Road Test: Volkswagen Golf Life 1.5 TSI 130hp
The new generation Golf marks its most radical change in decades, but does it upset the apple cart? Jonathan Musk finds out.
SECTOR Lower Medium PRICE £23,900 FUEL 52.6mpg CO2 122g/km
There’s a saying in our industry that there’s nothing new anyone can write about the Volkswagen Golf. They’re the industry stalwart of the C-segment and the car that others are compared to. So reliable has the humble Golf badge become, that it’s difficult to understand why Volkswagen would ever choose to mix things up. Yet that’s exactly what the German company has done with this, the eighth generation.
And they have good reason to do so: the world is changing, as is the global automotive market – and that’s a comment made long before coronavirus became a household name. However, one thing that isn’t expected to change is the sales mix, with the majority (65%) of Golfs expected to go to fleets.
The world is transitioning to a more digital-focused era, while cars that were once only powered by petrol and diesel are quickly shifting in direction again to electric. Volkswagen has answered that with its new ID.3 electric car, which essentially replaces the Volkswagen e-Golf. That’s the first major change with the eighth-generation Golf, no fully electric version is on the cards. However, there will be a plug-in hybrid GTE version with the same horsepower output as the new GTI (both coming soon), as well as three new eTSI mild-hybrid engine choices.
But that’s all by-the-by, as what we have here is the regular non-electrified 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine with 130hp, with a good old-fashioned six-speed manual gearbox. That’s a plentiful amount of power for anyone’s needs and its silky smooth delivery makes it a refined driving experience. Fuel economy is officially rated at 52.6mpg average, but during a 60-mile motorway haul I easily managed 71mpg without even trying. On the dash are helpful hints and eco-driving tips that if followed genuinely do make a difference. These include being told (with no pleasantries) to lift one’s foot from the go-faster pedal, as the car detects that there is an impending junction ahead that it has calculated it would be more efficient to coast to. A more powerful 150hp version of this engine is available too, although other than a marginally faster acceleration there’ll be little to gain from it – the 130hp still accelerates from 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds.
CO2 is reasonable too, with 122 grams emitted for every kilometre travelled. This equates to 27% Benefit-in-Kind, which Volkswagen’s calculator tells me costs £103.82/month for someone on a 20% tax band, for the 2020/21 tax year.
“Life” is the car’s base trim (replacing the UK’s SE trim nomenclature with the European standard) and doesn’t lack much – priced from £23,900 – although the impressive new Discover Navigation Pro touch-screen definitely lifts the techno-interior enormously. This features a 10-inch touchscreen display, which accompanies the driver’s 10-inch instrument display, and has European sat nav, car info, DAB, twin-phone pairing, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to name but a few niceties. It sits in the middle of the centre console above a line of touch-sensitive buttons controlling climate control and volume, which is slightly precarious given the ease by which the wrong button can be all too easily prodded while on the move. Similarly, the screen is obscured by the steering wheel and driver’s left hand. Getting around this is the standard inclusion of “Hey Volkswagen” voice commands, which offer intuitive control and mean you don’t need to touch a thing.
This sets the trend, however, for the overall biggest noticeable change in the new Golf: the decimation of physical buttons. Volkswagen’s engineers have declared war on anything with tactile feedback and gone down the route of touch-sensitive digital buttons. In many ways, it clears the interior design beautifully, but it also seems unnecessary. One could argue this is just a resistance to change, but the point to be made is it feels as though Volkswagen has chosen certain things because it can, not because it should and the human element appears to have been slightly forgotten as a result. Finger tips haven’t evolved quite as fast as Volkswagen’s R&D team.
Other additions to the new Golf include the implementation of Car2X – the firm’s car-to-car wireless communication that allows for information sharing about and to traffic and infrastructure, and which is set to be an important aspect of future vehicles.
Aside from this, the Golf largely sticks to the same formula as before. It remains the same five-door hatchback that it ever was; a practical blend of practicality meets comfort, refinement and quality. But in some ways, this is also its Achilles heel, as it doesn’t move the game on at a time when the rest of the world (including Volkswagen) is pioneering new ideas in automotive.
The 1.5-litre manual offers everything a traditional fleet driver could ask for, but the Golf’s digital revelations in terms of layout and usability are sadly hit and miss. The mild-hybrid and forthcoming plug-in hybrid versions should suit the car more, however, and offer further fleet incentives.
Key fleet model: Volkswagen Golf Life, 1.5-litre eTSI 130hp
Strengths: Solid build quality, refined driving experience
Weaknesses: Bizarrely complicated with a lack of buttons