For what ought to rank as the latest model’s defining characteristic, the new 1.5-litre engine makes for an unsubstantial presence.

At idle, you can barely hear it, let alone discern a vibration through the control surfaces. At low speeds, it hardly gets any louder, as 59dB at 30mph testifies. That, of course, is a credit to the hard work done on the Golf’s rolling refinement and what feels like a foot-thick wall of sound deadening.

Nic Cackett

Nic Cackett

Road tester
Off-camber corners provoke a neutral weight shift, although it’s promptly smothered by the stability control

The engine itself proves a chip off the long-established TSI block: persuasively brisk, consistently amenable and, perhaps more so than ever, wilfully parsimonious.It is this need for frugality that arguably best defines the recent evolution of the 1.4-litre unit (the engine producing less outright power than it was a decade ago when Volkswagen employed both a supercharger and a turbocharger).

Despite the marginal increase in displacement, wringing diesel-like economy from the petrol-burning unit is the name of the game, and a 51.7mpg touring figure suggests that the engineers have made good on the time and money invested in the four-pot’s development.

It is sufficient to modestly beat the same-sized engine in the Civic we tested, and returning a 40mpg-plus average in the real world is certainly admirable for a family hatch of this type and performance.

At the opposite end of the scale, the new Evo motor is somewhat less impressive. Despite being fractionally heavier, the Civic broke the 60mph tape in a laudable 7.8seca full second quicker than the Golf, which struggles to put down its power cleanly away from the line (a state of affairs not helped by the traction control’s over-zealous – and apparently impossible-to-switch-out – intrusion).

Even without the unwanted scrabbling, the deficit is reflected elsewhere: from 30mph to 70mph, the Golf remains 1.1sec adrift of its rival, and its longer gearing means that a similar delay is present in benchmark moments such as 60-80mph in third.

Plainly, none of that difference amounts to much on the road, nor does it detract from the engine’s first-rate manners or tractability, but nevertheless it does confirm that the new 1.5-litre motor healthily conforms to the current small-engine curve rather than resetting it. 

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