The story of the Volkswagen Golf began in 1974. Back then few would have imagined just what sort of success the practical hatchback would become.
Forty-five years later, the Golf has firmly established as the world’s best-selling car, with more than 35 million sales worldwide.
Predictably, then, Volkswagen takes the development of each and every Golf model very seriously indeed, carefully preserving what is cherished while diligently updating elements considered old or flawed.
As a result of this step-by-step approach, it has managed to remain relevant and competitive in Europe’s hardest-fought market segment without resorting to any radical or contrived changes for seven complete model cycles - something no hatchback rival can claim.
Engineering-wise, this new eighth-generation model is more of a revision than a replacement; the new Golf retains the same front-wheel drive MQB platform as its predecessor, albeit updated to offer greater structural rigidity. Its chassis draws heavily on the car it replaces without any significant changes in geometry or hardware.
The exterior is more individual looking than the previous Golf. The flamboyant design of the LED headlamps is particularly out of character for Volkswagen's best selling model and the most controversial design element in a distinctly lower front end. There’s also a more defined swage line running from the leading edge of the front doors through to the rear lights.
In a development that helps to bring it into line with some rivals, buyers can option Volkswagen’s IQ light package. It includes automatic main beam, strobe-like indicators, and gives the rear lights a distinctive LED graphic.
The new Golf is 29mm longer, 10mm wider and 4mm taller than before, with the same wheelbase. Yet Volkswagen has managed to improve aerodynamic efficiency; the standard model boasts a Cd of 0.27 compared to the 0.30 of its predecessor.
The new Golf will be offered exclusively with five doors. We did spot some cost-cutting measures: it eschews gas struts for the bonnet, relying on a simple manual strut. Volkswagen says this is because the new model adopts two bonnet latches instead of a single latch. The underside of the bonnet is also finished in black undercoat rather than body colour, a move claimed to streamline assembly.