Without the optional adaptive dampers we mentioned earlier, no selectable drive modes to flick through, no lowered sports suspension and no optional variable-rate steering, our test car was pleasingly straightforward to drive.
Its medium-paced steering was fairly lightly weighted and could therefore have made for a more enticing introduction for keener drivers. But in the way the car mixes supple, rubbery-feeling ride comfort with good outright grip and body control, and likewise an impressive if slightly understated sort of handling agility, the Golf Mk8 is quite plainly one of the most dynamically versatile and finely polished operators you’ll find anywhere at the affordable end of the new car market.
It’s guilty of one slightly irksome bugbear; a common frustration in modern passenger cars, although oddly one that other VWs we’ve tested in recent years have avoided. The basic lane keeping system automatically reactivates every time you restart the engine and it does so whether or not you’ve deactivated it previously in any of the drive modes or profiles. It’s not a particularly fussy system, although its interventions are a little intrusive on a steering rack that otherwise feels obligingly light and pleasant. Sometimes – when overtaking a cyclist, for example – those interventions can take you by surprise.
With that system switched off, though, the Golf’s handling is really all about linearity and predictability, and in that respect, the car is its familiar old self. It responds progressively to steering inputs rather than turning in with darting urgency, and it does allow its body to roll and pitch just a little, but in a way that really only helps you to judge grip levels and to manipulate the chassis a little at higher speeds.
Explore further, beyond a quarter turn of lock, and this car begins to feel really keen and adhesive; fun to spirit along and to flick around, with a subtle (if always-active) stability control system in the background, and ready to express itself a little when you ask it to.
Assisted driving notes
The new Golf gets a very generous allocation of active safety kit as standard, including Front Assist automatic crash mitigation and post-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, city emergency braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic road sign recognition and driver monitoring.