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 the Golf’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. In a good calendar year, there might be as many as 10 new cars that break the 250,000-unit marker across Europe; perhaps four or five of them sneaking above the 300,000-unit barrier.
But the Golf was the only new car in Europe to record more than half a million registered sales in any calendar year throughout the whole of the past decade; and it managed that twice, in 2014 and 2015. It is by a country mile Europe’s biggest-selling new car, and typically it outsells the very best of its direct rivals, such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, by more than two to one.
Into that context, however, there now enters something of a gamble. The Golf Mk8 might be the boldest redefinition of Volkswagen's enduring family five-door since the Mk5. This, remember, from a car maker not habitually given to risk-taking.
Allied to its crisp-looking new suit of clothes, this car’s newly hybridised powertrain armoury, sharpened ride and handling, reductionist cabin design and market-leading active safety technology can be seen, when viewed together, as the most concerted effort that can be made by one of the world’s most powerful car makers to arrest the steady shrinking of the European mid-sized hatch segment.