Easy and enjoyable to drive
Classy, user-friendly cabin
Includes an airbag for the driver's knees and, on some models, automatic emergency braking
VW has a solid reputation
Plenty of room for passengers, and the boot is generous too
All models are well equipped, and most get a touch-screen infotainment system as standard
The Golf is so easy to drive you'll hardly notice you're doing it. The steering is just the right weight, the car goes exactly where you direct it, and the suspension manages to blend a comfortable ride with good body control. The Golf is very quiet, too. The smallest engine - and cheapest, with the lowest trim level ?is the 1.2-litre petrol with 85bhp. This is fine for town driving but you'll find yourself wanting more power on the motorway, especially when overtaking. There's also a 1.2-litre with 105bhp, and two 1.4-litre petrols; the higher-powered of these, which conserves fuel by shutting down two of its cylinders when their power isn't needed, is smooth and strong, and there's decent power in all the gears. The 2.0-litre diesel is punchy, too, while the more economical 1.6 diesel quickly picks up its pace in all but the highest gears (however, it is a bit noisier than the other engines in the Golf range). The Golf line-up includes a super-sporty GTi version, too. Bear in mind that that less powerful Golfs (the two 1.2 petrols and the 1.6 diesel) get a more basic suspension system.
The Golf's interior doesn't look or feel as classy as an Audi A3's, but it's a cut above most other rivals'. The logical, clearly-labelled dashboard is angled towards the driver and is a doddle to use thanks to simple rotary climate controls and a user-friendly touch-screen infotainment system that's standard even on entry-level models. There's also a wide range of adjustment for the driver's seat and steering wheel. The Golf can seat four six-footers in comfort, and five in emergencies. The boot is one of the biggest in the class and features an adjustable floor that divides the space in two and reduces the load lip when it's in the higher position. It also ensures there's no step up to the rear seats when they're folded down. Every model comes with DAB radio, Bluetooth and air-con, but mid-level SE trim is the best as it upgrades the touch-screen to colour and brings alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control and automatic light and wipers. Range-topping GT cars also get sportier styling and sav-nav, but they're quite pricey.
The interior feels solidly built and Volkswagen was in the top third of manufacturers in the latest JD Power customer satisfaction survey. There's plenty of reassurance from the Golf's safety features too, including an airbag for the driver's knees, stability control and, on SE-spec cars and above, a City Emergency Brake system that automatically applies the brakes before imminent collisions below 19mph. The Golf received the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, including 94% for adult safety and 89% for children. Security features include deadlocks.
None the less, there is an awful lot to like about any model of this latest-generation Golf - it's easy and satisfying to drive and ride in, it feels classy and well built, and it's very practical, too. Most models sit between the Ford Focus and Audi A3 on price, but the Golf is likely to work out cheaper than the Focus in the long run as you'll lose less on depreciation. Bear in mind that the 1.4-litre engine with cylinder shut-off is only available in range-topping GT spec so it's a pricey way to save on fuel.