Road Tests

New VW Golf: But what's the difference?

Time 13 years ago

THE Golf is a top 10 seller in the UK. What’s more, it is also Europe’s best selling car. So you could say the launch of an all-new one is vital. But how many are going to notice? 

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A common criticism with any new Golf is that it looks too much like its predecessor. But, even by these standards of gradual evolution, Volkswagen really has, with the Mk6, created a near-total clone of the Mk5. 

Vee Dub has previous here. In 1986, we criticised the Mk2 for looking too much like the original. Motorists responded by… buying it in droves. So it’s previous, then – with good form.


Part of the likeness is because this new Golf isn’t actually all new. The company has deemed the underpinnings of the old car more than good enough to see service in this one, too. The new model therefore has a new exterior (yes, trust us, it does!), plus a seriously enhanced interior and other high-tech features. But, as it’s also cheaper to build, it will make more money, for both VW and its dealers. Perfect!

Needless to say, there’s a large range of engines. These have a core of sensible 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrols. The bigger unit is preferable, even if its £900 premium is steep. Also on offer is Volkswagen’s punchy 1.4-litre TSI – in 122bhp turbo guise, and a 160bhp twincharger version.

But, being a Golf, it’s diesels that are key. New units are on the way here – a 1.6-litre TDI sounds promising to us, particularly as it offers excellent fuel economy. But, for now, it’s the familiar old 2.0-litre TDI, with 110bhp or 140bhp. 


On the road, that key 1.6-litre is torquey and powerful enough for most buyers. It has a very slick gearbox too, while the steering is accurate and well weighted for precision on twisty roads. Eco-conscious buyers will be pleased, if not overwhelmed, by the 39.8mpg average, but disappointed by the 166g/km CO2 figure. Choosing the DSG semi-auto sees this drop below the key 160g/km barrier.


The 2.0-litre TDI claims 57mpg. But will that offset the £1,700 premium over the 1.6-litre petrol in buyer’s eyes? Roll on this summer’s more fuel efficient 1.6-litre TDI.

Suspension is a bit of a compromise. It’s comfortable enough, but it rolls a fair bit, meaning a Ford Focus is better in this respect. And the ride? Again, decent, but not quite up to the premium levels suggested by the rest of the car. 

Surprisingly, it’s the same for the interior. Yes, it’s all very solid, but it lacks flourishes to set it apart. Workmanlike best describes it. However, buyers jumping into it from the previous model will be much more aware of the changes. Seats, for example, are superb, even in the most basic S model. There’s great sideways support and the usual good Golf compromise between comfortable padding and firmness. Shame the unsupportive rear seats don’t follow suit, although there’s lots of space back there. 

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Unusually, Volkswagen is able to launch the Golf with its Euro NCAP test score in place. Needless to say, it’s picked up a full five stars – with standard stability control, plus seven airbags, including one for the driver’s knee. Pity VW can’t be similarly generous with the AUX-in socket, so buyers can plug in MP3 players. They’ll be disappointed to see it costs £83!

S spec has air con as standard, but the £850 dearer SE is more on the money, with USB connectivity, alloys, a better stereo, cruise control and more. The extra seems well worth it. 

Needless to say, no Golf is cheap. It also doesn’t stand out, neither from the crowd, nor the one that went before it. However, it’s still a tempting model. It’s nicer inside, has some fine engines and is admirably quiet and comfortable. The 1.6 S version never remotely leaves you feeling short-changed, either in terms of performance or equipment. Worth the premium? Well, millions of buyers across Europe think so. And who are we to doubt them?

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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