Volkswagen Golf 2024 review – still the benchmark hatchback?

The Mk8 Golf has some frustrating ergonomic flaws, but it remains a great all-rounder in all its guises

Evo rating
Price
from £26,945
  • Pleasant chassis, everyday comfort, economy 
  • High price point, infuriating touch controls

Half a century and eight generations since the original Volkswagen Golf first hit our roads in 1974, the stalwart hatch remains one of the most popular models on the market today. The industry trend towards full electrification has seen Volkswagen focus its efforts on its ID range in recent years, but the Golf as we know it is still alive and kicking – that is until a new EV version arrives later in the decade.

Just as we’ve seen for the last few generations, Volkswagen transformed the eighth-generation Golf into a hot hatch in both GTI and R forms, but the standard range offers plenty of mass appeal. Available in hatchback or estate forms with 1-litre, 1.5-litre and 2-litre petrol engines, diesel options and both pure-combustion and hybrid powertrains, there’s a Golf variant for just about every use case.

> A new Volkswagen Golf GTI is coming: can the troubled Mk8 be redeemed?

Engine, gearbox and technical highlights

Underpinning the Mk8 Golf is the latest development of the MQB platform, allowing for a variety of mechanical 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.

The Golf range begins with the 1-litre three-cylinder TSI, sending either 89bhp or 109bhp to the front wheels depending on spec. Move up to the four-cylinder 1.5-litre and output is lifted to either 128bhp or 148bhp, with the 48V mild-hybrid eTSI we tested also utilising this engine. The more pricey Golf GTE brings plug-in hybrid technology to the range, and offers a more substantial 241bhp and pure electric running thanks to a 13kWh battery pack – it also shares certain styling elements with the GTI.

All range-topping GT models get 2-litre engines. The GTD makes use of a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel for a 197bhp output and a chunky 295lb ft torque figure, also adopting that aggressive GTI front bumper. The GTI itself features the ubiquitous 2-litre EA888 petrol four-cylinder, sending 241bhp to the front wheels through a seven-speed DSG automatic – the GTI Clubsport lifts this figure to 296bhp.

At the top of the range is the Golf R, featuring a more powerful iteration of the EA888 and a four-wheel drive system, which incorporates a torque vectoring rear differential. Power is up to 315bhp for the standard car, with the range-topping R 20 Years bringing the figure to 328bhp. An all-electric e-Golf was available in previous Mk7 form, but the all-electric ID.3 has effectively taken its place until the electric Mk9 Golf arrives.

Performance and 0-62 time

Given the eight levels of specification, Mk8 Golf performance varies drastically depending on which model you choose. At the bottom of the range is the 1-litre three-cylinder with a 10.2sec 0-62mph time, but for more poke on a budget, the 1.5-litre four-cylinder completes the same sprint in 8.5sec. From here upwards, the Mk8 Golf has plenty of performance on tap for most use cases.

Of the hot versions, the Golf GTI sprints from standstill to 62mph in 6.2sec, with the GTI Clubsport managing a 5.6sec time thanks to a power bump. With 315bhp, 4.7sec is all it takes for the R to reach 62mph, with this dropping another tenth to 4.6sec in range-topping 20 Years form. Each of these performance models feel genuinely rapid, with plenty of torque accessible low in the rev range for swift progress on virtually any road.

Especially when equipped with the mild-hybrid eTSI system, the Mk8 Golf’s powertrains are impressively refined. Mild-hybrid models allow for nifty fuel saving features such as engine-off coasting and cylinder deactivation, and while these can take some getting used to, the systems are very well calibrated and blend in seamlessly during everyday driving. The same can be said for the rest of the drivetrain, with only the occasional low speed hiccup from the 7spd DSG transmission interrupting progress.

Unfortunately, not a single Mk8 Golf powertrain offers a pleasant auditory experience, with even the range-topping GTI and R models pumping distracting synthetic engine sounds into the cabin. The R’s optional Akrapovic exhaust system does add some more genuine sound to the package, but it’s hardly inspiring.

Ride and handling

The Mk8 Golf feels much like its predecessor to drive, which is no surprise as it rides on an updated version of the same 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, and the major controls are slick and well-weighted across the range.

There’s a little more heft to the steering than before but turn-in is positive for the most part, with plenty of front grip to lean on and a rear axle that seems to give you exactly the attitude you need. There’s little to no steering feel – as we’ve come to expect from most modern cars of this ilk – and off-centre response is soft on entry-level models, but such a setup is more than adequate for the typical Golf use case. 

It’s agile too, no doubt a function of its relatively low weight figure (c1350-1550kg depending on spec) for the class, and that helps it feel respectably brisk – even in efficiency-focused eTSI-form. There’s a firm edge to the ride quality on rough surfaces and those same patches can highlight some road noise (especially with low rolling resistance tyres), but its composure and refinement over lower-frequency, higher-amplitude undulations is very well judged. The low spring rate in the eTSI does make for some significant body roll when pushing on, but it never feels unruly. 

We found that the Mk8 Golf had a soft brake pedal with very little feel during our first drive, but our experience in recent models suggests this has been eliminated. Even with a blend of friction braking and mild regenerative braking in the eTSI model, pedal feel is firm and confidence-inspiring with stopping power more than enough for normal road driving.

MPG and running costs

The Golf first received hybrid power with the Mk7, and now electrification is offered more widely thanks to the introduction of mild-hybrid engine options. Equipped with this technology, the Golf 1.5 eTSI we sampled was frugal – if a little less so than the hybrid Toyota Corolla.

Coming with a 48V electrical system, we achieved around 50mpg with mixed driving, making it an excellent choice for daily driving duties. Elsewhere in the range, the plug-in hybrid GTE is the best of the bunch with a quoted 235.4mpg figure (though don’t expect this in the real world), the GTD achieves 54.3mpg and 1-litre and 1.5-litre eTSI models claiming anything from 50 - 60mpg. Move up the range to the EA888-engined performance models, and things don't look quite as attractive. Quoted economy for the range-topping Golf R is the worst of the range at 35mpg, with the GTI managing an additional 5mpg – in our experience, you’ll struggle to break over 30mpg.

Interior and tech

Volkswagen adopted a modern-looking infotainment and instrument screen set-up for the Mk8 Golf in an effort to bring it up to speed with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz A-class and Audi A3. While the result was a cleaner dashboard with less clutter than its predecessor, the touch-based HMI is frustrating to use despite software upgrades post-launch.

The standard digital dashboard and infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work well initially, but live with the system and a few cracks appear. While the new facelifted Mk8.5 GTI and the eTSI we recently tested do feature physical steering wheel buttons, the Mk8 Golf features touch-sensitive controls in some variants, which are infuriating to use and far too easy to accidentally activate.

The use of touch controls continues with the media volume and temperature sliders beneath the central infotainment screen, which are fiddly to use and, shockingly, unlit and largely invisible at night (the facelifted Mk8.5 will introduce illuminated sliders). There are more frustrations with Volkswagen’s infotainment software – if you’d like to deactivate the intrusive lane-keep assist system, it requires a total of four button presses (once you know where they are) each and every time you start the car…

This aside, there’s no faulting the overall driving position, comfort and ergonomics in the Mk8 Golf. In all eight trim levels, the cabin is a pleasant place to be, with our eTSI test car feeling spacious and airy thanks to a light colour scheme throughout. Ditching leather seats for fabric and Alcantara items and choosing brushed metal in place of piano black trim gives it a premium feel, with even the ambient lighting tastefully implemented, cleverly bouncing light off the curves of the dash. Build quality and material choice are strong overall, too, with all major touchpoints soft to the touch and solid.

Design

Since its inception, each and every iteration of the Volkswagen Golf has received a palatable, tidy design for its time, and the Mk8 is certainly no exception. Clean surfacing and that full-width front light bar provide a modern edge, with its front end features shifted down for the illusion of a lower stance. It might lack the crispness of the previous Mk7, but it’s a pleasant hatchback design nonetheless.

Move up to the GTI and range-topping R models and you receive the same body-in-white as the base car, only with modified side sills and more aggressive front and rear bumpers to set them apart. Larger wheels, black trim and roof spoilers also come as standard on the performance variants. 

Price, specs and rivals

The entry point for the range is the £26,945 Golf Life, equipped with a 1-litre three-cylinder in its most basic form – predictably, just like its rivals, it’s seen a substantial £3645 price increase during its time on the market. Step up to the £29,510 Style model and you receive LED headlights, uprated interior materials, ambient lighting and 3-zone climate control. For an additional £645, Volkswagen will sell you the R-Line, applying 17-inch wheels, body-coloured bumpers, rear-tinted glass and front sports seats – £32,365 is enough for the Black Edition for more of the same, only with 18-inch wheels in black, heated front seats and a rear view camera. Opt for the 1.5-litre eTSI powertrain we sampled and you'll pay from £30,085 in entry-level Life trim, which is equipped with a 7-speed DSG as standard. The 2-litre TDI diesel is also available from £28,545 and comes with a 6-speed manual, with the DSG costing £1545 more. 

The GT-badged GTD, GTI and GTE come at £37,400, £39,815 and £40,890 respectively, with the more potent GTI Clubsport and Golf R priced from £42,270 and £44,550. At the very top of the range is the £50,115 R 20 Years, coming with an increased 168mph speed limiter, unique 20 Years badging and optional blue alloys. Unfortunately, neither the GTI or the R are available with manual transmissions, and that won’t change when the updated Mk8.5 arrives. 

There are plenty of optional extras available, with even the base 1-litre three-pedal Golf Life offered with 17 and 18-inch wheels for £675 and £1140 respectively. The Winter pack costs £585 across the range (when not standard), with massaging seats available for £605, a rear view camera at £375, Harman Kardon speakers at £685 and IQ.Light LED matrix headlights one of the most pricey options at £1940.

The Golf’s rivals are the usual suspects: the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30, with higher spec models competing with the BMW 1-series, Mercedes-Benz A-class and Audi A3. The Golf’s £26,945 starting price stacks up well, with the likes of the Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla demanding a higher price. While it does offer a more premium feel, better dynamics and a hybrid powertrain as standard, the Honda Civic costs over £8000 more than the Golf. Vauxhall's Astra is slightly cheaper at £26,610, with the Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3 both available for around £3000 less, but the Golf offers good value for money nonetheless.

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