► It's the Volkswagen Golf Mk8!
► Our first drive of the perennial hatch
► On sale in the spring of 2020
Without getting too existential, the launch of a new VW Golf is a momentous thing. It’s a snapshot of where the industry is at right now in terms of engineering and tech and represents exactly what the middle majority of drivers wants. It’s a time capsule of motoring in 2020.
That’s because it’s designed to appeal to absolutely everyone; it is the blueprint of a normal hatchback, what you’d show to aliens who want to know what a car is and the mid-point along the spectrum from cheap to luxurious.
Thing is though, if you believe the forecasters, this time around the Golf looks a bit old hat – it’s not an SUV for a start, and it’s no longer available as an EV. The latter being dutifully filled by the upcoming ID.3. Those are the things, we’re led to believe, that people want. So, what gives?
Well on the evidence in front of us while those are the emerging trends, what the vast majority of drivers wants is a practical hatchback with a more high-tech interior and lower running costs than the alternatives – the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed or BMW 1 Series.
Is this new VW Golf that?
Yes, in short, it is. You get a completely digital cockpit with big screens, a slashed button count and more engine options than you could shake a stick at - petrol, diesel, mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid ranging from 89-297bhp. The most economical offering a 17 per cent improvement in efficiency and, at the other end of the scale, are separate performance variants of each.
There is no longer an electric Golf and that’s a shame, because the outgoing car was a battery powered vehicle that did an incredible job of hiding the fact. It was an EV for people who didn’t care it was an EV. But let’s not get hung up on that, because that’s now what the ID.3 is for.
The Golf’s engines start with traditional three- and four-cylinder petrols displacing 1.0- and 1.5-litres, and a 2.0-litre TDI with two power outputs. Then you get into the 1.5-litre mild-hybrid petrol, which uses a 48v belt alternator and starter to coast and save fuel, plus a full plug-in hybrid.
Electrified Golfs feature a DSG automatic gearbox as standard, which is now controlled by a cute Porsche-style electric switch in place of a lever, freeing up space in the centre console for storage. A six-speed manual is available on the other engines.
The cars we’re really excited about – the GTI and R petrols, plus GTD diesel and the GTE plug-in hybrid, will follow on. As will the estate, but probably not the SV.
Phew. Anything else to know?
VW’s established trim structure (S, SE, SEL and sporty-looking R-Line) has been replaced by the German hierarchy – Golf, Life, Style and R-Line. All come with LED headlamps and tail lights – offering differing levels of matrix-style sophistication.
Inside, a pair of screens (10.25-inch Virtual Cockpit and 10.0-inch infotainment unit) plus touch and swipe pads replace the old car’s conventional dials and physical buttons. You also get Car2X as standard (more on this later) and VW’s new connectivity packages – WeConnect and WeConnect Plus.
The latter two are your standard issue connectivity tech - allowing owners to locate and unlock the car from a smartphone, as well as activate the climate control and see when the next service is due. Plus (free-of-charge for the first three years) adds things like over-the-air sat-nav map updates, WiFi hotspot and the ability to receive deliveries straight to your car.
What’s it like to drive?
There’s a greater variation, depending on which model you buy this time around, because like a great many of its competitors (Ford Focus, Mercedes-Benz A-Class) the VW Golf now comes with one of two different rear axles. Golfs with less than 148bhp and front wheel drive get a torsion beam, those 148bhp and above or with all-wheel drive get a multilink set up.
VW also promises something of a revolution in the handling department thanks to something called a ‘driving dynamics manager’, which basically makes the adaptive dampers and XDS brake-based torque vectoring (faster cars get a XDS Plus clutch-style diff) to talk to each other to avoid conflicting inputs. Like Porsche’s 4D Chassis Control.
That, of course, relies on you having those systems present on you Golf – do so and the German maker promises less body roll, better grip and greater driver involvement.
Does it work?
It does – the Golf remains a satisfyingly grippy thing to drive, rather than the on-the-edge nature of the Focus, which means it’s super easy to cover ground quickly. You’re aware of things going on underneath you, wheels being braked here and there, but otherwise it’s a reasonably organic experience.
The ride offers a huge range now as well, with the ability to tailor it using a slider rather than just three settings. It’s super squashy in Comfort and very firm in Sport.
We drove the 2.0-litre, 148bhp diesel and the 1.5-litre, 148bhp eTSI and it’s pretty obvious from the outset that the derv Golf is the still the go to for maximum ease of use. Loads of torque, 50+mpg even when driven hard and an unobtrusive engine note.
The eTSI is interesting in that it gives you a boost of immediate electric torque and can coast when you don’t need the power on. Otherwise it’s clearly a car that prioritises low fuel consumption and emissions. The brake pedal has a deadspot at the top of its travel for regen which makes it a bit inaccurate to mete out on a faster drive, and the DSG can be a bit sleepy on downshifts.
It’s worth bearing in mind that neither is a particularly sporty derivative – and both display huge amounts of everyday ease of use while hinting at a chassis capable of a lot more. So mission accomplished, for now.
What’s it like inside?
In truth while VW calls the Golf’s interior a ‘digital revolution’ comparable to the launch of the first smartphone, it’s not a million miles away from an Audi A3 with Virtual Cockpit and an infotainment screen. It’s called Innovision, which is what the widescreen concept in the Touareg is called and, on that note, it does look more impressive than your standard two screen set up.
What’s really impressive is the intuitiveness of it all – each small cluster of buttons controlling a wealth of additional touch screens, giving you access to all the controls you had before but without having to rely on loads of switches.
The addition of ‘Hello Volkswagen’ voice control allows you to say things like ‘my feet are cold’ and because it uses clever digital microphones, the car knows to heat up the blowers on the driver’s side only. Neat.
Car2X is standard too and means all cars on the road will be able to talk to eachother regardless of make - providing they have Car2X of course. This is not a hugely useful feature right now but in time it’ll make more of a case for itself, allowing you to warn other road users about impending delays or hazards.
Hugely, with room for everyday life without resorting to enormous external proportions. Just don’t expect a huge amount of change in this car from what was already a very useful hatchback.
This latest generation is 26mm longer, 36mm lower and up to 10mm narrower, with an extra 16mm between the wheels. In short, it’ll still fit in your garage.
Luggage space remains 380 litres with the seats up and a gallon larger at 1,237 litres with them down. That’s good news, because the outgoing Golf’s boot was plenty big enough.
VW Golf Mk8: verdict
An even more mature version of what came before, with a higher-tech and nicer built interior, loads more engine choices and a bit more sparkle to the handling. This is peak Golf.
First customer deliveries are in spring 2020, with the GTE arriving by the summer. All other models mentioned, but not yet revealed, will find their way into showrooms throughout the second half of 2020 and into 2021.