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With its blend of the present and the future, is this still the perfectly balanced car?
James Attwood, digital editor
25 August 2021

Why we’re running it: To find out if the Mk8 Golf remains the world’s most rounded family hatch

Month 3 - Month 2Month 1 - Specs

You’ve got the touch - 18 August 2021

The Golf GTI has a more upmarket interior than our previous 1.5 eTSI Life model, including haptic controls instead of buttons on the steering wheel. They’re intuitively placed but actually a little too easy to use: on several occasions now,
I’ve unintentionally turned on the steering wheel heating. Not ideal in a rare moment of British summer.

Mileage: 3472

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We’ve upgraded our trusty entry-level Golf to a hotter one - 4 August 2021

s the tartan teaser image previously hinted, we’ve switched our Volkswagen Golf long-termer for a newer model. Our trusty, dependable and very yellow 1.5 eTSI has been swapped for a red and somewhat more raucous GTI version. Which, as I’m sure you will agree, seems like a pretty good trade.

Our time with the eTSI in entry-level Life trim (albeit with a significant number of option boxes ticked) was all about judging how well the newest Golf performs as the sort of general, all-round family transport that it has been renowned for being over eight generations. The answer, somewhat predictably, is really rather well. Touchscreen aside, it was hard to find substantial faults.

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But there’s far more to the Golf family, of course, both in terms of trim options and variants. And while the household-name recognition of the Golf heaps expectations on every model, there’s no Golf that carries a greater burden than the GTI. In fact, such is the fame of those letters that in recent years Volkswagen has used them in place of model names on the bootlid of the range.

The Golf GTI has a starting price of £33,525 – around £7000 more than that of the eTSI Life – although with options our test car comes in at £37,230. We added features such as a rear-view camera and head-up display to try some of the higher-end functions the eTSI didn’t have, while the addition of Dynamic Chassis Control, with its customisable suspension settings, felt like a no-brainer given the car’s performance brief.

But we didn’t mess with the basics: we made sure that our GTI’s 242bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (yes, it’s the Volkswagen Group’s venerable EA288 performance unit) is driven through a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a satisfyingly chunky gearstick, too – a notable contrast from the minimalist selector used for the eTSI’s automatic unit.

The difference between our old and new Golfs is obvious from the outside, given the GTI badging, quad exhausts and bespoke front bumper design. But it’s perhaps even more striking inside. Including that famous tartan trim, the cabin is a notable step up in perceived quality from the Life-spec eTSI. The dashboard has a honeycomb effect, the 10in infotainment screen and digital display feature bespoke GTI designs and the chunkier sports steering wheel is adorned with haptic panel switches rather than buttons. There are bigger, plusher sports seats too, although I have yet to get fully comfortable in them.

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Hopefully that will come in time. On first impression, the eighth- generation GTI takes a slightly more hardcore approach than its predecessors, making for a more raw but less rounded hot hatchback. Certainly, the ride seems firmer than in our previous Golf, jarringly so over rough roads. Again, this is something we hope to get used to in the weeks and months to come. But the overriding early impression is of the joy that really only a Golf GTI can deliver through a pliant chassis, well-tuned engine and slick manual gearbox. The question is whether that familiar GTI recipe is as well honed as it has been in previous generations.

Love it:

Tartan trim Set Golf GTI trim is a design classic. Really, why doesn’t the ID 4 GTX feature tartan?

Loathe it:

Measurement mess-up The traffic sign recognition has an odd habit of occasionally converting speed-limit signs from MPH to KPH.

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A new arrival - 28 July 2021

My driveway is looking a lot less yellow: our Golf eTSI has departed. I was sad to see it go – it’s provided quiet, efficient, comfortable and largely pleasurable transport. So what’s replacing it? It’s... another Golf, in a somewhat more subtle shade of red. Disappointing? Definitely not, as you might be able to tell from where I’m sitting...

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Mileage: 3821

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Afraid to get wet? - 21 July 2021

Professor Attwood (aka my mum) has enjoyed being chauffeured in the Golf, but a recent trip in wet weather clouded her mood. Apparently, the windscreen wipers on the Golf splash water onto the passenger side of the front windscreen, due to the arc they take cleaning the driver’s side. This, said Mum, spoils her view. I did note it was better the driver’s side was clear. She didn’t seem convinced.

Mileage: 3619

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No need for more space here - 7 July 2021

While Rachel Burgess’s Octavia
vRS is exceptionally cavernous, my Golf’s boot seems unexceptionally adequate. I rarely need the space of an estate, so this is fine for virtually all my needs, and access and loading are easy. With some careful packing, it has been well suited for trips to the garden centre, the recycling centre and the supermarket.

Mileage: 3127

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If the Golf is the past and the ID 3 is the future, which is the VW hatch of the present? - 23 June 2021

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Recently, my driveway hosted the Volkswagen equivalent of a Doctor Who crossover special. You know, one of those episodes where multiple past and present versions of The Doctor team up to save the future from some mildly scary rubber-suited alien creation.

Instead of two Timelords, though, I had assembled two Volkswagen hatchbacks, with our long-term Golf joined by an ID 3, its electric equivalent.

Broadly, the two represent the past (Golf) and future (ID 3) of Volkswagen hatches – although, since the timeline of the car industry’s electrification is as muddled as anything you would encounter in a Tardis, you can buy both cars today. This had me intrigued: which is the best Volkswagen-badged family hatch for right now?

While several rivals have opted to offer one car with different powertrains (such as the ICE and EV versions of the Peugeot 208), Wolfsburg has put a heavy focus on developing the bespoke electric MEB platform for its brands’ various EV ranges, arguing that this allowed them to more effectively exploit the benefits of the technology.

With the Golf and ID 3 side by side, you can certainly see the differences resulting from this approach: the ID 3 sits lower to account for its underf loor batteries, the wheels are pushed further to the corners, the bonnet is dramatically shorter and the glasshouse is bigger.

Much like each new Doctor gets their own slightly wacky outfit, when you look beyond that there are clear similarities in terms of external size, presence and that clean, slightly reserved and oh-so-Volkswagen styling.

The interior of the ID 3 is a touch Tardis-like in that it is bigger than you expect – a clear demonstration of the layout benefits enabled by the lack of a bulky combustion engine up front.

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As with the Golf, the ID 3’s dashboard is pared back and built around the digital display screens, although work has clearly gone into adding a bit of emotion and drama. That said, nothing feels forced (well, with the exception of the play and pause graphics on the pedals – a design detail as cheesy as an umbrella with a question-mark handle).

What’s most notable when you switch from Golf to ID 3 is how similar they feel to drive. Clearly, there are differences: the ID 3 is quieter, for starters, although such is the refinement of the Golf’s eTSI petrol engine that there isn’t as much in it as you would expect at cruising speed. The ID 3 is slightly smoother and more responsive, thanks to the instant torque offered by its electric motor. But aside from the ability to play with the ID 3’s regenerative braking, the two cars are remarkably alike in drive, handling, feel and performance. In fact, until it comes to refuelling, the Golf and ID 3 share far more similarities than differences.

I’ve read criticism of the ID 3 for not feeling like the ‘game-changing’ technology leap you would expect of Volkswagen’s first ground-up EV. But that might also be a major strength. Every time a new Doctor is cast, the regenerated Timelord gets a new look, outfit, mannerisms and catchphrases. But when you strip back that frippery, the basics of the character remain unchanged. The ID 3 is a Volkswagen hatch with a new look, platform and powertrain: but it still retains the basic character of a Volkswagen hatch.

That also reflects well on the Golf. Switching back into it after the ID 3 left my timeline didn’t feel like a step back into the past. If pushed, I slightly prefer the ID 3’s refinement and extra space. But, ultimately, choosing between them depends on which powertrain better fits your circumstances.

Love it:

Calm and quiet The Golf is no EV, but its eTSI engine really is very refined.

Loathe it:

Candid camera The lack of rear-view camera on our Life-spec car isn’t a deal- breaker, but having one on the ID 3 reminded me how useful it is.


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Mileage: 2691

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A bugs’ life - 16 June 2021

The warmer weather has brought out the bugs, and it appears that a disproportionate amount of them have taken to camping out on our Golf. We’ve noticed similar things in the past when running bright-yellow cars. Are bugs attracted to such colours or are they just more visible on them? Either way, it seems it’s not only passers-by drawn to our VW.

Mileage: 2438

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Paradoxically, it can be easy to knock a car as good as this - 9 June 2021

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One of the challenges of running a Volkswagen Golf long-termer is that there are certain traits you simply take for granted; things you just assume and accept that a Golf does well.

That can cause two problems: it’s more noticeable when it falls in anyway short of those standards (see the Mk8’s touchscreen) and it’s easy to overlook the things it’s very good at. So a few recent work trips have given me the chance to offer praise where it’s due and highlight just how pleasing the Golf’s drive and handling are.

Now, don’t mistake that for it being a hyper-handling hot hatch. Although the Mk8 is sharper than its predecessors in many ways, you wouldn’t mistake our machine for its GTI or R siblings. But it’s pleasingly direct, responsive and refined, capable of offering enough engagement to raise a smile on the right sort of road, without requiring much compromise to practicality and comfort elsewhere. Which, for an everyday family hatchback, is a balance that I will happily accept.

There’s another benefit, too: with our eTSI engine now well run in and some adjustment to my driving style, the average fuel economy is creeping up nicely. I’ve got it to around 47mpg – a decent effort for this sort of car.

Mileage: 2129

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Life of grime - 19 May 2021

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Murky weather has resulted in the Golf getting mucky, which is really highlighted by its Lime Metallic Yellow paint. Still, I guess spotting where grime builds up – in particular the outside edge of the rear doors – gives an interesting lesson on the aerodynamics of all those creases. Or, in reality, it just means I need to get out my mop and bucket.

Mileage: 1782

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Life with a VW Golf: Month 3

Our car is proving to be a wood, iron and putter rolled into one - 5 May 2021

Lately, I've mostly been using the Volkswagen Golf to do Volkswagen Golf things. Which is to say the sort of all-round everyday things that you’d want to do in a car designed as an everyday all-rounder.

It’s easy to overlook just how efficiently good the Golf is at so many things. For short journeys around town, the car is hard to fault: it’s easy to handle, visibility is good and the mild-hybrid powertrain is quiet and smooth. It rides really well, too, which is a bonus, given the state of many local roads these days.

Regular supermarket trips and several jaunts to the garden centre have given me an opportunity to test out the boot thoroughly. The Golf’s isn’t the biggest in the class and pales in comparison with that of its Skoda Octavia cousin, but for everyday use, it’s hard to fault. Access is easy, the space is easily usable and it will eat up three big bags of compost and other assorted plant-related paraphernalia.

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When not lugging compost, the Golf has also been put to far more important use: chauffeuring my mum to her second vaccine shot at a clinic run with amazing efficiency by the staff of Clevedon Medical Centre. As with the Golf, when things run smoothly, they’re easy to overlook, but we should take the time to appreciate how excellent they are.

Mileage: 1417

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ADAS settings are delightfully visual - 28 April 2021

A Golf-owning reader sent me some tips on the active safety settings, so I delved into the system to adjust them. It took me a while to realise the graphic that appeared wasn’t a loading screen but a menu, with the various systems selected as you touch the relevant image. Pleasingly slick, once I had realised and figured out what these systems were.

Mileage: 1204

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Life with a VW Golf: Month 2

Attention to detail air vents - 7 April 2021

It seems that not everything on a modern car can be controlled by a touchscreen, after all: the air vents in the Golf are still directed by sliding a little plastic toggle. Hurrah. And with the slimline vents making it impossible to tell if they’re open or closed, Volkswagen has helpfully put instructions on the toggles. How brilliantly old-school.

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Mileage: 792

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It has more in common with its distant Porsche 911 relation than you might think - 24 March 2021

The cars pictured below are the twin titans of the Volkswagen Group, two machines that are both foundation and figurehead of their respective brands. And the Porsche 911 and Volkswagen Golf face the same challenge of staying true to their rich heritage while remaining relevant in the modern world.

I staged a brief reunion of these two extended family members recently when I drove my Golf long-termer to Porsche GB headquarters to collect a 911 Targa 4S for a review. No, this won’t be an impromptu comparison: you really can’t compare the two.

Suffice to say that, while obeying speed limits, you won’t reach your destination any faster in the 911, but you’ll do so in a bit comfort while using more fuel, making more noise and – especially in limited-run Heritage Edition trim – turning a lot more heads.

Still, some motorway mileage in both cars did make me appreciate the subtle, modern refinement the Golf offers. The 911 balances heritage and modernity by mixing classic design traits with modern elements, such as the combination of its analogue rev counter and clock with a digital infotainment and driver info display.

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Styling aside, the Golf’s heritage isn’t rooted in retro-themed features but in how it harnesses modern tech to deliver a reassuringly confident, comforting and very Golf drive. That’s reflected particularly by our Golf’s eTSI powertrain, whose mild-hybrid set-up adds a layer of refinement and efficiency to the combustion engine. The electric power from the 48V ISG is used to boost torque at lower speeds, while the system offers engine-off coasting or can automatically deactivate two of the 1.5-litre engine’s four cylinders to improve fuel economy.

In practice, the system is barely noticeable, making an already quiet unit even calmer. It’s hard to tell when the car is using two cylinders or EV power, so to see what was happening I delved through the myriad options on the digital dashboard and found the fuel economy display, which helpfully notes when the Golf is in two-cylinder or coasting mode.

Regardless, the result was a quiet, efficient powertrain capable of cruising at motorway speed without ever feeling really stressed. In other words, it’s modern tech applied to classic Golf elements to deliver a reassuringly familiar yet contemporary drive.

The Golf might not turn quite as many heads as this retro 911, but in its own way, it’s just as successful a blend of classic and modern.

Love it:

Hold steady The auto handbrake and engine stop/start both function superbly. Sounds simple, but it’s rare to find them working so well in practice.

Loathe it:

Lane keeping warning Overly cautious lane alert has been a bugbear on our Skoda Octavia, and the closely related Golf has similar spatial-awareness issues.

Mileage: 687

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Life with a VW Golf: Month 1

New VW group gearstick is very minimal - 3 March 2021

The minimalism of the Golf’s interior extends beyond the paring back of buttons: even by modern standards, its gear selector is on the stubby side. But it’s well designed and has a satisfying feel, making it easy to flick from drive to reverse – most of the time. It’s so low that a few times I’ve missed it and pulled the electronic handbrake on instead.

Mileage: 520

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Welcoming the Golf to the fleet - 10 February 2021

As the switch to electrification accelerates, the car world is changing at a dizzying pace – and at every level.

The Fiat 500 and the Mini have gone electric. There’s a Mustang badge on an electric SUV. The Renault 5 is returning with battery power. Bentley is going electric. Even Hummer – Hummer! – has become an EV-only brand. But in this chaotic flux, some automotive totems remain resistant to change and continue to follow a path of evolution, not revolution.

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One such vehicle is the Volkswagen Golf. Through 48 years and eight generations, it has been the reassuring, steadying constant at the heart of Volkswagen – and, by extension, the whole VW Group. The Golf has changed during that time, clearly, but it’s always in carefully judged, cautious steps rather than bold leaps.

The Golf’s success has been down to a perfect blend of ingredients. It is the realisation of a treacherously difficult balancing act. There are class rivals that are faster or drive better. There are rivals that offer more space and visibility. Some rivals offer more comfort, or arguably more desirable badges. And some rivals are cheaper to buy and run. But the Golf’s success has always been in how VW has expertly and delicately blended an unbeatable all-round package – one you change at your peril.

But times change, and even VW recognises that. So while the eighthgeneration Golf continues to evolve carefully, Wolfsburg has tried to push it into the future in some key areas while also committing fully to the revolution with the ID 3. You know, the electric hatch VW has called the successor to the Golf. Even though the Golf is still here. Bit awkward, eh?

All of which makes it a perfect time to add a Golf to our long-term fleet: it’s only over the course of an extended test that we’ll truly gauge whether VW has maintained the Golf’s perfect balance – or whether it’s changed too much or not enough.

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Sure enough, the Mk8 Golf looks very much like a Golf. Which isn’t a bad thing. You’ll have your own views on the design changes made for this latest version (the somewhat extended, ‘drooping’ front has divided opinion), but it remains instantly, reassuringly recognisable. Inside, things have changed quite a bit. It doesn’t take long to literally put your finger on why: as is the trend, most of the buttons and switches have gone, with controls shifted to the touchscreen, a handful of haptic panels and even some sliders. Not even the Golf can truly stand firm in the face of revolution, it seems.

We’ve plumped for the 1.5-litre 148bhp eTSI turbocharged petrol engine, which features a typically steady approach to electrification: a mild-hybrid 48V belt starter generator system. It’s classic Golf: a refinement of long-running tech, with a minor nod towards the future – and the promise of 50.6mpg. With the mild-hybrid engine, the only gearbox is a seven-speed DSG auto.

To sample the Golf at its purest, we have opted for the basic Life trim. That comes with most of the kit you really need, including LED headlights, a range of safety systems, 16in wheels, air conditioning, a 10in infotainment touchscreen and internal ambient lighting.

We did tick some option boxes, though, in part to see how VW has tried to change the Golf for the digital age. Therefore, among the extras is the £1600 Discover Navigation Pro infotainment set-up, which offers features such as voice and gesture control – even though I remain reluctant to talk to or wave at my car. We also couldn’t resist the £950 Dynamic Chassis Control system: we may not be sampling the Golf GTI or Golf R, but we still want to experience the most dynamic handling possible.

A further £625 went on the distinctive Lime Yellow metallic paint – or Luminous Bogey, as my nephew has christened it. You can decide if that’s money well spent, although it certainly makes the Golf easier to spot in a dark car park.

The early impressions are good. As our reviews and road tests of the Golf 8 have shown, it remains a refined, hugely competent and comfortable all-rounder. It may not feel like you’re experiencing the future of motoring when you’re driving it, but it definitely feels like an ideal family car for the present.

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That said, so far I’m less convinced by the interior controls. Without trying to sound too much like a luddite, the haptic controls and sliders don’t feel as intuitive or well-judged as ‘proper’ buttons. But I’ll persist with them: the industry is moving that way, apparently in part because of customer demand. Perhaps once I’ve grown familiar with them they’ll become second nature and intuitive, in the way that a Golf should.

Another area of focus: that infotainment system and the car’s software, given there have been reports of customers experiencing software issues (with both the infotainment and the car’s systems).

So far I’ve experienced a few issues when my iPhone has been connected via wireless Apple CarPlay, but that could be down to wonky Bluetooth on my phone.

Still, those will be things to watch in the weeks ahead. And if they seem like quite minor aspects for a longterm test car, it’s because they are: but when the success of a model has been built on how well balanced it is, issues with minor aspects can easily throw that balance off.

Our expectations are high, in other words. But they should be: this is a Golf, after all. Its success isn’t built on bold promises or grand revolutions – but on being a Golf.

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Second Opinion

I’ll have to echo James’s comments on the use of touch sliders and controls in the new Golf – the climate functions are hugely awkward to operate without faffing with voice control. You get used to them but, frankly, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a shame, because the Mk7 Golf was a paragon of ergonomic excellence.

Lawrence Allan

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Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Life DSG specification

Specs: Price New £26,455 Price as tested £33,830 OptionsDynamic Chassis Control £950, carpet mats £100, Discover Navigation Pro infotainment £1600, IQ Lights LED headlights £1750, panoramic sunroof £1000, keyless entry £400, curtain airbag £335, Harman Kardon audio system £625, Lime Yellow metallic paint £625

Test Data: Engine 4 cyls in line, 1498cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus 48V BISG Power 148bhp at 5000-6000rpm Torque 184lb ft at 1500-3500rpm Kerb weight 1291kg Top speed 139mph 0-62mph 8.4sec Fuel economy 48.2mpg CO2 133g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
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Add a comment…
catnip 7 March 2021

".... the haptic controls and sliders don’t feel as intuitive or well-judged as ‘proper’ buttons. But I’ll persist with them: the industry is moving that way, apparently in part because of customer demand..."

Some parts of the industry, maybe, but other, more safety conscious and consumer responsive manufacturers are retaining, even moving back to physical climate and audio controls. And lets face it, reduced cost is a significant driving force for these touch controls, consumer demand or not.

 

Tonrichard 5 March 2021

I have always respected the standout all round competence of the Golf but this Mk 8 version leaves me cold. It looks to be change for change's sake with no real improvements over the excellent 7.5. I don't think it looks any better, by all accounts the quality has been pared back and clearly (if you excuse the pun) the infotainment system and controls are not as well executed. It's competitors are still not as rounded which makes it all the more disappointing that the Golf has taken a step back. If you can live with its larger size the Skoda Octavia is looking a better buy. 

Peter Cavellini 5 March 2021

Why didn't they resurrect the Scirroco instead of trying to hide the middle age spread of the Golf?

manicm 7 March 2021

Because families need 4 doors. Next headcase please.