In time, UK plug-in hybrid buyers will be offered a new 241bhp Golf GTE model, while replacements for the GTI, GTI TCR, GTD and R will also come. Having tried the car in higher-end form earlier on the continent, and with all-independent suspension, adaptive dampers and progressive steering, our first right-hand drive test car was a Golf in lower-end Life trim with 16in wheels, passive suspension, a torsion beam rear axle and a 129bhp 1.5-litre TSI engine.
What, then, are Volkswagen’s more traditional clientele going to make of this car’s ‘digitised’ cabin layout, with its obvious disdain for easily-grabbed knobs and buttons, and its all-digital instrument cluster? You’ll forgive me for dwelling on this question, but cockpit layout is one of this Golf’s ‘big differentiators’. And shock horror, digital and touch-sensitive as this interior mostly is, I like it.
It’s not as if you need to go through the touchscreen for every process from opening the sunroof to turning down the heater, like on a Tesla; usability has evidently been carefully considered.. Permanent capacitive controls stand in for regular switches for climate control temperature and audio system volume, and they work well. For the latter you can simply swipe your finger along a touch-sensitive strip to adjust the level, rather than jabbing away at a ‘zone’.
For the touchscreen infotainment system itself, you can switch between some of the more important menus via a small shortcut ‘buttons’ underneath the screen, but it’s also easy enough to navigate to where you need to be from the system’s home screen which is only every one tap of the finger away. The car’s digital instruments are clearly presented, adaptable for layout, and they provide useful additional warning and prompts without bamboozling you with too much information. Wireless device charging and full ‘wireless app connect’ networking are standard fit even at the lower trim level of our test car. And so, yes, those of the oft-referred-to smartphone generation will like this car. As for those who don’t instantly like it; well, I dare say they’ll grow to.
Of the more long-established strengths of the Golf’s cabin, there is more familiar credit due - albeit in somewhat limited quantity. Perhaps some of the money that might otherwise have been ploughed into smart, pudgy, richer-than-average materials, or spent on lining cubbies in ways you don’t see and making minor fittings simply feel better and move just-so, has been diverted to pay for the onboard technology we’ve already mentioned. There’s the merest under-isolated ‘ping’ to the sound made by the car’s doors as they close, for instance, and one or two places around the interior where VW’s colour and trim department could have spent more.
Generally, however, you’d say this Golf is beaten for perceived quality only by the hatchback market’s self-declared premium-brand operators such as the Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3, which is pretty much how the last was defined. Meanwhile, outright cabin space and boot capacity are both very competitive; this isn’t the most practical car in the class, but it is as well-packaged as ever.