Road Tests

First Drive: New Volkswagen Golf, still very much a class act

Time 11:44 am, January 15, 2020

What is it?

The Volkswagen Golf seems to be eternal. It’s remained unfazed by the whole ‘dieselgate’ debacle and has cleverly evolved to become electrified and connected.

It’s also VW’s most popular car. After more than 45 years on sale, a remarkable 35 million have been produced, and come February this all-new eighth-generation example will be available.

What’s new?

In typical Golf style, the latest model looks like it could just be a facelift, but it’s underneath and inside where VW has waved its magic wand.

The cabin has been completely digitalised, getting rid of the majority of physical buttons and fitting the car with a 10-inch touchscreen and digital cockpit as standard, the latter being unique to this class – for the time being at least. Further tech introduced includes Car2X – essentially where the Golf can ‘communicate’ with other cars and infrastructure.

In terms of electrification, Volkswagen is introducing mild-hybrid technology to the Golf – at first with a TSI petrol engine when paired with an automatic transmission.

What’s under the bonnet?

Powering our test car is the 128bhp variant of the turbocharged 1.5-litre engine, which comes mated to a six-speed manual transmission – expected to be the best-selling configuration.

It’s a good mix for the Golf – offering excellent refinement as you can barely hear it at low revs, while cylinder deactivation tech is just one of the touches that goes into making the unit more efficient than before, although VW can’t give us the figures just yet.

While performance isn’t this engine’s strong point, it’s a good all-rounder, feeling plentiful at motorway speeds while also having a bit of buzz for the more twisty roads. Admittedly, it can feel sluggish at times when overtaking, although the 148bhp variant of the same engine provides the remedy for this.

What’s it like to drive?

Even at motorway speeds the Golf is impressively refined – only a bit of wind noise from the door mirrors makes its way into the cabin – giving a comfortable and supple ride that isn’t even hampered by our test car’s 18-inch alloy wheels.

For now, we can only imagine how silky smooth it feels on the entry-level 16s. However, while being a great cruiser, it’s not a byword for driving enjoyment. Sure, body roll is well controlled and the steering is smooth and linear, but it’s all very safe and predictable.

How does it look?

In true VW fashion, the Golf’s design has evolved rather than revolved. Viewed side-on, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference, aside from the all-new line-up of alloy wheels – particularly as it retains near-matching dimensions to the outgoing car.

But it’s at the front where you’ll spot most of the changes with its new LED headlights, while a full-length front apron gives the Golf a more aggressive look than before.

Jumping to the rear, you’ll notice Volkswagen’s prominent new logo (it’s slimmer than before, if you couldn’t tell) along with more prominent ‘GOLF’ lettering beneath the badge – a classy touch in our eyes. The full suite of LED lights are also prominent at the rear.

So, while this might not be a revolutionary design, it’s a classy update and one that will undoubtedly appeal to the Golf’s loyal buyers.

What’s it like inside?

The new interior is headed up by a huge 10-inch touchscreen that seems to control, well, everything. All physical buttons seem to have been eradicated to create this entirely digitalised interior – helped by the new ‘Hello Volkswagen’ voice control service and touch buttons dotted throughout, even for the sunroof.

While it certainly looks the part – transforming the Golf for the ’20s – we can’t help but feel this needless button-removing has gone too far. Merely changing the temperature means you have to use this slightly awkward slider positioned below the touchscreen when a traditional rotary knob would do a much better job with less hassle.

Aside from that, it’s business as usual, with the Golf offering a generous amount of rear space for its size. While the 380-litre boot isn’t class-leading, it’s more than generous enough for a family hatchback. Visibility is also faultless.

What’s the spec like?

If you’re familiar with VW’s trim level structure, you’ll know about Volkswagen’s trademark S, SE and SE L grades that have stood the test of time.

But for a change of scenery, Volkswagen is adopting new nomenclatures – meaning Golf, Life, Style and R-Line are the options from launch, the last grade being the only aspect of continuity.

Standard kit is excellent and includes LED headlights, keyless start, a 10-inch infotainment screen that offers a host of connected services as well as the digital cockpit. There’s plenty of safety features too – namely lane-keep assist and automatic emergency braking.

Volkswagen hasn’t yet announced prices for the new Golf, although given this jump in out-of-the-box equipment, we’d expect a noticeable rise on top of the outgoing Golf’s £21,120 starting price.
What do the press think?

Autocar said: ‘This new Golf has managed to raise the game and distance itself from the competition.’ Car said: ‘It’s an even more mature version of what came before.’

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What do we think?

Volkswagen already had a near-class-leading model with the outgoing Golf, and it didn’t need to do a great deal to the new eighth-generation model to bring it right to the forefront of the competitive family hatchback class.

With this 1.5-litre petrol configuration, it leaves you wanting for very little, and the Golf would be a terrific choice if you spend lots of time cruising on the motorway. The fiddly new touchscreen might be a gripe at first, but we’re in no doubt that it would be quickly adjusted to once you’re living with it on a daily basis.

With efficiency figures and pricing yet to be revealed, it’s a bit soon to say if the new Golf is the new ‘car to beat’ in this class, although the pathway seems to have been laid.

Ted Welford's avatar

Ted Welford is a motoring journalist for Car Dealer's parent company Blackball Media. He writes for a variety of motoring publications and tests the latest cars on a regular basis. He likes cleaning them too.

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