Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 2020 review – an encouraging base for the next GTI

Neat-handling Mk8 Volkswagen Golf promises good things from the upcoming GTI

Evo rating
  • Agile and engaging chassis; quality, interior design
  • Spongy brakes, touchscreen can be distracting

Part of the furniture since 1974, the Volkswagen Golf is now in its eighth generation and showing no signs of fading away even as the world changes around it. In fact, it’s a sign of the Golf’s enduring appeal that even as VW readies its new ID range of electric vehicles, the Golf nameplate continues to forge ahead.

While we have to wait a little longer for the sporty GTI, GTD, GTE, Clubsport and eventual Golf R, we’ve now been able to try the regular Golf on UK roads for the first time. Driven here in mid-range Style trim with the 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine, it’s probably the perfect example of the ‘average’ Mk8 Golf – and should give us a hint as to what the GTI and others have in store when they arrive later down the line.

Subscribe to evo magazine

Subscribe today to have every issue of evo delivered straight to you. You'll SAVE 39% on the shop price, and get evo for its original cover price for a whole year!

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

The Golf will, over time, be furnished with a fairly broad range of engines, not least the mix of petrol, diesel and petrol-electric hybrids finding their way into the GTI, GTD and GTE, but our first taste of the Mk8 Golf is that of a 1.5-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder badged TSI 150, equipped with a six-speed manual transmission.

As is the case with any new petrol unit it carries a petrol particulate filter, and in an effort to reduce consumption and emissions further it can also deactivate two cylinders on light loads. It still makes 148bhp between 5000 and 6000rpm though, along with 184lb ft of torque in a spread from 1500 to 3500rpm.

Along with VW’s XDS electronic differential lock and traction control, there’s enough go for an 8.5sec 0-62mph sprint and 139mph top speed. The other key figure, this being 2020, is the claimed 50.2mpg combined, which is pretty impressive for a petrol engine on the tougher WLTP cycle.

Technical highlights

Volkswagen might stretch several models across relatively few platforms but it’s not one to rest on its laurels either, so underpinning the new Golf is the latest development of the MQB platform. As this allows for various engine, drive and rear suspension configurations, the Golf benefits from the ability to incorporate hybrid technology, all-wheel drive, and various four-cylinder engines – though with the Mk8, you can no longer specify a three-door body style.

This particular Golf gets a multi-link rear axle, which typically results in more sophisticated ride and handling characteristics and suggests VW is comfortable spending a little extra on componentry to enable the Golf to put its best foot forward. At the same time, the 1.5 TSI clocks in at 1340kg, which is lighter than an equivalent Focus but a touch heavier than a Honda Civic.

What’s it like to drive?

Perhaps the best description for the Mk8 Golf is that it’s the Porsche 992 of family hatchbacks. Not necessarily the quickest, nor the most exciting, nor the most innovative, but an all-rounder of such consistently high quality and attention to detail you sometimes wonder why anyone else really bothers to compete.

The new cabin’s a highlight for a start, VW adopting a modern-looking infotainment and instrument screen set-up on a par with that of the current A-class, and a clean, uncluttered look to the dashboard. It’s less austere than the cabin it replaces, though as with any heavily screen-based arrangement it takes some adaptation. The graphics though are less cluttered than those in the A-class, the touch-sensitive buttons for controlling the lighting are clear, and there’s no faulting the overall driving position, comfort and ergonomics.

Or the way it drives, in any meaningful way. In truth it feels much like the last Golf, which is no surprise as it rides on an updated version of the MQB platform, is a similar size and weight and uses a multi-link rear axle like the GTIs we’re most familiar with. It feels tough without feeling large, the major controls are slick and well-weighted and it’s essentially viceless to drive.

There’s a little more heft to the steering than before (and more thickness to the wheel itself) but turn-in is engagingly positive, with plenty of front grip to lean on and a rear axle that seems to give you exactly the attitude you need, like a parent pushing their kid along as they cycle and only stepping in once things get wobbly.

It’s agile too, no doubt a function of relatively low weight for the class, and that helps it feel respectably brisk too – in second there’s plenty of drive out of tight corners, with good torque in third and fourth for country road driving. It’s not a particularly interesting engine to listen to, but then this isn’t a GTI, and it’s easy to appreciate the refinement. We’d want slightly snappier gearing (the shift itself is chunkier and more satisfying than before, but the ratios are long) but again, this isn’t the sporty one.

There’s a firm edge to the ride quality on rough surfaces and those same patches can highlight some road noise, but the car’s composure and refinement over lower-frequency, higher-amplitude undulations is very well judged, and cornering on smoother surfaces there’s little body movement.

The only real demerit, and chink in the Golf’s otherwise impervious dynamic armour, is a brake pedal that feels soft on first application and provides little feedback in heavier stops, though power is more than adequate. Slightly irritating too having to go through four touchscreen presses to disable the intrusive lane-keep system, which resets itself each time you start the car.

Price and rivals

As tested the Golf Style 1.5 TSI comes in at £26,095, with options on this car – a 10-inch touchscreen with navigation, and voice and gesture control (£1600) and £285 of winter pack, which includes heated front seats, and heated washer jets. Standard kit is fairly healthy though, with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and suede-style seat trim among the usual raft of electronic safety features and infotainment toys. Moonstone Grey paintwork (not pictured) is an additional £375. Golf Mk8s in general start in Life trim from £23,300, while R-Line models begin at £26,165.

Rivals are the usual suspects: Focus, Mégane, Astra, Civic, Corolla, Mazda 3, i30, Ceed, plus premium models such as the 1-series, A-class and A3. With no sports variants of the Golf currently on sale we can’t make a call on those just yet, but out of the crop of regular family hatchbacks, it’s difficult not to recommend the Golf.

Recommended

Volkswagen Golf GTE HyRACER concept revealed
Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf GTE HyRACER concept revealed

24 Aug 2020
New 2020 Volkswagen Golf Mk8 pricing and specs revealed
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf Mk8 pricing and specs revealed

6 Mar 2020

More on Golf

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf Mk8 pricing and specs revealed
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

New 2020 Volkswagen Golf Mk8 pricing and specs revealed

After 35 million units there’s a new Volkswagen Golf, only this time under an increasingly large shadow
6 Mar 2020
Volkswagen e-Golf review – traditional hatch to take on Tesla
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen e-Golf review – traditional hatch to take on Tesla

The e-Golf has all the pros of a Golf, yet all the cons of an electric car...
28 Oct 2018
Volkswagen Golf review - the ultimate family hatchback?
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf review - the ultimate family hatchback?

The Volkswagen Golf defines the family hatchback class, for good reason
18 Jul 2018
Volkswagen Golf R power reduced due to new WLTP regs
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf R power reduced due to new WLTP regs

And adding insult to injury, the manual and three-door variants have been dropped too!
5 Jul 2018
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo review - does the Evo engine make for an 'evo' car?
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo review - does the Evo engine make for an 'evo' car?

It’s the Golf you buy when you can’t afford a GTI. We reckon you should save up and spend the extra
16 Aug 2017
2017 Volkswagen Golf GTE review - Can the plug-in hybrid GTE be considered a proper hot hatch?
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTE review - Can the plug-in hybrid GTE be considered a proper hot hatch?

Refined and impressive, but not especially sporty
13 Apr 2017
Volkswagen Golf GTE - VW reduces price of plug-in hatch
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTE - VW reduces price of plug-in hatch

Volkswagen facelifts plug-in Golf GTE and lowers the entry price to make it even more appealing.
31 Mar 2017
2017 Volkswagen Golf – New prices announced for VW's best-seller
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

2017 Volkswagen Golf – New prices announced for VW's best-seller

Updated Golf is cheaper despite significant technical changes for 2017
1 Feb 2017
Volkswagen Golf R-Line packages announced
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf R-Line packages announced

Volkswagen has announced the availability of R-line trims for the facelifted seventh-generation Golf
5 Jan 2017
Volkswagen, Oettinger launch Performance Golf styling kits
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen, Oettinger launch Performance Golf styling kits

Prices start at £3995 for more aggressive styling and a fruity exhaust note from GTI, GTD and R models
14 Dec 2016
Volkswagen Golf GTE Sport – Worthersee hybrid in Frankfurt
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTE Sport – Worthersee hybrid in Frankfurt

This futuristic hatch heads the Volkswagen Group's hefty list of Frankfurt concepts
17 Sep 2015
Volkswagen Golf GTE review and pictures
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTE review and pictures

The theory? GTI driver appeal with 188mpg economy. Time to get to grips with reality...
3 Dec 2014
Jari Ketomaa thrashes Prodrive's new Volkswagen Golf SCRC (video)
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Jari Ketomaa thrashes Prodrive's new Volkswagen Golf SCRC (video)

World Rally ace Jari Ketomaa shows no mercy behind the wheel of Prodrive's new 300+bhp Golf rally car
14 Nov 2014
Praga R1: Slovakia's new mini LMP racer on video
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Praga R1: Slovakia's new mini LMP racer on video

Henry Catchpole gets to drive the Praga R1 race car, which is powered by a 210bhp Renault engine. Video here
17 Jun 2014
Volkswagen Golf GTI Wolfsburg Edition revealed
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI Wolfsburg Edition revealed

Volkswagen has revealed the 374bhp Golf GTI Wolfsburg Edition at the Worthesee tuning festival. Pictures and details here
29 May 2014
Volkswagen Golf GTI Speedster
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf GTI Speedster

A VW Golf GTI Speedster is the latest concept car in the Vision Gran Turismo series. 500bhp and four-wheel drive
22 May 2014
Oettinger VW Golf R
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Oettinger VW Golf R

Volkswagen tuning company Oettinger has boosted the Mk7 Golf R to 389bhp. Details and pictures here
16 May 2014
VW Golf R 400 revealed
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf R 400 revealed

Full details and images of the new VW Golf R 400 have been revealed at the Beijing motor show
19 Apr 2014
evo Magazine May 2014 - best hot hatchbacks ever
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

evo Magazine May 2014 - best hot hatchbacks ever

Hot hatch! Five decades of affordable speed - driving the best ever, from mk1 Golf GTI to BMW M135i
25 Mar 2014
VW Golf R mk7 video: Frankfurt motor show 2013
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf R mk7 video: Frankfurt motor show 2013

New mk7 based VW Golf R hot hatch nudges 300bhp and is the fastest accelerating Golf ever. Pictures, details and show video here
11 Sep 2013
VW Golf GTI mk7 2013 review
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf GTI mk7 2013 review

We drive the mk7 VW Golf GTI in basic trim without its Performance Pack. A hot hatch great?
1 Aug 2013
VW Golf R Cabriolet price cut
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf R Cabriolet price cut

VW cuts the price of its 261bhp Golf R Cabriolet after slow sales and negative feedback
13 Jun 2013
VW Golf R vs Golf Rallye
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf R vs Golf Rallye

The 266bhp super-Golf recalls a rare homologation special, called the Rallye, designed to take on the Lancia Integrale. We bring the two together.
17 May 2013
VW Golf GTI mk5 buying guide
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf GTI mk5 buying guide

It marked a long-overdue return to form for VW’s hot hatch, and now you can find out just how brilliant it is for yourself for less than half the car’…
16 May 2013