunch wrong with the Mk7 Golf. And actually, most of the time in the new one we longed for the clarity of the old car’s infotainment. While some of the new system’s functions are proper wow-factor stuff, the no-buttons pratfall dismays us.
But the rest of the car is, sure enough, finely polished. Better steering, better refinement, better safety, more modern lighting. All of them steps ahead from a car that already pretty much led the class. Get yourself a 148bhp TSi with the multi-link axle and you’re laughing.
Oh and by the way, for the next few years, VW doesn’t even see Golf sales falling away. Early orders suggest ID.3 buyers will come from other places, while yesterday’s Golf buyers stick to today’s Golf. They won’t go far wrong.