Volkswagen Golf Review
The Volkswagen Golf is an efficient and premium-feeling family hatchback – but its infotainment system is a real Achilles’ heel.
- Efficient engines
- Smart looks
- Decent practicality for the size
- Infotainment is fiddly and can be unreliable
- High-spec models are expensive
- Interior quality is not what it used to be
Should I buy a Volkswagen Golf?
The Golf used to be our default recommendation for a family hatchback, and it’s still a safe, efficient and stylish choice that offers surprisingly decent back-seat space. That said, rivals have more reliable and intuitive infotainment systems, and the Skoda Octavia has much more boot space. The latest eighth-generation Golf doesn’t quite have the same pleasing interior build quality of the previous-generation Golf either, which makes an Audi A3 an even more tempting proposition.
Interior and technology
The current eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf came out in 2020, and its interior was a technological leap on from the previous version, with many physical buttons being replaced by touch-sensitive buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel. However, you may find the Golf’s high-tech infotainment system fiddly to use on the move, and it’s been the victim of quite a few software glitches.
Our chief complaint about the system, however, is that you have to use touch-sensitive sliders to adjust the temperature. Not only are these trickier to use while driving than simple knobs or buttons, but they don’t light up at night so you’ll have to fumble about to warm the car up in the dark.
Otherwise, the Mk8 Golf’s infotainment system gives you everything you need, including wireless smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The screen is also bright and responsive, and all models complement it with a large digital driver’s display behind the steering wheel – which you control using virtual buttons on the steering wheel. Again, these can be a bit fiddly and hard to use on the move.
Interior quality in the Golf is OK but, if you jump out of a seventh-gen Golf into this latest version, you might find that there are more cheap-feeling plastics than you’re used to.
Gone are the days when the Golf came in a sporty three-door form – the eighth-gen Golf is a practical five-door car only. Access to the back seats is easy, and there’s enough rear legroom to fit tall adults and child seats without putting your back out. Rear passengers share a pair of USB-C sockets for charging phones, and some models get seat-back pockets on the front pews – ideal for storing phones or snacks. If you want more rear-seat space than the Golf offers then the Skoda Octavia needs to be on your shopping list.
The Golf’s 380-litre boot is big enough to swallow family essentials such as a big buggy or four suitcases. It’s average for this size of car, and – again – the Skoda Octavia’s mammoth 600-litre boot provides far more space for similar money. That said, there is an estate version of the Golf with a 611-litre boot – again, this trails the 640-litre space you get in the Octavia Estate.
Engines and performance
The latest Golf has no full-electric option – the Volkswagen ID.3 is a Golf-sized EV – but the lineup of petrol and diesel engines is universally good. Our favourite is the 1.5-litre TSI Evo petrol, which comes in 130hp or 150hp forms and has more than enough poke to get up to motorway speeds, while also offering decent fuel economy thanks to cylinder deactivation technology which switches off half the engine when you’re cruising.
You can also get a smaller 1.0-litre petrol engine which, on paper, is more economical than the 1.5, but you end up using more of the revs more of the time – and in our experience, this makes it a bit thirstier than the 1.5.
If it’s diesel you’re after, get the 2.0-litre TDI with 150hp. It has lots of low-down shove backed up by smugness-inducing fuel economy of more than 60mpg if you drive it carefully.
Fancy something a bit faster? The diesel Golf GTD packs a hot-hatch-baiting 200hp for a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, or there’s the petrol Golf GTI which puts out 245hp and completes the same sprint in just 6.4 seconds. If it’s a real rocketship you’re after then the 320hp Golf R uses four-wheel-drive to get from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds, while offering entertaining handling thanks to a drift mode. Just don’t use it on public roads…
Driving and comfort
The first thing you notice when getting behind the wheel of any Golf is how easy it is to drive – the clutch and gear shift are nice and light in manual versions, and the view out is better than most of its rivals. This is helped by small windows near the door mirrors, which are great for improving visibility around town.
Motorway refinement is decent – there’s not much wind or tyre noise – and the seats in all models are comfortable for long trips.
What may surprise you is how fun the Golf is to drive on a twisty road. It feels light and nimble with loads of grip and the sporty models allow some proper laugh-out-loud fun.