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Facelifted Golf gains much needed interior upgrades and new base four-cylinder engine - is it better than ever?

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If success breeds complacency in the car business, one car above all others ought to bear it out: the Volkswagen Golf. And yet over nearly five decades, we’ve yet to see much more than a sniff of proof of it. In Volkswagen’s case, the standing of one of the industry’s quiet icons only gets greater and greater.

Understanding the unique position the Golf occupies on this continent can only be done by appreciating the margin of its sales dominance. 

At one point, it was Europe's biggest-selling new car by a country mile, topping the continent's sales charts for 15 straight years, until the Peugeot 208 knocked it off the perch in 2022. 

When it was introduced in 2019, many thought the Mk8 Golf could be the boldest redefinition of Volkswagen's enduring family five-door since the Mk5.

It sported a modern, smart exterior with a newly hybridised powertrain armoury, sharpened ride and handling, a reductionist cabin design and market-leading active safety technology.

 This was a concerted effort by one of the world’s most powerful car makers to arrest the steady shrinking of the European mid-sized hatchback segment.

Now, in 2024, the Golf has been treated to a facelift, marking the middle of the Mk8's life - and it's a clear sign of just how highly Volkswagen continues to value the combustion-engined Golf against a brace of more contemporary electric cars.

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Volkswagen Golf range at a glance

The updated Golf range kicks off with choice of turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, with 114bhp and 148bhp and the choice of mild-hybrid assistance.

A reworked turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine also joins the range with an added 13bhp, at 201bhp, in the upgraded 2.0 TSI; and an added 20bhp, at 262bhp, in the hot Golf GTI, which is no longer available with a manual gearbox. 


Volkswagen Golf 8.5 side

The Golf tried on some freshly ironed tailoring in eighth-generation form. Volkswagen introduced sharper creases from bonnet to flanks, with a greater number of feature lines than the traditionally simple hatchback has used in previous versions.

For 2024, the Golf has been differentiated from its direct predecessor by redesigned headlights. They feature a more angular design and full LED operation across the range.

Golf’s newly assertive, ‘edgy’ looks are typified by the bonnet profile, with three longitudinal ridges between the centre line and wheel arch. Too fussy? It’s debatable

The Golf also adopts new-look bumpers, as well as an illuminated VW badge up front and revised tail-light graphics. Buyers can choose between five new alloy wheel designs and four new metallic colours as part of a widened range of options.

It might not be the most modern-looking car, particularly in terms of its proportions. However, the design has a traditional classlessness, which continues to reflect many of Giorgetto Giugiaro's original styling touches.

It’s the kind of styling that many German brands default to when looking to engender an outward manifestation of technical precision of build quality. And even if it does look a little fussy, most testers didn’t go so far as to say that they found the Golf’s new look objectionable. 

Underneath the Mk8 Golf – which is one solitary inch longer than but otherwise almost exactly the same size as the Mk7 Golf is an updated version of the same all-steel MQB platform chassis.

The Mk8 can similarly be had with either all-independent suspension or torsion-beam rear suspension, the latter of which is combined with any engine producing less than 148bhp.

As with the Mk7, it comes with coil springs and fixed-rate gas dampers as standard. Upper-end specifications get a variable-rate steering rack that quickens as you add lock, just as the Mk7 got, but this time the lower-end Golf’s steering has been quickened too. Meanwhile, suspension rates have increased all round on both versions and the subframes, links and bushings have been relocated and redesigned. DCC adaptive dampers feature as an option on higher-end cars and allegedly now work harder.

Automatically softening or stiffening either to rein in body movement or improve ride comfort, the new dampers can also stiffen asymmetrically as you turn to improve handling response. They’re effectively networked with the XDS electronic torque vectoring system so as to work more harmoniously alongside it. Beyond all that, the dampers have a new specially selectable extra-soft ‘decoupled’ mode to make for even better ride comfort in very particular situations.


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Inside, the same strong points that have made the Golf the automatic choice for generations of car buyers over the past half-century remain.

The driving position is excellent, aided by generous adjustability of the driver’s seat and the steering wheel.

Volkswagen has been slow to bring the Golf’s digital capabilities up to the level of its traditional hatchback rivals, but with this facelift, it now competes on an even level with the best of them. Response times for the infotainment system are notably improved, as are the menu structures and overall operation.

Overall interior space and luggage carrying capacity are competitive, if hardly class-leading. The Golf’s trick continues to be to offer greater space than you expect in what remains a fairly compact footprint.

Apart from some hard, shiny plastic, the perceived quality remains one of the more convincing purchase considerations.

While the majority of the interior, including the dashboard and associated trims, has been carried over, the facelifted Golf introduces a number of changes aimed at countering criticism of the less-than-satisfactory user experience.

They start with a reworked steering wheel with physical buttons that replace the fiddly capacitive controls used originally. Additionally, there’s now a larger free-standing central infotainment touchscreen, measuring 10.4in in diameter as standard and 12.9in as an option, replacing the 8.3in and 10in displays used before.

They work in tandem with a revised 10.4in digital instrument display and run the latest generation of Volkswagen’s MIB4 software. This offers faster processing speeds and new menu structures in response to criticism of the previous system, which by class standards was annoyingly slow to respond and overly complex.

There was the worry that Volkswagen had been too keen to follow the lead of companies like Tesla, making you go through that touch screen interface to control everything from ventilation circulation to driver aids. Some will conclude that it has been. 

But this update proves successful in providing the Golf with more intuitive control qualities and general ease of use. There's added speed to simple touch commands.

The controversial slider control, which is used to alter the volume and air conditioning, gets illumination and is much more responsive than before. The higher resolution and positioning of the touchscreen also make it easier to read in harsh sunlight. 


Volkswagen Golf 8.5 front dynamic

The engine line-up for the Golf has been revised to include more powerful GTI, GTE plug-in hybrid and R models at the upper end of the range.

Our facelifted test car was the new 114bhp model, which runs a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with mild-hybrid properties in place of the earlier 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine.

Whatever your views of its crisply creased styling, you will be won over by the polished nature of its dynamic performance, so long as you stick to multi-link rear suspension.

It’s a refined and responsive unit, developing 162lb ft of torque and pulling with flexibility, if not the determination of more powerful variants of the same engine.

Volkswagen claims a 0-62mph time of 9.9sec in combination with a standard six-speed manual gearbox. This is reduced to a sharper 8.6sec when the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (DSG) is specified.

A hybrid powertrain that manages its own energy-recuperation ‘engine braking’ while allowing the driver precise control over clutch and brake actuation seems to open itself up to more numerous drivability quirks than one that’s doing all of the above by itself. In all, though, Volkswagen's engineers have done a slick job with the installation and tuning of the 1.5 eTSI DSG powertrain. It engages drive predictably and smoothly; it runs quietly (although seemingly almost never under electric-only power); and it feels usefully more torquey at lower revs and in higher gears than you expect.

This is, without doubt, the refinement-first option in the Golf Mk8’s powertrain armoury, and very pleasant indeed it is – although it returns very creditable fuel economy as well.

The ‘hybridness’ of the powertrain is kept fairly discreet. The car has the low-RPM performance level of something like a lower-order GTI (although it doesn’t rev like one beyond 4500rpm) with what feels like 25% more than the advertised torque.

In give-and-take motoring, you can put on 10mph of roll-on acceleration quite easily, and in a high gear and with only a moderate dip of your toe.

With a little more on its plate than a DSG generally has, this seven-speeder is perhaps a little slower shifting in manual mode than we’ve known it in other cars. When you use S mode, it tends to hold ratios just a little too long under hard acceleration (for effect, perhaps) than it ought to. Otherwise, though, there is very little missing here from what you would expect from a mid-level powertrain, and plenty to praise.


Volkswagen Golf 8.5 nose close up

Crisp and accurate steering continues to form the basis of the Golf’s driving appeal. There’s confidence-inspiring dependability to the electromechanical system. This is also reflected in the handling, which is underpinned by impressive body control and excellent stability at higher speeds.  

The ride is a bit of a mixed bag, though. Firm springs and damping and do a good job of absorbing road shock and providing good wheel control over harder edges and larger bumps in combination with standard 16in wheels and tyres.

I’d avoid Volkswagen's Travel Assist advanced lane-keeping option, if only because its ‘on/off’ button replaces the lane-keeping toggle button on the steering wheel

But there is quite a lot of road noise and vibration on coarse surfaces in this entry level model, which lacked the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system and its variable damping qualities fitted to more powerful Golf models.

If you're considering the facelifted Golf, it’s one option that we would recommend, not only for the added ride smoothness it typically brings but also the greater fluency in overall dynamics.

The Mk8 Golf is pleasingly straightforward to drive, with its medium-paced, fairly lightly weighted steering. In the way that it mixes supple, rubbery-feeling ride comfort with good outright grip and body control, and likewise an impressive if slightly understated sort of handling agility, it's quite plainly one of the most dynamically versatile and finely polished operators you will find anywhere at the affordable end of the new car market.

It’s guilty of one slightly irksome bugbear, a common frustration in modern cars, although oddly one that other Volkswagens we’ve tested in recent years have avoided: the basic lane-keeping system automatically reactivates every time you restart the engine, whether or not you’ve deactivated it previously in any of the driving modes or profiles. It’s not a particularly fussy system, but its interventions are a little intrusive on a steering rack that otherwise feels obligingly light and pleasant. Sometimes (when overtaking a cyclist, for example), those interventions can take you by surprise.

With that system switched off, though, the Golf’s handling is really all about linearity and predictability, and in that respect, the car is its familiar old self. It responds progressively to steering inputs rather than turning in with darting urgency, and it does allow its body to roll and pitch just a little, but in a way that really only helps you to judge grip levels and to manipulate the chassis a little at higher speeds.

Explore further, beyond a quarter turn of lock, and this car begins to feel really keen and adhesive; fun to spirit along and to flick around, with a subtle (if always-active) stability control system in the background, and ready to express itself a little when you ask it to.

Assisted driving notes

The new Golf gets a very generous allocation of active safety kit as standard, including Front Assist automatic crash mitigation and post-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, city emergency braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic road sign recognition and driver monitoring.

Our test car’s speed-limit detection system worked consistently well, successfully detecting temporary and permanent posted limits. Its level two optional Travel Assist lane-keeping system was effective at keeping the car centred within a relatively straight motorway lane and at a safe distance from the car in front, but you wouldn’t use it on winding A-roads.

The car’s main technological selling point, Car2x wireless networking, is alleged to allow it to detect accidents, incidents and hazards reported by other cars up to a mile ahead on the road. Sadly, it wasn’t operational on our test car, so our verdict on it will have to wait.

Comfort and isolation

In what we might think of as Volkswagen's more expensive multi-link suspension specification, the Golf rides markedly more smoothly, fluently and quietly than it does on smaller rims and when fitted with a torsion-beam axle at the rear.

It may be an unintended consequence of Volkswagen's decision to dial up the sporting dynamism of the Golf across the board but, while we wouldn’t have advised you to avoid beam-axle Golfs of the previous generation, this time around it would seem to be a particularly good idea to order a car with 148bhp or more.

Do that and you will get a car with every bit as complete an array of dynamic abilities as the Golf has ever had. The absorbency of the ride is something to be constantly thankful for, whether it’s smothering sharper, smaller inputs so effectively, easing your passage around town or keeping wheel travel in reserve to deal easily with that mid-corner ridge or drain cover. In all places and at most prevailing speeds, whether laterally loaded or not, this car seems to have compliance to spare and without any associated sogginess in the body control.

The 18in rims of our test car didn’t seem to adversely affect its ride suppleness. They probably did add a decibel or two to the cabin noise levels, but not punitively so since the car matched to the decibel the noise levels, at most speeds, of the Mercedes-Benz A200 that we tested in 2018. At 70mph, the Volkswagen was even a decibel quieter than the Mercedes.


Volkswagen Golf 8.5 front lead

The Golf certainly remains one of pricier volume-brand players in the family hatchback class but, even in entry-level Life trim, it offers plenty of equipment its rivals can’t match higher up the range.

In addition to the full-sized infotainment system and Active Info Display digital instrument screen we mentioned earlier, it comes with wireless phone charging and LED headlights at no extra cost and is the first car in its class to get Car2x wireless safety networking as standard.

Residual forecasts here are typically strong to start with, but interesting to note the Toyota Corolla’s relative gain in years three and four.

The 60mpg touring-test fuel economy return of our eTSI car might not be quite enough to convince someone to give up a full-hybrid hatchback, but it’s still a very creditable result for a car of this performance level, and one with some driver appeal.

A WLTP emissions test result for the car of 134g/km makes for an advantage over non-hybridised two-pedal petrol rivals of 2% to 3% – not huge but worth having.


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In the way this car drives – for its laudable refinement, economy, versatility and drivability and, above all else, simply for its ready-for-anything completeness as a compact family car – it remains in a league of one.

Each new Golf has a high standard to live up to. The facelifted Mk8 model is satisfyingly modernised with interior features that not only make it more straightforward to operate but also easier to live with.

New strengths and familiar ones carry it back to the class lead

It remains a terrifically rounded car with a broad range of capabilities, but the specifications we drove lacked outright performance. Better buying and value are likely found further up the line-up.   

Volkswagen Golf FAQs

Is the Volkswagen Golf available as a plug-in or electric?

Yes it is. In fact, the Volkswagen Golf is available with a choice of two plug-in variants - the entry-level Style eHybrid and the hot hatch-flavoured GTE. The former combines a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol and electric motor to deliver 201bhp and an EV range of 42 miles, while the latter travels a little less far at 38 miles, but packs 242bhp from its similar engine and motor combination. There was an all-electric e-Golf version of the previous generation car, but this was effectively replaced by the ID3.

What are the main rivals to the Volkswagen Golf?

Buyers are becoming increasingly keen on SUVs, but compact family hatchbacks are still big business, meaning the Volkswagen Golf has plenty of competitors. For driving fun the Ford Focus takes some beating, while like the Volkswagen the Peugeot 308 and Vauxhall Astra are available with plug-in hybrid engines. The Kia Ceed and Hyundai i30 are no nonsense options with loads of kit and long warranties, much like the stylish, hybrid-powered Toyota Corolla. Under the skin, the Skoda Octavia and SEAT Leon are similar to the Golf, but the former offers more space and the latter more style.

How much power does the Volkswagen Golf have?

As one of the brand’s most popular models, the Volkswagen Golf is available with a wide range of engines. Entry-level models feature a 108bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol, while there’s also 1.5-litre TSI with either 128bhp or 148bhp. There’s also a 2.0-litre TDI diesel that’s available with a number of power outputs, from 114bhp, through to 148bhp and onto 197bhp in the GTD. A plug-in hybrid option combines 1.4-litre petrol and electric motor for either 201bhp or 242bhp. The latter figure is the same as the 2.0-litre petrol in the GTI, while the GT Clubsport serves-up 296bhp and the four-wheel drive R packs 316bhp.

What choices of gearbox are available for the Volkswagen Golf?

Standard on all Volkswagen Golf petrol and diesel models up to the GTI is a six-speed manual gearbox. Like all the brand’s three-pedal transmissions it has a relatively precise action and is easy to use thanks to a light and smooth clutch. Available as an option, and standard on the GTD, GTI Clubsport and R, a seven-speed automatic. A twin-clutch unit, it serves up impressive smooth and swift shifts that both enhance comfort and performance. The plug-in hybrids use the same set-up but only get six speeds.

Where is the Volkswagen Golf built?

Given it’s one of the brand’s most popular models, it’s no surprise to find that the Volkswagen Golf is built at the vast Wolfsburg factory in Germany. Over eight generations more than 26 million examples of the Golf have been assembled at the facility, where from sheet metal to finished article it travels along nearly 43 miles of production line. The Golf is also produced in China at the joint Venture FAW-VW plant in Foshan, as well as the DRB-HICOM factory in Pekan, Malaysia.

How many generations of Volkswagen Golf have there been?

Few family cars can match the Volkswagen Golf for longevity. Having made its debut in 1974, the evergreen German family hatch is now in its eighth generation, the current model having been launched in 2019. The original car was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro and was the firm’s second ever front-wheel drive model with a water cooled engine, following on from the Passat a year earlier. It remains Volkswagen’s most popular car of all time, with more than 35 million built over nearly 50 years.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen Golf First drives