The relentless rise of the SUV and crossover means the conventional compact hatchback isn’t the sales force it once was. Yet while these family-friendly machines aren’t that fashionable these days, they still make more sense than almost any other class of car when it comes to delivering a Swiss Army Knife-like versatility. Practical and spacious enough for most needs, yet still featuring a footprint that’s compact enough not to feel like you’re taking more than your fair share of road space. They also tend to be good to drive, frugal, well-equipped and affordable. What’s not to like?
Moreover, while many have sounded the death knell for the family hatchback, a host of new, all-electric models proves there’s clearly life in the concept yet. As does the fact that there are so many evergreen mainstays of the class that are now in the eighth, ninth or tenth generation and show no sign of slowing down any time soon. In fact, while the high-riding SUVs steal the headlines, the less extroverted compact hatch simply gets on with doing its job so well that it’s difficult to make a case for its wholesale extinction.
In many ways, the onset of electrification has given buyers more choice than ever before. No matter what their needs or tastes, there is something for everyone - whether it's something sensible, sporty, classless or classy. Yet the common thread for all these cars is that they’re relatively modest in size and feature a flexible five-door layout complete with versatile hatchback tailgate.
For the best part of half a century the VW Golf has been in the family car mix, and with the current Mk8 version it claims its place at the top of the hatchback hierarchy. Launched as an ‘all-new’ version in 2020, the German machine is actually an update of the already excellent Mk7, a model that got its own refresh mid-way through its life. Sitting one the now ubiquitous MQB platform, it also uses largely the same petrol and diesel engine line-up, albeit with the addition of 48V mild hybrid tech on some versions
Either way, the sum of all these minor tweaks is a seriously impressive car. As far as ride refinement, handling and performance are all concerned, the Golf’s balanced blend of talents make it the most complete and grown-up offering in the class. That said, a slightly stiffer suspension set-up means we’d ideally steer clear of the cheaper, torsion-beam-equipped models - those versions with a multi-link rear axle feel more pliant and sophisticated.
Interior space has been improved, too, and an even more high-tech infotainment offering will appeal to many, although it isn't the most intuitive touchscreen system to use. What’s more, the cabin doesn't quite retain the levels of material plushness we were used to in previous Golfs, plus some areas of trim lack the indestructible feel we’ve become used too. And the less said about the unilluminated touch sensitive climate control temperature adjusters the better.