The VW Golf seems to be have been with us for as long as time but there is no getting away from the fact that the first Golf GTl changed the way the entire world looked at hatchbacks and spawned a new phrase – the Hot Hatchback. And here we are again with the eighth incarnation of the famous marque.
The first Golf hit the streets in 1974 as the Golf in Europe, the Rabbit in the US and the Caribe in Mexico, and was designed to replace the Beetle. No pressure there then! The Beetle is famous way beyond the car itself and you have to give it to those pesky Germans, they did it again and with quite some flair. The Golf rapidly became their best selling car, won more awards than you can shake a stick at and has sold 35 million models – that’s one every 41 seconds. So enough of the history, have they finally dropped the ball with the eighth model?
One could see this as a bit of a dinosaur, being that it is powered by fossil fuel, and the dreaded diesel at that! It is built on the same MQB platform as the Mark 7 so no changes to the size of the body but they have hit it with the ‘tech stick’, meaning no more dials as the entire thing is digital and a host of new whiz gadgets onboard to delight/ annoy you, in equal measure.
The digital dash certainly looks impressive, and indeed it is, but why plonk it in where the old dash used to be and keep the arch over the dials that was there before? It is also not the easiest to use with some very small buttons to seek out but once you get used to it, it all works very well. Then you get Car2X, the system that talks to other cars and interactive road signs. The overhead gantry signs on the new Smart motorways will converse with the car, as will that broken down car round the corner that has its hazards on and all this info is displayed on the central screen.
The rest of the interior is classic Golf - firm seats, a great driving position and everything at your fi nger tips and likely to be there, still working, in a hundred years time. Five doors, enough space for what you need and easy as pie to drive.
The engines are mainly upgraded versions of what went before. Threecylinder 1.0-litre option, a plug-in hybrid GTE with 245bhp, and a handy 13kWh battery for at least 40 miles e-range and a 130 bhp and a 150bhp TSI. By the end of 2020, we will have the models that petrol heads will be waiting for - the GTI and an R. I spent the week with the 1.5-litre TSI. It comes in 130 or 150bhp setups, and mine was the 130 in six-speed manual, which is likely to be the best seller and has the standard braking regeneration system that feeds power recovered from braking into the light hybrid system. The engine does take the opportunity to shut down when it can – when you’re descending a hill, for example, the navigation system instructs the ECU to expect no throttle demand for 15 seconds or so, and it shuts down.
All Golfs sold in the UK will get a digital instrument pack and 10-inch infotainment screen with web connection. Most include navigation, but with the base car you can activate nav, like some other features, via the in-car app store.
All this tech does come with a price - a modicum of annoyance. For example the lane assist that gives you a steering wobble each time you cross a white line on the motorway can be turned off - but then defaults back on every time you turn the car off. As with most new cars these days, it will tell you when you are about to crash even though you are not. So many of these new systems treat the driver as an idiot and, whilst many drivers are indeed blithering idiots, most are not and you really should be able to switch these things off, for good if you so choose.
The Golf does not really excel in any one area in particular but scores really high in all areas, making it the top of the tree in the cheaper end of the mid-range sector and there are few cars in the sector that can hold a candle to it.
The overall view of the car is that it is excellent. It’s solid as a rock, drives supremely well, has more get up and go than you would expect, will hold its value well and is easy on the eye. If you are looking for a family hatchback with a dose of panache, there is little out there at £23K that will touch the new Golf 8.
MODEL TESTED: Golf Life TSI PS
ENGINE: 1.5-litre turbocharged
POWER: 130 bhp
SPEED: 0-62 9.2 seconds
TOP: 133 mph
ECONOMY: 52.6 mpg combined
PRICE FROM: £23,900
AS TESTED: £26,775