What is it?
As if you don’t know. This seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is almost clinically evolutionary in its feel and appearance, yet it is ground-up fresh technology from its MQB platform to the all-new motors in its subtly more angular body.
There is no getting away from the fact the Golf is a recipe that works and Volkswagen would be bonkers to change it. The 29 million they’ve sold since it was launched in 1974 proves this.
Here we’re testing the 138bhp 1.4 TSI in top-spec GT trim, complete with seven-speed DSG gearbox (a six-speed manual is standard) and cylinder deactivation, which actually makes this 109g/km petrol engine cleaner than the lower-powered, 120bhp version of the same 1.4 TSI that will sit beneath it in the range and go without cylinder management. Also on offer will be an 84bhp 1.2 TSI, a 104bhp 1.6 TDI and a 148bhp 2.0 TDI.
What is it like?
You won’t be surprised to hear that the experience of driving the new Golf is a very familiar one. And yet there is a subtly classier feel to the car. New softer-edged buttons, a slimmer-rimmed steering wheel, sharper edges to the dash architecture and an optional eight-inch colour screen (a 5.8in version is standard) that dominates the interior in our GT-trim car, all contribute to the high-end ambience.
This 1.4 TSI engine is unrelated to the engine of the same capacity that you’ll find in the Mk6. And you can feel the difference. Cabin refinement is outstanding on the 17-inch wheels of our test car, with very little tyre roar or engine noise creeping into the cabin and only a subdued flutter of wind. And yet you can then choose to toggle through the Audi-like variable drive settings (Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual) that the Golf will get as standard on all but the base-spec cars, and suddenly you have a thoroughly grippy, neutral and entertaining drive. Our car also came with optional Dynamic Chassis Control, which incorporates adaptive damping and a Sport setting.
Despite our car’s high spec, it is still not sparklingly communicative. But with the adaptive elements in maximum attack mode you really can plunder the huge grip on offer, and enjoy the suddenly quite audible and rasping exhaust note that is emitted from the twin tailpipes as the motor spins willingly through its rev range.
The 8.4sec 0-62mph time doesn’t sound quick, but in the mid-range this model of Golf feels spot on for a compromise between satisfying performance and real-world accessibility and efficiency. Because while you can enjoy some hoonery, you can also enjoy free road tax thanks to the 109g/km (116g/km with the manual) and over 60mpg combined.
The whole set-up feels tauter, regardless of your chosen drive and damper settings. Steering response is a little quicker off the dead-ahead the handling is more neutral and less inclined to wash into understeer when pushed hard. The cylinder deactivation is also hard to fault. The switch between two and four cylinders is imperceptible and done with such swiftness that we couldn’t catch it out even when deliberately trying to.
The 1.4 TSI engine is currently the biggest-selling Golf with private buyers in the UK, and its successor deserves the same popularity. It’s hard to believe that any other engine in the range will better the flexibility and reward on offer from this 1.4 petrol.
Even so, the Golf is not flawless. The DSG gearbox hangs on to ratios too long in Sport mode, feeling a little unresponsive to throttle input at quite crucial moments. Using the standard wheel-mounted paddles solves this. The brakes can also feel a little sharp initially and take some familiarity to be able to modulate the pedal for smooth urban progress.
Equally, while the ride comfort in our car is smooth and pliant 90 per cent of the time when left in Normal, coping particularly well with eroded surfaces and high-frequency undulations regardless of speed and cornering force, it does get a little firm and thumpy at higher speeds over bigger intrusions such as expansion joints and raised manhole covers. Sport doesn’t seem dramatically different from Normal, though Comfort is quite noticeably softer, with a little more wallow than you might expect at urban speeds.
Beyond the driving dynamics themselves, there are other practical improvements that will come in useful for life in the latest Golf. The driving position seems to mould itself around you thanks to an exceptionally broad range of adjustment that few class rivals can compete with. Steering wheel rake and reach is particularly impressive next to the class standard.
A slight increase in elbow room also pays off in the front of the cabin, and knee room is marginally more abundant, all of which makes the Golf feel a whisker closer to the class above. And who doesn’t appreciate a bigger boot? The Golf now gets a healthy 380 litres and a usefully low load lip.
To name the most dramatic improvements in the 1.4 TSI specifically, it would have to be refinement and engine performance. Over the range as a whole, it’s likely to be the quite extravagant array of technology.
Premium downgraders need not worry. You could slide down the market ladder from an Audi A8 to a Golf and have comparable safety and infotainment tech, from multi-collision avoidance as standard, through to the optional eight-inch HD sat-nav with smartphone tethered wifi hotspot, voice command and proximity sensor that automatically raises the menu when your hand approaches the screen.
Should I buy one?
Yes. The Golf is precisely the globally appealing and useful car it needs to be. The desirability stakes have been upped, and it is generally a sharper, more complete package. It is a VW Golf, purified.
Best in class? Ford should be very worried indeed.
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI 140 GT 5dr
Price £23,500 (est); Top speed 131mph;
; Economy 60.1mpg;
; Kerb weight 1288kg;
Engine 4 cyls in line, 1395cc, turbo, petrol;
Installation Front, transverse, FWD
; Power 138bhp at 4500-6000rpm;
Torque 185lb ft at 1500-3500rpm
; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto