THEORY OF EVOLUTION - Volkswagen Golf

Independent Car Review - overall score 77/100

Performance 7
Handling 8
Comfort 8
Space 8
Styling 8
Build 9
Value 6
Equipment 7
Economy 8
Depreciation 8
Insurance 8
Total 77

Introduction

The Volkswagen Golf has altered almost unrecognisably across its six generations but feels very familiar in this improved seventh generation form. June Neary checks it out.

Will It Suit Me?

Volkswagen's designers must be a frustrated bunch. They see other manufacturers giving the old creative juices free reign, showing the green light to all kinds of exciting and unconventional designs, then they're asked to come up with a new Golf that looks ever so slightly different to the old one. There's no doubt that VW is one of the most conservative car companies when it comes to vehicle styling but then, with a car like the Golf, they can afford to be. The original MKVII Golf was very good. If this improved version could improve upon it, success would be guaranteed.

When I first caught sight of the enhanced seventh generation Volkswagen Golf, I thought the German brand was trying to pull a fast one. Yes it was different, but recognisably the same. That though, is just the point. In the words of a previous Volkswagen Group Chairman, 'the only mistake a Golf can really make is to stop being a Golf'.

Inside, there was more of that familiar feeling. Lots of the switchgear looked familiar but there were nicer materials, an upgraded infotainment screen and a higher quality ambience was in evident. These were my first impressions and they're likely to be those of many people who encounter the latest Golf for the first time. My advice would be to give it time because there's a real depth to this car's talents.

Practicalities

Conservative but classy has long been the Golf constant and this improved MKVII model diligently tows that line. So though on this model much has changed, in many ways, virtually nothing is different. The same thick rear C-pillar and near vertical tail. The same sharp crease line above the flanks. The same horizontally-barred grille. Look more closely though and important differences begin to emerge. Many variants now get full-LED headlamps and the air intakes at either corner of the front bumper have been restyled too. Jewel-like LED tail lamps are now standard across the range and on top versions, there are smart animated flowing indicators too. Otherwise, things are much as before - which means that there's a choice between three or five-door hatch and estate bodystyles, both of which sit on the Volkswagen Group's light, stiff and very sophisticated MQB chassis.

Inside, the dash design is more of an eye-opener. The cabin has been given a lift by the addition of smarter decorative trim panels on the doors, the dash panel and the centre console, as well as classier seat covers. And the centre-dash infotainment screen is available in a wider range of sizes. Otherwise, it's as you were.

The rear doors open wide to make childseats easy to get in and out and the fabric looks well set to withstand sticky fingers and chocolate stains. Rear legroom is adequate for tall adults so long as the front seats aren't pushed right back on their runners and a bigger boot of 380-litres ensures the Golf's competitiveness on practicality grounds. Fold the rear seats and 1,270 litres is made available.

Behind the Wheel

The Golf feels much as it did before to drive - which means that I still think it to be one of the most refined cars in its class. This is thanks to a host of measures including a special sound-damping windscreen, extra thick side window glass and advanced door and window seals. The cosseting experience inside the Golf is added to by the car's clever suspension system. The multi-link rear axle technology you get in pokier models is the preserve of the top performers in the family hatchback class from a ride and handling perspective and this Golf is certainly amongst those. Well weighted speed sensitive steering and a slick manual gearbox contribute to a driving experience that isn't the sector's most thrilling but is tough to beat for sheer competence.

Enginewise, the biggest news is the introduction of an all-new petrol powerplant - Volkswagen is calling it the '1.5 TSI Evo', a four cylinder petrol turbo that uses 'Active Cylinder Management' to cut off two cylinders under light to medium throttle loads. This engine develops 150PS in its standard form, but there is also a 'BlueMotion' version developing 130PS. The other change beneath the bonnet has been applied to the Golf GTI, which had fallen behind some of its rivals in the power stakes. Now, this model develops 230PS in its standard form, or 245PS if you go for the 'GTI Performance' derivative. The other mechanical change made to the line-up is the replacement of the old 6-speed DSG auto gearbox with a more efficient 7-speed unit.

Otherwise, things are much as before. At the foot of the range, there's the well-regarded 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit, a three cylinder powerplant developing 110PS. Most Golf buyers though, tend to want a diesel - possibly the 115PS 1.6-litre TDI diesel, but more probably the 2.0-litre TDI, available with either 150 or 184PS. As before, only variants developing more than 120PS get multi-link rear suspension: below that level, your Golf will come with a less sophisticated torsion bean set-up. As before, there's a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4WD Golf R super hatch model at the top of the range. Or, for the same kind of money, a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid model. Want the lowest possible running costs? Then you need the all-electric e-Golf. Either way, it seems Volkswagen has almost everyone's preferences covered.

Value For Money

Most mainstream Golf models will be sold in the £18,000 to £25,000 bracket, with the diesels that 85% of UK customers want starting from around the £20,000 price point. There's a £655 premium to go from the three-door bodystyle to the five-door bodyshape that 90% of British buyers choose. We're talking here of pricing and quality of product that has subtly moved Volkswagen into a slightly more up-market position. So, it's fully credible a stepping stone from Focus family hatch mundanity to full premium status in this size of car.

Could I Live With One?

There really wasn't much room for improvement on the MKVII Golf. The original version felt like a highly adept performer right up to the end but while this improved model looks similar in many respects, it has been advanced in areas right across the board. Quality, technology, comfort: these are the standout aspects of this latest design but the engine range takes some beating and no other family hatch can match the Golf's classy image. It's a great all-round family car.

We currently have 67 used Volkswagen Golf Cars