What's good? Reasonably economical. Gutsy engine. Lots of technology.
The Volkswagen Golf needs no introduction, really. It's the finest family hatchback on the market offering quality in abundance and if you get the spec right good value too. But it faces stiffer competition than ever from the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus - two decent cars in their own right - as well as the Audi A3, the Golf's more luxurious cousin. Today I'm going to be reviewing the VW Golf 1.4 TSI 120 SE, which sits in-between the Golf S and new Golf Match. This model has plenty of standard kit and a solid engine - prices start from £19,680.
The Volkswagen Golf even in its basic form - S - looks classy. It's evolution as opposed to revolution in design compared to the older Golf, but it has a modern face and a profile which is bang up to date. SE sits on 16-inch alloy wheels as standard, which look okay, and benefit from a large sidewall to prevent kerbing. The 3-door Golf looks sweeter than the 5-door version, but the 5-door version doesn't look too bad, with a nice side profile and the same rear design.
All Golf's are fitted with Adaptive Cruise Control as standard, which can be seen from the outside as there's a black box built into the lower grille. This isn't obtrusive and it fits into the car's design, but just in case you've seen this feature out on the road and were curious, that's what it is.
The Golf 1.4 TSI SE has a driver profile system, where you can choose between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Individual. Each mode makes good use of the Golf's 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine which has been designed to offer low-down power to boost efficiency. The Eco mode is fine for normal driving, but there is a noticeable difference in character when you select sport on the car's in-built touchscreen - the steering feels heavier and the engine frees up, to offer better peak performance; it never feels fast this Golf, but it's quite happy buzzing up motorway slip roads and overtaking slow traffic.
With a light clutch and slick six-speed manual gearbox, this Golf is very easy to live with. On the five-door version I tested recently, visibility is as good as it gets for a family hatchback, and the driving position is perfect - the steering wheel is multi-adjustable as is the driver and passenger seat. So whether you're short, tall, slim, or big-boned, you'll feel comfortable behind the wheel.
The handling is sweet too. There's body roll on this car, courtesy of the high suspension, but it sticks to the road and can be thrown around easily. Thanks to those large profile tyres and 16-inch alloys, the car rides well and doesn't give off much road noise - wind noise is also kept to a minimum.
The Volkswagen Golf has a comfortable and well designed interior, where every button seems to have been placed perfectly. We all know that VW make quality interiors, so I won't waste any time praising the Golf for its superb build quality, but I will say this - every material, aside from some of the lower dashboard plastics, are top-notch, and inspire confidence. The steering wheel is chunky with wheel-mounted controls for Adaptive Cruise, the radio, and phone, along with multi-function input.
The seats could be better though. On SE models, they offer good back and side support, but they don't have very large bolsters on the seats (not the backrest) - this is fine for cruising, but it quickly becomes apparent that any cornering on a country road isn't going to feel very sporty. The cloth on the seats is not very stylish either... but with leather a £2,096 option, it's easy to live with.
The Golf has a 380-litre boot that can be extended to over 1,000-litres.
There are two 1.4-litre TSI engines in the Golf range - the 120bhp version tested here today, and a 150bhp version with ACT (cylinder deactivation technology). The 120bhp version is an older unit that makes do with start/stop and driver profile modes to deliver optimum efficiency, and on a 500-mile trip over two weeks, I managed to achieve 42.3 miles per gallon - somewhat short of the claimed 53.3 miles per gallon, but not so much so as to be unacceptable.
Where this engine does fall short is emissions - at 123 g/km, this version of the Golf narrowly misses out on £30 annual car tax - it's going to cost you £110 annually.
Which is why I recommend the 1.4 TSI 150 version. This engine in stylish GT trim starts at £22,995, a whole £3,315 more than this engine - but it will save you £90 a year in car tax and delivers better overall fuel economy. So I say do some sums, work out your three year mileage, and choose wisely.
Trim and equipment
SE trim includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), 16-inch Toronto alloy wheels, Composition Media System (CMS), Bluetooth, DAB radio, 3.5-inch TFT media touchscreen display, twin exhaust pipes, start/stop, electronic parking brake, and a phone system + sync as standard.
A new trim, Match, has just come out - this costs the same as SE, but adds more kit (and therefore, SE is going to be retired soon - making this review ideal for second-hand buyers). Match adds front fog lights, the mirror pack, and parking sensors front and rear as standard.
The Volkswagen Golf is the best family hatchback on the market - but this model is let down by the engine, which although gutsy and fine to drive fails to deliver acceptable emissions for a family car in this day and age with this type of engine. I recommend the Golf, however motorists should look toward the 150 TSI ACT engine, which is more powerful and more efficient.