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It's the first time we've tested the Mk7 Volkswagen Golf in the UK, and its all-round competence still shines
Matt Prior
23 November 2012

What is it?

This is the first time we’ve driven the latest Volkswagen Golf in the UK, having been so impressed with it when we tried it overseas.

Our UK test car was still a left-hooker, thus putting its driver on the kerb side of the road in Britain and leaving them susceptible to the worst aspects of a car’s ride.

It came with a 138bhp 1.4 TSI turbo petrol engine driving through a six-speed manual gearbox, with a cylinder-deactivation system that cuts two cylinders on a light load.

What's it like?

Impressive right away. The driving position is straight and widely adjustable, the driver’s seat comfortable and supportive, albeit that I found under-thigh support to be set too high when the seat was in its lower positions. The steering wheel is a thin-rimmed affair, pleasing but for a small flattened section, with an attractive small central boss and a slightly overloaded array of buttons for the cruise control, telephone, audio, and so on.

There are new column stalks, too, which are quite cute. And, unlike in the new Volvo V40 and others in the class, the Golf retains a set of entirely analogue instruments; they’re bold and clear, like the rest of the swtichgear. Clearly they follow Volkswagen standards for clarity and ergonomics, and are much the better for it. It’s not a particularly swooshy, inventive or exciting interior, but that’s the way Volkswagen likes it – and that’s fine by us.

Cabin materials are generally excellent. Soft-feel plastics adorn the door tops and dashboard, while even areas of harder plastic feel like they have a depth, thickness and solidity to them. There’s no low-grade brittleness anywhere. Carpets line the door pockets; there are little illuminated ambient lights in the doors. It all feels classy. You could argue that it lacks the imagination of an Audi A3 or Volvo V40, but you can’t knock what it does. And its materials are a league ahead of those used in any non-premium branded hatch.

Rear accommodation is generous for the class, which is impressive given that the Golf remains less than 4.3m long. If you were downsizing from a larger car, smaller boot aside, I think you’d be pretty pleased with the Golf’s level of spaciousness.

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And to drive, it’s very...Golfy. Like before, but with some welcome extra per cent added to each aspect. The ride of our test car was generally smooth on its 225/45 R17 tyres (albeit with £795 adaptive chassis control), while wind and road noise are both well suppressed. They make the Golf a refined, capable cruiser, with pleasingly consistent and well matched pedal weights and a light, positive gearchange with only a little notch.  

The turbo engine is all but inaudible most of the time, and revs smoothly to a little over 6000rpm. It isn’t a high-revver, and has a broad spread of power and torque, making peak power of 138bhp at 5000rpm and peak 184lb ft from as low as 1500rpm.

It’s clear of notable lag but, as you move from off to part-throttle, our test car had an occasional hesitation in response. It was hard to know what it was: it felt almost like a traction control system intervening for a nanosecond, but clearly wasn’t. It could have been the cylinder deactivation kicking in or out, but it’s impossible to know for sure. A small foible, but noticeable nonetheless.

The Golf steers accurately and smoothly, without the keenness of, say, a Ford Focus, and the VW exudes a feeling of dynamic solidity and stability that can’t quite be matched by an Audi A3 or the Focus. The VW feels less agile than those, but that's usually been the case with the Gol; if you want the sharpest steering or handling car in the class, that hasn’t traditionally been the VW’s remit.

However, at least this time around it does display a tenaciously keen front end and, for all that of its stability and solidity, it generates a lot of grip and is happy to involve the rear wheels (suspended by a four-link set-up on our test car) in the cornering line if you lift or trail-brake into a corner. It’s now a car, even in this cooking form, that enthusiasts will take some satisfaction from driving. And, when you combine that with its completeness elsewhere, you get a pretty compelling package. 

Should I buy one?

If it isn’t on your shortlist, then it could be that you’ve got something against Volkswagens, because this is one of the standout cars of this or any other year. If the criticisms above sound nitpicky that’s because you have to be.

The Golf is so crushingly competent in all respects that you have to look hard and deep for things that are ‘less right’ (nothing is outright ‘wrong’ with it) than other elements. To our eyes, it looks good, it feels good, and in every way it is good. It’s easy and satisfying to drive, easy to see out of, comfortable to sit in and economical to run (the combined consumption figure is 60.1mpg, we comfortably exceeded 40mpg in brisk driving, and the CO2 output is 112g/km). 

If you were in charge of small family cars at Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Renault, Honda, Toyota or any one of a number of mainstream manufacturers, the Golf would give you nightmares.

There are still reasons to look to other brands: for me, a Focus with a light petrol engine is a touch more dynamically satisfying, a Volvo V40 is a pleasing proposition and an Audi A3 is satisfyingly classy. But none of them does so many things with the competence of the Golf.

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Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI ACT 140 5dr

Price £22,960; 0-62mph 8.4 sec; Top speed 131 mph; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2 112g/km; Kerb weight 1270 kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbo petrol; Power 138bhp at 5000rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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Comments
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PhilC 13 January 2013

new Golf GT

Mostly reassuring, having just ordered one. Yes, £23k is a lot for a 1.4 golf, but this is no ordinary 1.4, and you get a lot of high tech kit as standard (with the GT model), including Satnav. I considered the 2.0TDI (only £500 more) but this new petrol engine feels quicker and is quieter/smoother. Having previously owned hot hatches (type R, GTi, S3) I was intending to wait (a year?) for the new GTi, but this car is just too good to turn down. And boring runnings costs (£20/yr road tax, much lower insurance, and about 55mpg) clinches it.

winniethewoo 23 January 2013

@PhilC - It will be

@PhilC - It will be interesting to see how reliable it is. 

@MajorFatty - Sorry to hear about your car.  You must be distraught.  How come you are sticking with it?  I'm going to ditch mine as soon as finances allow.

kayelamarrie 3 December 2012

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SteveB 29 November 2012

Hi Marc,Maybe we're looking

Hi Marc,

Maybe we're looking at different things - unless I'm going totally mad (I am getting older, so maybe that's it!)... but these are figures taken from the VW site:

Go to, Finance, Solutions - which is the option for private buyers. There's a button for the finance calculator. I chose the new Golf (limited to 10,000 miles - anything over that is charged at 4.80p per mile) - I normally run around 12,000 miles, so that would add a further £200 to the contract, although I've not included that here.  I then chose the model in the article...GT 1.4 140ps 5dr.

The figures are (2 yr contract - as you mentioned your wife's contract for her Golf was 2 yrs):

Deposit £2296

23 payments of £463.95 (£10,670)

plus acceptance fee: £125 - this offsets the tax.

So, in just 2 yrs the total cost is, £13091 (£6,545 per yr)

When I plugged in 3 yrs, the total figure came to £5,169 per yr.

The same model is available to purchase at £22,960 OTR. A 7% discount would bring that down to £21352.

Let's say I sell it for 14k after 2 yrs (private - I would never get ripped off by a dealer) I will then have spent £7352. However, on a 2 yr contract, I'd have spent £13091. With the extra £200 for my 12k mileage, that's a loss of nearly £3,000 every yr! That's a nice holiday - every year. Over time this difference accumulates, and totted up the contract becomes unbelieveably expensive, compared to buying the car outright and keeping it for say 7 yrs (about the time many manufacturers change their models).  Also, every time you renew the contract it will get more & more expensive - therfby making the difference even worse. 

The difference above would leave you £20k towards an investment, but importantly (seeing as we're talking about having a new car on the drive here) ... you'd still be lumbered with having to pay out £470 every month - which would also be nice to have in your pocket. In 4 yrs time, you could have banked a sizable chunk of a flat deposit.

 

Marc 29 November 2012

SteveB wrote: Hi Marc, Maybe

SteveB wrote:

Hi Marc,

Maybe we're looking at different things - unless I'm going totally mad (I am getting older, so maybe that's it!)... but these are figures taken from the VW site:

Go to, Finance, Solutions - which is the option for private buyers. There's a button for the finance calculator. I chose the new Golf (limited to 10,000 miles - anything over that is charged at 4.80p per mile) - I normally run around 12,000 miles, so that would add a further £200 to the contract, although I've not included that here.  I then chose the model in the article...GT 1.4 140ps 5dr.

The figures are (2 yr contract - as you mentioned your wife's contract for her Golf was 2 yrs):

Deposit £2296

23 payments of £463.95 (£10,670)

plus £125 acceptance fee: £125 - this offsets the tax.

So, in just 2 yrs the total cost is, £13091 (£6,545 per yr)

When I plugged in 3 yrs, the total figure came to £5,169 per yr.

The same model is available to purchase at £22,960 OTR. A 7% discount would bring that down to £21352.

Let's say I sell it for 14k after 2 yrs (private - I would never get ripped off by a dealer) I will then have spent £7352. However, on a 2 yr contract, I'd have spent £13091. With the extra £200 for my 12k mileage, that's a loss of nearly £3,000 every yr! That's a nice holiday - every year. Over time this difference accumulates, and totted up the contract becomes unbelieveably expensive, compared to buying the car outright and keeping it for say 7 yrs (about the time many manufacturers change their models).  Also, every time you renew the contract it will get more & more expensive - therfby making the difference even worse. 

I do see what you mean about buying the flat (or some similar investment), the difference above would leave you £20k towards a property, but importantly (seeing as we're talking about having a new car on the drive here) ... you'd still be lumbered with having to pay out £470 every month - which would also be nice to have in your pocket. In 4 yrs time, you could have banked a sizable chunk of a flat deposit.

 

I see where your figures are coming from now, yes we're talking about two defferent things. Forget these rip off schemes for private buyers, go straight to the business sale managers and get a quote from them for business contract hire, all you have to do is add VAT to the price they quote, excess milage is usually cheaper too, ours is 3p pm. Some marques won't allow private customers to hire through these schemes but some do, the dealers just see it as another sale. In my experience it's mainly, Audi, Kia & Hyundia that are not interested, most others are more than willing and will openly admit that the manufacures personal contract hire schemes for private buyers are a rip off. Failing that just go to an contract hire company such a Gatewayt2lease, they'll supply to anyone.

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