Volkswagen Golf Review
The VW Golf is a popular medium hatchback that looks and feels like a high-quality product
Strengths & weaknesses
‘People’s Car’, the English translation of Volkswagen, is perhaps never more suitable for one of the German company’s products than for the VW Golf. It’s simply offered with such a wide range of trim levels and engine options that there’s a Golf to suit almost every budget and every driver's taste.
Whether it’s a fuel-efficient diesel model, a cheaper to purchase but less efficient petrol version, a performance-focused hot hatch or a low-tax plug-in hybrid to tempt company car drivers, there’s pretty much a VW Golf to suit everyone.
What all VW Golfs have in common, however, is a sense of solidity, of no-nonsense good quality. They’re not as flashy as the BMW 1 Series or Mercedes A-Class, but they’re smarter and feel more upmarket than, say, a Ford Focus or a Toyota Corolla. They offer, as Volkswagen would argue, the best balance between value for money and quality that you can find in a medium family hatchback.
This version of the Golf that’s been on sale since spring 2020 builds on the traditional VW Golf strengths of sensible, practical design and a wide choice of models with more advanced in-car technology than on previous models. This includes two 10-inch screens, one for the media system and one in place of traditional speedometer and rev counter dials, plus LED headlights.
Some models even come with a high-tech adaptive suspension system where you can select different modes to make the ride more comfortable or more sporty, depending on your mood or the road you're driving on.
Should I get a Volkswagen Golf?
✔ Upmarket feel without being too flashy or expensive
✔ Lots of engines and trim combinations to choose from
✔ Strikes a good balance between comfort and driving fun
✘ Touchscreen system can be fiddly and software glitchy
✘ Some rivals offer more interior space
✘ Previous versions had a higher-quality interior feel
The Volkswagen Golf is kind of an evergreen car. It’s seemingly impervious to ever-changing customer tastes and fashion, going its own way as a sensible, practical and classless form of family hatchback since the very first version was designed back in the 1970s.
As a result, the Golf is never on the cutting edge of technology or fashion. But it never goes out of style, either. If you absolutely want to be up to speed with the latest trends - be they electric cars or SUV crossovers - then a Golf probably isn’t for you. But if you want a dependable car that bridges the gap between mainstream cars and upmarket models then it's a great choice.
- Models explained
- Trim levels
- Plug-in hybrid
- Best Golf for...
- Boot space
- Should I buy used?
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BuyaCar prices Limited stock
Volkswagen Golf Hatchback
The VW Golf hatchback is the core part of the Golf range. Models sold from spring 2020 onwards all have five doors (the three-door option on the previous version is no longer available), and offer good passenger space, plus a decent boot. Even the most basic models are well equipped, with luxuries such as climate control, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist standard on all cars, as is automatic emergency braking.
Power comes from a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, with either manual or 'DSG' automatic gearboxes available. Petrol-engined Golfs range from 1.0-litre versions with 110hp to 1.5-litre models with 150hp. The mild hybrid models, badged 'eTSI', are automatic-only.
There are also plug-in hybrid versions in the form of the 204hp eHybrid and the GTE model, which rivals the high-performance GTI petrol model with a substantial 245hp power output - courtesy of a 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor combination. Its 13kWh battery is enough for around 40 miles of electric-only travel from a full charge. Those after long-distance fuel efficiency, meanwhile, should consider the 200hp GTD diesel, which should deliver more than 50mpg.
Volkswagen Golf Estate
There is essentially very little difference between the Golf hatchback and the Golf estate, apart from their size. Both bodystyles get most of the same engine options and trim levels, including the powerful Golf R. There’s also the Golf Alltrack estate, which offers a taller ride height, chunky plastic bumpers and four-wheel drive, giving it an off-road feel. There is no Golf GTE.
The big difference between hatchback and estate, of course, is the estate's larger, longer rear end. This provides extra boot space, providing a huge amount of room, at 611 litres with the rear seats in place. This is impressive, though the Skoda Octavia and Peugeot 308 SW do offer slightly larger boots.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
For a long time, the GTI was the fastest and sportiest Golf. Now, though, that’s shifted to the four-wheel-drive Golf R. However, if you want a traditional front-wheel-drive hot hatchback with a manual gearbox, this is the VW Golf for you. A seven-speed automatic is also available, but it’s an optional extra so not all cars will have it.
What makes the GTI quick is its engine, a detuned version of the one used in the Golf R below. In the Golf GTI that means you get 245hp, a rapid 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds and a 155mph top speed. Drive it gently and you could get more than 40mpg from it, too.
Volkswagen Golf R
The Golf R is the pinnacle of VW’s performance Golfs. It offers all the practicality of cheaper, slower Golf models - and the option of an estate version, too - plus 320hp, four-wheel drive and a standard 'DSG' automatic gearbox, which together mean the Golf R can sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds.
With claimed fuel economy of around 35mpg, the R isn’t the most fuel-efficient Golf, but it is most certainly the fastest. The four-wheel drive system helps you to use the car's power without spinning the wheels, but the extra weight and friction added by this does mean that it's less economical than the two-wheel-drive Golf GTI above.
|Limited stock: There’s really no such thing as a poorly equipped modern Golf. Life is the entry-level model, yet it still gets alloy wheels, climate control, LED headlights, automatic lights and wipers and adaptive cruise control.
|Limited stock: Style trim level brings three-zone climate control, front sports seats, footwell lighting, exterior puddle lighting, upgraded LED lights with adaptive cornering and high-beam assist that can automatically dip your headlights for oncoming traffic.
|From £13,900: R-Line adds sporty touches to the Golf, with a bespoke exterior styling pack, tinted windows, chromed pedals and R-Line sports seats. The suspension is also lower, and there are selectable driving modes as well as a heated steering wheel with progressive steering.
|Limited stock: The GTI sits 15mm lower than regular Golf models, gets a 'sound actuator' to enhance the engine note, keyless entry and a slick digital dial display. There is also a grooved rear diffuser, a standalone roof spoiler, red brake calipers and red styling strips on the grille.
|Limited stock: The GTE has a similar specification to the GTI, but with blue trim and design highlights rather than red to reflect its part-electric engine setup. The GTE also does without the lowered suspension of the GTI.
|From £13,190: The fast diesel version of the VW Golf offers the same sporty styling cues inside and out as the GTI and GTE, though it features silver as the highlight colour rather than blue or red.
|Limited stock: As the flagship performance version of the Golf, the R gets four-wheel-drive, 'torque-vectoring' technology that can move power to whichever wheel offers the most grip and unique sporty styling cues inside and out.
With such a broad range of available engines - from simple petrol models to diesel engines and complex plug-in hybrids - the truth is that there should be a Golf engine to suit you, whatever you're after.
However, if you’re looking for a great all-rounder, the best bet is probably the 1.5 eTSI 150. This engine’s party piece is its 48-volt mild hybrid technology. This is a form of hybrid tech that helps boost performance at low speeds and increase overall engine efficiency without the weight and complication of a big battery pack and separate electric motor - it’s integrated into the starter motor.
There’s also 'cylinder deactivation' technology that can run the car on just two of its four cylinders when you're driving gently - to boost fuel economy - or even shut the engine off entirely when you’re coasting - down long hills, for example. What this all means is that you can get 50mpg fuel economy, and a quiet, smooth and powerful engine response.
The Golf GTE is one of two plug-in hybrid models available in the Golf range. Like the Golf eHybrid - the other petrol-electric option - it combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, but instead of 204hp it delivers a GTI-matching 245hp, along with a theoretical electric range of 40 miles from a full battery.
And in official tests, the GTE emits a very low 25g/km of CO2 and can achieve a theoretical 235mpg - though this relies on you regularly charging the battery pack. That CO2 figure means the GTE is in the lowest possible threshold for company car tax, which will make it mightily tempting for company car drivers.
Don’t expect to achieve 200mpg-plus in real-world driving conditions, however. In reality, unless you keep the battery fully charged and only make short trips, you’re likely to get closer to 50-60mpg. This is still pretty impressive for a car that offers this level of acceleration, but if you don't plan to charge the car regularly, a plug-in hybrid is not for you.
Whether you are focused on value for money, fuel economy, performance or low company car costs, there’s a Volkswagen Golf out there to suit your needs. The only real absence is a fully electric model - but if that’s what you're looking for then the VW ID.3 could be perfect for you.
For drivers covering lots of miles the diesel-engined Golfs still make a lot of sense, although the petrol-engined cars - particularly the mild hybrid eTSI models - are still pretty efficient if you really don’t want a diesel.
And if driving fun is your thing, then there’s the Golf GTI or the rapid four-wheel-drive Golf R if you're happy to pay a premium to get even more impressive performance.
|Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI 130: This is pure Golf. Affordable pricing, enough power (with 130hp) not to feel slow, good fuel economy and plenty of equipment as standard. No need for the mild hybrid eTSI version if value is your priority - it adds expense and complication.
|Volkswagen Golf Estate Life: With more than 600 litres of space, the boot of the Golf estate has the capacity to swallow everything a family can throw at it. The rest of the interior isn’t as flexible as in some SUVs, but it’s more than comfortable enough for parents and a pair of kids.
|Volkswagen Golf R: If you want straight-line performance and cornering ability that’s on par with many exotic sports cars but don’t want to compromise everyday usability, the 35mpg, 320hp, four-wheel-drive Golf R is a surefire winner.
|Volkswagen Golf GTD: Despite the appeal of 50mpg in a hot hatchback, the diesel-powered GTD is slower than its petrol and hybrid equivalents, the GTI and the GTE. And when the GTI is more fun while still achieving respectable fuel economy, it’s hard to see the point in the GTD model
The Golf bridges the gap between premium brands and mainstream family cars, so it has very few direct rivals but many similarly priced alternatives.
If you’re not bothered by having an upmarket badge, then the Ford Focus offers a better driving experience, and the Renault Megane and Skoda Octavia better value for money. The Kia Ceed and Toyota Corolla, meanwhile, both offer a longer warranty.
Stepping up to more upmarket brands means either sacrificing equipment or paying more than you would for an equivalent Golf. Still, the Audi A3 offers an even more plush interior, while the Mercedes A-Class is a bit more glitzy and the BMW 1 Series is more likely to appeal if you want a particularly fun to drive car.
Volkswagen Golf dimensions
At just under 4.3 metres long, 1.5 metres tall and 1.8 metres wide (2.07m including the door mirrors), the Volkswagen Golf is very much an average size for a medium family hatchback. It is a touch shorter and narrower than many comparable rivals, which could be handy in awkward car park spaces or narrow country lanes.
One rival that’s noticeably bigger is the Skoda Octavia, which is more than 40 centimetres longer - and offers a lot more interior space as a consequence. In fact, the Golf’s relatively compact exterior dimensions do result in a slightly compromised interior. Space for three in the rear is relatively tight, for example, but if you’re not regularly planning to squeeze five adults in, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
The Volkswagen Golf offers boot space that’s reasonable for this type of car, at 380 litres measured up to the load cover. That’s better than you’ll get in the 375-litre Ford Focus boot, but worse than you’ll find in a Kia Ceed, which has 395 litres of capacity.
This figure is notably improved in the Golf Estate model, rising to 611 litres, which is impressively large for this type of car. It’s better than the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports, which has up to 598 litres of room and the Focus Estate, which offers 575 litres.
It’s worth noting here that the battery packs for the plug-in hybrid models mean you lose around 100 litres of boot space.
Volkswagens are largely reliable, but aren’t up there with the best manufacturers in terms of outright dependability - they tend to rank somewhere in the middle for owner satisfaction and reliability surveys.
In the case of this version of the Golf, early cars seem to suffer from glitches with the media system and touchscreen, but these are likely to be ironed out with updates. Other than that, this version of the VW Golf should provide reliable, robust family motoring at least on a par with most other family hatchbacks.
Volkswagen offers a three-year warranty with a 60,000-mile limit on new Golfs. That’s more or less the industry standard, but not as good as the seven-year warranties offered by Kia, SsangYong and MG. Toyota's standard warranty lasts longer from new, too, offering five years of protection.
Where the VW warranty is more impressive is that it offers unlimited mileage for the first two years - which is great for drivers who plan to get a relatively new car and rack up the miles, as you may end up getting warranty cover to a higher mileage than you would with a standard 60,000-mile warranty.
Coverage excludes all the usual wear-and-tear items such as brakes, clutch, tyres and suspension, but VW will cover these for the first six months or 6,500 miles. The same short-term warranty protection applies to mechanical adjustments.
AVERAGE VOLKSWAGEN REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £537
As a popular model, finding a second-hand Golf should be a relatively easy task. The trick will be finding one with the right combination of engine, trim level and optional extras you’re looking for. So, if there are any essential features you're after, it's best to double check that any specific cars you're considering have these fitted.
If the previous versions of the VW Golf are anything to go by, the version on sale from 2020 onwards should hold onto its value reasonably well. So, although the outright purchase price may be high, you should get a decent proportion of this back when you come to sell. Alternatively, if you opt for PCP finance, the strong demand for used models should contribute to relatively low monthly payments, with the car expected to still be valuable at the end of the contract.
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
The most popular Golf is the 130hp 1.5 TSI in Style spec. And with good reason - it strikes a happy balance of reasonable power, decent equipment levels and value for money.
For those keen on saving fuel or who cover high mileages, a diesel Golf is still a good bet. You should be able to achieve 50mpg+ in everyday driving.
If you want something exciting on your drive, but still want enough space to put the family in, as well as the shopping, then the four-wheel-drive Golf R, which can accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, is your best bet. It's a bit pricey compared with the Mercedes-AMG A35 hatchback, though.
*Representative PCP finance - 2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0 ST-Line Hatchback:
|PCP representative example
|APR rates available
|Cash price £12,000
|Value of loan
|Fixed monthly payment £218.12
|Annual mileage of 8,000pa
|Total cost of credit £2,755.55
|Term 48 months
|Optional final payment £4,285.79
|Loan value £12,000
|Total amount payable £14,755.55
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.
The VW Golf is the hatchback that's fit for any occasion - whether that occasion requires practicality, fuel economy or performance
The VW Golf Estate is a practical and versatile estate that delivers low running costs, plenty of luggage space and a high-quality feel
It’s faster and more advanced than ever, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI hides beneath a sober design
A bigger and more practical version of the Golf. It’s a sensible choice but lacks the desirability of SUV-inspired crossover rivals.
Few cars combine driving thrills with everyday hatchback usability and reasonable running costs in the way the VW Golf R does
The green VW Golf GTE can run on electric power, but has a petrol engine for long-distance journeys
Like the Golf hatchback, this medium-sized estate is a high-quality car that’s available with a variety of trim levels and engine choices