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First drive: Volkswagen Golf

Tech heavy it might be, but can the new Golf retain the lead in the lower medium class?

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SECTOR: Lower Medium PRICE: From £20,500 FUEL: N/A CO2: N/A

After more than 45 years on sale, Volkswagen’s iconic family hatch has undergone its biggest changes yet, with the focus for the all-new eighth generation model being its advanced connectivity and drivetrain electrification.

It still looks like a Golf though. The styling is best described as evolution rather than revolution. The biggest change? Its low and curvy nose, which mostly contributes to the reduced 0.275 drag coefficient figure.

The nose also incorporates the sleek new iD lights, which will be offered in three different forms depending on the model. The most advanced option uses clever LED matrix technology; these stay brighter for longer and are excellent.

Inside, the lack of dashboard controls makes the new Golf’s interior look quite stark. There is a 10-inch display for the dials, with most features controlled by the 10.25-inch touch screen that will be standard on UK models – or touch sliders below the screen. Simple controls can also be made Amazon Alexa-style by saying “Hey Volkswagen”. We didn’t find this feature worked so well in practice and with all the different menu screens it can seem a bit confusing too. What was wrong with centre console switchgear anyway?

Quality is high throughout, with the driving position comfortable and multi-adjustable. Five-door only now, it is the same size as the outgoing Mk7 and as such, space is good in the front and back, with plenty of useful stowage. The 380-litre boot is a good size and, when folded, can be extended to 1,237 litres.

Volkswagen UK has said it will follow German trim level badging; this means rather than SE, the basic model is simply called the Golf, SE is now called Life, while the SE L is renamed Style. R-Line and forthcoming GTE, GTI and R models are unchanged. UK pricing and specification are yet to be released, but keyless start, LED lights and lane keep assist should all be standard. Prices are expected to start at £20,500.

Engine-wise, we had the chance to drive the predicted best-seller, the 1.5-litre 150 TSi petrol manual, plus the 1.5-litre e-TSi mild hybrid petrol and the 2.0-litre TDi 150 diesel.

The TSi 150 petrol is a torquey, smooth performer with a slick six-speed manual gearchange. The engine note only becomes noticeably noisier when being worked, otherwise it is pleasingly refined. Oddly, the mild hybrid e-TSi seems louder and rougher than the standard 1.5 TSi 150. The DSG transmission is slick enough, but the brakes, which lack feel, take time to get used to. This is because, rather than the brakes slowing you down, the electric motor is regenerating the mild hybrid system at the same time. It’s also able to run electric-only for 15 miles, although we didn’t try this.

Of all the units we tried, the all-new 2.0-litre TDi diesel with DSG transmission was the smoothest and most refined. Reduced diesel demand these days means it won’t be the top-seller of the Golf range, but the clever ‘twin-dosing’ system it’s fitted with should mean it’s cleaner than ever – although we’re waiting for final figures to confirm this.

On the road, Volkswagen have maintained the excellent ride/handling balance of previous generations of Golf – with an added level of agility. The steering has good weight and feel, the handling is tidy with minimal body roll, and there’s plenty of grip, although all models we tested were fitted with optional Dynamic Chassis Control. Comfort is probably the best mode for day-to-day driving, yet Sport is the more dynamic. However, the optional 17-inch wheels are best avoided as they firm up the ride too much.

Summing up, the eighth-generation Golf is a logical extension to the brand. But we’ll reserve final judgement as a fleet car until we’ve seen the UK-specific tech data and prices.

The Lowdown:

Key fleet model: 1.5 TSi 150 R Line
Strengths: Quality, high-tech interior, great to drive
Weaknesses: Digital cockpit and infotainment overcomplicated?

The Verdict:
Question marks over the digital cockpit and infotainment aside, the new Golf remains a high quality, small family fleet choice – that’s now even sharper to drive.

FW Star Rating: 4/5

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.