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  1. Analysis
July 7, 2020

Just how good is the new Volkswagen Golf?

Far from outdated even now, will we remember the seventh generation with fondness as the last 'analogue' Golf? Due to some digital gremlins and then COVID-19 wreaking havoc with the production ramp-up, the successor got off to a bumpy start. By year end though, the new Golf 8 could be Europe's best selling vehicle.

Far from outdated even now, will we remember the seventh generation with fondness as the last ‘analogue’ Golf? Due to some digital gremlins and then COVID-19 wreaking havoc with the production ramp-up, the successor got off to a bumpy start. By year end though, the new Golf 8 could be Europe’s best selling vehicle.

Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way. We all saw those first photos of the front end of this five-door hatchback, the new silver/black VW emblem, and the digital dashboard last year. Now the cars are on the roads of the final big European market, meaning phase one of the global roll-out is over. Phases two and three will be the eHybrid and GTE, then the GTD and GTI, followed by a not yet announced estate plus the R, along with production in China. All of these are coming relatively soon.

What do we think of the looks? I was a big fan of the mark four’s exterior and interior in the long ago 1990s. The arrival of the mark eight reminds me of how I felt when the Golf 5 was new: sure it’s more advanced but does it look worse or better? The technology is very 2020, it’s likely a step up in safety but is it more or less handsome? And will I be the only one who wonders if the mark seven was the high point for Golf dashboards?

Not wishing to be condemned as technophobic, I should point out that the almost all-digi controls are actually pretty good and not at all the step backwards which some have claimed them to be. Yes, things can take longer than they once did if we’re talking adjustment or activation of the ventilation controls: there’s no way to deny that your eyes have to be off the road for crucial extra seconds whatever function is needed.

After a week with a 1.5-litre TSI in Style trim, I did warm to the Golf’s interior and exterior looks. Others might not notice the new font for all badges (front, back, wheel centres, steering wheel), making me wonder how Volkswagen has justified the vast spend for itself and franchised dealers on this tweaked emblem and its many differently coloured variations (shame that the beautiful white/silver on blue is no more). Still, what’s done is done, and the brand continues to update all models to display the new look for those two letters.

Volkswagen UK will be greatly relieved that dealerships are open, cars can be sold once more and crucially, the country’s number two best seller of 2020 as at the end of May but number three over the first six months is gathering momentum. The Focus had a very good June but isn’t that far ahead, the respective totals for the Ford versus its VW rival being 18,145 and 17,889 for 1 Jan-30 Jun. The Fiesta leads both (21,098) and after becoming Britain’s best selling vehicle in June, the Corsa (17,646) is now in fourth and close to the Golf for the year-to-date.

Europe’s biggest OEM has done a very good job indeed with the latest Golf and the car has a great deal going for it. You would be unwise to bet against this soon becoming Britain’s new favourite model, should Ford fail to facelift the three years young Fiesta at a time when the Clio, 208 and just as fresh Corsa are proving to be major headaches for this admitedly still strong seller.

The easy to answer question, and it’s the most important one, is would I recommend the Golf to anyone asking which C segment hatchback they should buy. Yes. With a but: better to wait for the GTD which has always had the best torque and economy trade-off. That’s a personal thing, though, for my own preferences. The GTD isn’t available yet, so in the absence of the latest 2.0-litre diesel in a sports-look model grade, the as-tested Style 1.5-litre petrol would be a strong second option.

No Volkswagen is inexpensive, which doesn’t seem to be an issue for we Europeans, the Golf ending 2019 as the region’s best selling car, its 410,330 registrations being way ahead of the second place Clio’s 319,136. The Tiguan and Polo, in that order, were in the top five too, ahead of the Fiesta.

Volkswagen sees that the times have changed, the Golf seeming to offer what is in many ways a more generous spec than it once did, even if some items which you’d find in a Kia or a Hyundai are extras. An example: slip your GBP26,095 new car into reverse and there’s an odd moment when you notice there’s no pleasing click to let you know the VW emblem has flipped up to let the reversing camera show display the view. What view? That’s a shock: instead you get digital lines on the touchscreen and beeps.

Example number two also happened the first time I adjusted the mirrors. What’s this, no fold setting on the toggle switch? Get used to lowering the window and twisting the big plastic module around: that’s not going to be great on wet/cold days. Twenty six thousand pounds and in a couple of ways, the feel of a poverty-spec rent-a-car.

I was also going to have a moan about what I call ‘veering steering’ until checking the facts about this with Volkswagen. The official word is that Emergency Lane Keeping needs to have its default as ON. Happily, deactivation of the system is possible with a single push of one button.

As with the 208 I spent a couple of months with, this just isn’t something I like in a car so for many people it will be part of the starting routine for every drive. Leave it activated and soon enough the steering wheel will be writhing in your hands at seemingly random moments as the sensors think they see a white line you’re too close to. Trouble is, sometimes those lines and the cameras disagree with one another. Shouldn’t we all be paying attention to road markings, speed limits, scanning the road for animals, and how 2020 is this – practising safe distancing from cars ahead? I’m all for automatic emergency braking, just please leave my steering alone.

Things get better the more you look around the Golf’s interior. The digital controls are simplicity itself to work out; the reassuring solidity and firmness of door handles, gear shift, indicators/wipers wands – it’s all traditional Volkswagen, along with the soft lining inside the glovebox and four commodious door storage areas. The headliner is soft, as are most plastics, the digi-dials are bright and big, the electric parking brake makes that satisfying whir as it releases or applies itself and only the awful too-loud warning beep grates if you dare to open a door just before shutting off the engine.

I can’t fault the performance of the 1.5 TSI engine, which produces 150 PS and 250 Nm, nor is the six-speed manual gearbox anything but first rate. Volkswagen specifies a 50-litre fuel tank, and with WLTP best-worst consumption of 36.5-59.1 mpg, you’re not going to be needing to visit fuel stations too often. CO2 is 125 g/km, 0-62 mpg takes a stated 8.5 seconds and the top speed is an amazing 139 mph. Anyone who takes a while to warm to the chiseled front end of the Golf 8 needs to realise how slippery its shape must be. No wonder you can easily see 50mpg and cruising is super-quiet.

There are some especially impressive rivals in the 4.3-4.5 m long size class – e.g. Corolla, Focus, A-Class and soon the new A3 Sportback – yet all in all, the Volkswagen looks as though it could remain the default choice in what most of us think of as the Golf class.

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