Steve Sharpe test drives the seventh generation of an old favourite
The first incarnation of Volkswagen’s hugely popular little hatchback arrived back in 1974, when Ted Heath was handing over the Downing Street keys to Jim Callaghan and David Essex’s Gonna Make You a Star was the number one tune in the charts.
There have been many generations of Golf since those days of flared trousers and feather cuts, and each one has built on the success of the previous car, keeping the Golf at the top of the hatchback heap.
It’s now the best-selling car in Europe and the best-selling VW in the UK,
Now, nearly 30 years and 29million sales later, in the era when nobody cares what the number one song in the charts is, Volkswagen have brought us the seventh generation of the Golf. This new version is longer, wider and lower than the outgoing model, and the wheels have been set further forward, providing more headroom and legroom inside.
Boot space has also been increased, and the boot sill has been lowered to make hauling stuff in and out easier.
The changes have been described as evolution rather than revolution – inside the cabin the centre console has been angled more towards the driver, and now all Golfs have a touchscreen system as standard, with a clever sensor system which brings up different controls on the screen when you reach towards it.
Externally there is very little difference. In fact, the Golf doesn’t seem to have changed much at all down the years.
But compare the sixth and seventh generations and there are subtle differences. There are now creases across the boot, along the doors and on the bonnet, and the headlights have been redesigned.
Inside the cabin is equally evolutionary. Everything is smart and practical, the materials are good quality, the layout clear and simple to use and the cloth upholstery good quality.
It makes for a nice, safe-looking hatchback – it certainly doesn’t go down the road of some of its rivals by adapting more extreme styling, but then if it ain’t broke ...
The Golf comes in a number of engines, from the entry-level 1.2 petrol, right up to the 2-litre GTi, with its 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 150mph. There’s a choice throughout the range of three or five doors. Eco credentials have been improved too.
Every engine comes with Stop-Start technology and brake energy recuperation, which recovers energy used when braking, which improved economy figures and cuts emissions.
The 2-litre TDi I drove struck the perfect balance between performance and economy. And it illustrates just why the Golf is and remains at the top of the tree.
It packs a real punch, with continuous acceleration which takes you from 0-60 in a shade over 8.5 seconds, but still returns nearly 70mpg.
The 2-litre turbodiesel engine piles on the power when needed and there’s a pretty instantaneous response to the pedal being pressed.
The six-speed transmission is the epitome of smoothness, which means it takes a fraction of a second to drop down and accelerate, although the engine responds well even at lower revs.
New to this model is a driver profile selection gadget, which allows the driver to choose from four modes – Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual – depending on what’s required.
What’s as impressive as the performance are the levels of refinement.
The diesel engine has been reduced to a distant thrum and wind noise and road noise have been equally muted.
It makes the new Golf an extremely smooth and relaxed place to travel
This little hatchback really is the complete package.
Steering is spot on and the body control around corners is precise.
There is little body roll and you always feel completely in touch with the tarmac. It’s agile around town, with good visibility for parking and nipping in and out, yet it can cruise comfortably for hours, soaking up the bumps and potholes of town roads and motorway equally efficiently.
It’s not the cheapest hatch around but VW know these cars are an attractive proposition. Prices start at just over £16,000 for the 1.2litre petrol, rising to more than £10,000 more for the GTI.
There are three trim levels available but even the basic model gets a DAB radio, Bluetooth and air-conditioning.
Middle trim SE trim brings smarter interior trim, alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control and automatic lights and wipers, while the GT models get sportier styling and sat-nav.
There’s an impressive amount of safety technology on board, too, and it picked up maximum marks in Euro tests
Efficient is a word that sums up the Golf well – it’s efficient in all areas. The perennial favourite is comfortable and roomy, and provides smooth and effortless driving with an added edge of power
It’s a true all rounder with the Golf’s traditional desirability. This seventh generation Golf will no doubt keep VW at the top of the tree.
Volkswagen Golf SE 2.0TDi
Engine: 2-litre diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 134mph