In fact, it's now available as a 3-door, 5-door, and as a wagon, remaining the car that rivals such as the Ford Focus, Peugeot 308, Volvo V40, and Mazda3 have to benchmark against. And in while those cars have caught up somewhat to the Golf, the VW product is still ahead in many respects.
It’s a car that can stand on its own and is often described as ‘classless’, meaning that it often defies price-based categorisation. The level of build quality offered can be defined as premium, the styling as smart but not overt, the technology impressive, the drive poised, its cabin sophisticated. It’s that all-round appeal that pretenders chase.
And make no mistake, they are getting close. But Volkswagen isn’t about to give up the crown as the world’s consummate hatch without anything less than a fight to the death. Others may beat it in some areas but its breadth of ability is a much more difficult and challenging target.
“…evolution, rather than revolution has always been the watchword here – it’s still a handsome car, although in a somewhat subtle way. - Carbuyer
Like many other German manufacturers, progressive iteration and an evolutionary approach to vehicle design and development is at the heart of today’s Golf. Since its inception, buyers were drawn to this car and Volkswagen was only too happy to keep giving them more of what they wanted.
In that four-decade evolution, the Golf has carved out its own secure place in the pantheon of automotive greats. Its prevalence and global penetration means that, even to the untrained eye, a completely de-badged Golf is likely to be correctly identified.
That also means that the MK7 Golf bears a close resemblance to the previous MK6, which is true, which also means the future version will retain that same look as well. Take some time to notice the finer details, though, and the visual alterations become evident.
There are stronger creases along the car’s centre line and an overall more angular look to the car’s corners and cues to emphasise a further sense of the Golf’s solidity. A longer bonnet and a cabin that’s positioned further back differentiates it immediately from the competition. When paired with larger alloys, it can look very upmarket indeed. The opposite is also true when the base 92TSI variant and its 15-inch plastic-covered steel wheels are chosen.
Engines and Drivetrain
“Where a Mazda3 or Corolla ZR can seem noisy and feel bumpy at times, the Golf treats badly surfaced roads with quiet ease. The suspension is outstanding and it gels beautifully with the turbo engine…” - The Motor Report
Volkswagen’s petrol and diesel engines are generally regarded as some of the top performers in their class, and in the Golf’s case, the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder TSI engine is the staple. It offers a decent amount of power, starting at 92kW in the base Trendline as well as the mid-spec Comfortline grades while torque peaks at a healthy 200Nm which is enough for a 9.0 second 0-100km time.
Step up to the range-topping Highline, though, and you’ll the luxury of choice. Petrol purists can opt for a more powerful version of the same 1.4-litre but here it’s tuned to output 110kW and an even healthier 250Nm of torque.
Naturally, these figures go hand-in-hand with impressively frugal fuel consumption. Volkswagen claims the 1.4TSI lump can sip as little as 5.4-litres/100km, with the more powerful tune curiously being a hair more efficient.
Hyper-milers, though, should select the sole turbodiesel option - a 2.0-litre TDI four-cylinder - that outputs the same 110kW but shovels on a brawny 320Nm while boasting a 4.9-litres/100km fuel economy figure.
Whichever engine is chosen, however, it will most likely be paired to Volkswagen’s clever and efficient DSG transmission, a dual clutch automatic that provides imperceptibly quick gear changes and is more efficient than a manual. Speaking of which, lovers of rowing your own cogs should be informed that only the base 92TSI variant can be had with a 6-speed stick shifter.
It’s also worth noting that all automatic Golfs equipped with the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine will be handed a 7-speed DSG while the 2.0-litre TDI engine in the diesel Highline receives a 6-speed DSG.
“It delivers a real sense of calm, orderly wellbeing but, thanks to the new platform, also has a lower and comfier driving position, better layout and generally makes smarter use of the space..” - Top Gear
Step into the Golf and it’s immediately apparent where the money has been spent. It’s easily the most accomplished cabin in its class aside from the properly premium alternatives such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, at least in terms of build quality and materials.
Everything is neatly laid out, placed and constructed with a level of thought and care that’s more evident the harder you look. Every surface you’re likely to get your paws on will be soft to the touch but undeniably sturdy.
Cabin space too is a boon for the Golf, with an astonishing amount of head and knee room for even large passenger in spite of its relatively small size, allowing 5 adult occupants to settle in reasonable comfort during a longer journey even with the obstructive centre tunnel ruining what could have been a flat floor for rear passengers.
There are touches of anodised aluminium and even glossy piano black finishes in addition to leather upholstery if you step up to the higher grades, but even those cannot mask the general lack of flair. It's as though that was swept to wayside in favour of ultimate ease and intuitiveness.
It might take exactly 3 seconds for anyone to figure out the Golf’s interior but it likely won’t leave much of a memory once you’ve exited. Though, the driver might be walk away appreciating the well-judged driving position as well as easily operated infotainment and HVAC controls.
Boot space is also impressive but it's an area where competitors have eclipsed it for cargo volume, though versatility is where the VW claws back some points. At 380-litres, the 5-door hatch should handle most buyers’ needs and its low lift height, handy little storage areas, and large aperture makes loading and unloading a breeze.
And there’s always the estate version with 605-litres of cargo space before you fold the rear seats.
Behind The Wheel
“…the Golf can be a quite nimble conveyance. It rewards positive inputs, decisive actions and a dash of enthusiasm. You can’t drive like that all day, every day, but the option is there should you wish to take it.” - CarAdvice
It’s not just the GTI and R versions that are magically endowed with dynamic handling characteristics, and a typical issue regular Golf owners find themselves in is inadvertently driving quicker than they’d usually be doing solely because the car handles so predictably and the engines operate so smoothly that the sensation of speed is diminished.
This is of course aided by that nearly unshakable feeling of solidity that the Golf has come to personify at this level. But a sharp handler this is not, though it is certainly safe, poised, and again, predictable - some say aloof. Turn a wheel in anger and the car will respond, albeit with some reluctance, and will never really let you stray too far from the limits defined in its stability control algorithms.
Given some time to get used to its more easy going nature, though, and a fairly competent driver shouldn’t have much issue with extracting a decently brisk drive out of it. Settle down and at urban speeds or during a highway cruise and it's evident that the level of refinement is where the Golf shines, ironing out blemishes on the road and tackling undulations with aplomb.
Variants with the lower power engines (92kW or less) receive a less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension while higher output units receive a multi link setup. Though, most drivers won’t be blown away by the difference in normal driving.
Safety And Technology
“…the 6.5-inch centre screen, which operates via near-field touch technology. As you gesture towards the screen, more options illuminate before your finger reaches it.” - CarsGuide
VW has always kept the Golf in-line or exceeding the safety standards of the times, and the Mk7 scores a 5-star rating from ANCAP. Standard fitments include an array of 7 airbags and reversing camera.
The optional Driver Assistance Package can be selected for an extra $1,300, adding Automatic Cruise Control and Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitoring, and a self-parking system for those occasions when you're just not up to the task.
The Discover Media package comes standard on the 92TSI Comfortline and above, adding a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display with satellite navigation and more connectivity options besides the typical Bluetooth. Through the built-in App-Link support, owners can access their smartphones features via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Volkswagen spends more time, manpower, and effort into developing the Golf than it does with any other vehicle, probably even across its many subsidiaries to make it as good a car as it can be. Think about that. Then turn your mind toward just how steep a climb it other automakers have before them.
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - Volkswagen Golf certainly isn’t a massive departure from its predecessors, it continues to deliver exactly what buyers expect of it with aplomb. Therein lies a measure of its success. Small hatchbacks are a sensible choice, but they can also deliver driving enjoyment and great value.
The Motor Report - 4.5-5“…at the end of the day, this Volkswagen sits in rarefied air. Now in its seventh generation, it still sets the standard for the small hatchback category.”
Carbuyer - 4.5/5 - “An automotive institution, the Volkswagen Golf should be on the shortlist of anyone buying a small family hatchback.”
Top Gear - 7/10 - “It defines this sector and should be its default buy. You simply can’t go wrong.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “VW's most luxurious Golf hatch does an admirable job of quiet, sedate, refined transport. It's spacious, cleverly appointed and a pleasure to actually drive.”