Volkswagen Golf review - the ultimate family hatchback?

The Volkswagen Golf defines the family hatchback class, for good reason

Evo rating
from £17,785
  • Quality, space, refinement, performance
  • Everyone’s got one

There are some cars that define the class in which they compete, having been the go-to choice for so long that it takes a conscious decision to go elsewhere. The Porsche 911 is one. The Ford Fiesta, Britain's best-selling car, is another. But arguably the model that best defines the class it sits in is the Volkswagen Golf.

Now in its seventh generation and having enjoyed a fairly comprehensive overhaul in the last couple of years, the Golf has been making customers' family car shortlists for decades, and for good reason. Perhaps most importantly, and down in no small part to the Golf itself, VW has made its cornerstone product aspirational, so while it might compete on a fairly even keel with the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astras of the world, it's seen as more desirable right off the bat. It's as close as a car in this segment gets to being a classless car, feeling at home whether you're parking outside a flash restaurant or taking bags of waste to a recycling centre.

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!

It also gets fairly close to nailing every other brief you'd expect of a car in this class. It's not adventurously-styled but it's certainly handsome, there are a wide range of models to appeal to most tastes and budgets, most models perform well, it's comfortable, spacious and classy inside, and as an added bonus, the desirability factor keeps depreciation low.

> Volkswagen Golf GTI review - still the hot hatchback yardstick?

Advertisement - Article continues below

Is it perfect? Not from an evo perspective, as it doesn't quite fulfil our brief of being thrilling to drive, at least not until you start trading up to the GTIs and Golf Rs of the world, and even then we have preferences in the hot hatchback market. The Dieselgate scandal has also taken the shine of the more frugal models in the Golf range, fuel-efficient though those TDIs remain. But the Golf still engages enough that we'd be happy to recommend it if all you seek is practical family transport.

Volkswagen Golf in detail

Performance and 0-60 time - VW can't curry favour with us by naming its 1.5-litre petrol "EVO" but it's the quickest petrol model short of the GTI, at 8.3sec to 62mph. Similarly-brisk diesels are available, while the GTE is quicker still.

Engine and gearbox - There's a huge range available, from 1-litre turbocharged triples to the potent GTIs and Rs, plus electric and plug-in hybrid versions. The pokier petrols are most fun, but most have merit.

Ride and handling - The Golf utilises a talented chassis and good traction. The results make carrying speed an enjoyable, yet comfortable experience.

MPG and running costs - The all-electric e-Golf, plug-in hybrid GTE (166mpg) and diesel-sipping 1.6 TDI (68.9mpg) are most efficient, but most Golf power units are frugal.

Interior and tech - Recent revisions have given higher-end Golfs a fancy Virtual Cockpit-style TFT screen for the driver, lending the Golf an even more upmarket feel than before. Perceived quality in the cabin is very good and the infotainment options easy to use.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Design - Gradual evolution has given the Golf a timeless appeal and the new model, while a little boring for some, will undoubtedly age very well indeed. It's one of the most handsome Golfs since the Mk1 and Mk2.

Prices, specs and rivals

There’s some truth to the Golf being a touch more expensive than its mainstream rivals, but you really can see where your money has been spent. Its build quality inside is on a par with most premium hatchbacks, so it should be considered a rival for its Audi A3 cousin as much as it is for the SEAT Leon.

Family hatchback alternatives can be found far and wide. The most obvious contenders are the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Renault Megane and Peugeot 308, but the Japanese contingent of Honda Civic and Mazda 3 is well worth a look too (the Toyota Auris less so) while Korea fields its own challengers in the form of the Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30.

Move upmarket and you'll find the BMW 1-series and Mercedes-Benz A-class, and more space can be found from the Skoda Octavia - you really are spoiled for choice, though that the Golf is capable of tackling all of these in most areas is a mark of its talents.

Golf pricing begins at £18,340, though the rather breathless 84bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder S you get as a result perhaps isn't the most desirable option, with its 15-inch steel wheels and basic cloth trim - though you still get air conditioning, a touchscreen media system and a host of safety features.

> VW Golf GTI vs GTE - is the hybrid hot hatch up to scratch?

Advertisement - Article continues below

SE models start at £19,620 and bring more power, more options and more kit, while an SE Nav (starting at £20,370) adds, as you may have guessed, satellite navigation. Sporty GT models begin at £23,405, though the 1.6 TDI you get at that price isn't the most engaging of power units, so the 1.5 TSI (just £145 more) or 2.0 TDI options are probably more appealing here. Extra kit includes unique alloy wheels and sports seats, but stops short of the Golf R-like styling of the R-Line, whose prices begin at £24,195. R-Line seats and a GTI-style steering wheel are the clearest visual indicators inside.

Aside from the dedicated sports models, the GTI (£28,465), GTD (£27,810), GTE (£28,600, including Plug-in Car Grant) and R (£32,880), the only other Golf of note is the electric e-Golf, at £32,730. You can apply a £4500 plug-in vehicle grant from the government here, which takes the price down to £28,230.

It's five-door only (five door adds £655 to other models), gets unique exterior styling with aero wheels and C-shaped LED lighting signatures, and features much of the standard kit of other high-end Golfs, such as LED headlights, the most feature-packed infotainment system, and adaptive cruise control.


More on Golf

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 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 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 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
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 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
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 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 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 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 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
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
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 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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Volkswagen Golf hatchback

VW Golf Design Vision GTI concept: more pictures

More pictures and details of the mad VR6-engined VW Golf Design Vision GTI concept
9 May 2013