First Drive

First Drive: Volkswagen Golf

The story:
The new eighth-generation Golf is, according to Volkswagen, the most intelligent and connected yet, and features a sharper and more aggressive nose, all-new infotainment and new technology
Category:Lower medium
Key rival:Ford Focus
On sale:Now

The Golf has hit the grand old age of eight, with this latest-generation model coming in at the 45 year and 35 million car mark for the nameplate.

And it’s a coming of age story too, with the new model introducing new tech and a new cabin and infotainment system in what feels like a bigger step-change than VW’s core models usually get.

Even the sharp front styling is a slightly bigger step than between some of the previous seven generations of the hatchback, although the rear is less dramatically evolved.

First Drive-July 2020-Volkswagen Golf-Image 1But it’s on the inside where the most obvious change has been undertaken, with a stripping away of the majority of the buttons, instead switching to a combination of touchscreen and voice activation.

The launch range is split into Life, Style and R-Line trim levels, and 110, 130 and 150hp petrol engines or 115 and 150hp diesels. The most efficient model in the launch line-up is the 107g/km 115hp diesel, although the 110hp and 130hp petrols sit in a lower BiK band as the diesels don’t yet hit RDE2 emissions standards, so don’t get the four-band reduction. The 150hp petrol is already fitted with mild hybrid technology to reduce emissions, and that tech will also be added to the lower-output petrol engines later this year.

The GTD, GTE and GTI models will follow late this year, offering performance diesel, plug-in hybrid and petrol versions respectively. The arrival of VW’s ID3 model this summer means there won’t be an all-electric Golf this time around.

First Drive-July 2020-Volkswagen Golf-Image 4New technology for the new five-door hatch includes car-to-car communication that uses the universal Car2X standard to alert drivers of hazards ahead, with vehicles from different brands able to exchange data about the likes of approaching emergency vehicles, breakdowns, queues or slippery surfaces. VW claims that the Golf is “the most important mainstream car yet” to be fitted with Car2X capability as standard across the range.

The revised cabin looks neater, although a couple more buttons would be handy as touchscreens aren’t the easiest things to use while driving, especially for those that aren’t a fan of the voice activation system that can be safer to use while on the move. A volume knob rather than the hidden buttons at the base of the touchscreen would be handy, especially as it’s easy to accidentally hit those or the climate control buttons also positioned below the screen when resting a hand to use the touchscreen.

But the quality feels like it’s taken a big step forward inside, even, or maybe especially, on this entry-level Life model that doesn’t feel like a poor relation in terms of materials. It’s a real jump from the last car, and is a feeling matched by the driving experience. The Golf had slid away from the top of the class in a number of areas in recent times, but this renewed hatchback has really pulled the car back to the level of desirability its nameplate implies. The 130hp engine is also a real peach, and offers impressive real-world efficiency as well as plenty of performance for what isn’t, on paper, a particularly inspiring engine. And emission figures of 122g/km are low for the class, with only Vauxhall’s Astra getting below it from the mainstream competition. The 130hp engine almost negates the need to consider the higher-powered Golf petrol, although it’s only a £600 walk between them.

And talking about price is the only major stumbling block with the new Golf, with even the entry 110hp Life model coming in at over £23,000. That’s around £800 more than the entry 125hp Ford Focus Zetec Edition, but a 110hp Vauxhall Astra starts from a shade over £19,000. And even the 130hp Business Edition version of the Vauxhall is still under £20,000. The Golf’s excellent residual values will claw some of that back in terms of whole life cost or monthly rentals, but it’s a big gap in terms of the value that the company car driver is taxed on. The 120hp Life Golf driven here will cost a 40% tax payer an extra £34 per month on company car BiK versus the Astra Business Edition, and despite the Golf being in a lower BiK band thanks to better emission than the equivalent Ford Focus, Seat Leon and Kia Ceed, all three models are cheaper per month for the driver, and for the employer’s National Insurance contributions, thanks to the Golf’s higher purchase price.

But running cost are otherwise competitive, and the new Golf is a hefty step forward in terms of driving experience, interior quality and emissions, even if the jury is still out to some extent on the wisdom of cleaning out the cabin buttons in favour of increased use of touchscreen and voice activation.

paul barker

The verdict

Price tag apart, the new Golf is a big step forward over the previous model, and worthy of the nameplate’s strong reputation.