No car where the new generation is looked forward to with as much anticipation as the Volkswagen Golf. For seven generations, it has been the unrelenting reference in the C-segment. I am wondering if this is still the case for the eighth generation? We checked it out using the mild hybrid 1.5 eTSI petrol engine.
The Golf has been one of Volkswagen’s most significant symbolic models for good reason since 1974. There is no other C-segmenter that scores equally in all categories without really excelling in anything—driving comfort? Solid, but the French do better. Driving dynamics? Solid, but the Ford Focus does better. Finish quality? Solid, but stablemate Audi does better. That reputation of consistently good scoring and German solidity explains its global success.
Who else belongs in that list of symbolic models? The Beetle, the Transporter, and if you ask VW itself, soon the all-electric ID.3. Indeed, Volkswagen’s first model on an independent electronic platform is not going to be an ordinary e-Golf, but a stand-alone model. So the question is to what extent this eighth generation of the Golf can break pots.
Visually, of course, it should come as no surprise that the Gulf is evolving barring. All lines are slightly sharpened, while the main differences are in the muzzle and the derriere. The light signature at the front and rear changes, and the Golf now spelled out its name completely under the central logo on the boot lid. Also, in terms of dimensions, the differences are limited: the length remains almost unchanged at 4.28 meters (compared to 4.26 meters before), the wheelbase remains completely the same at 2,636 millimeters.
This means that the space inside and in the trunk also remains the same as in its predecessor. After all, this Golf 8 stands on an evolution of its predecessor’s MQB platform. Nevertheless, for most road users, the changes seem sufficient to see that this is a new Golf, judging by the glances we saw gliding over our mouse grey test specimen during our test week.
Inside, it’s another pair of sleeves. The classic arrangement (analog counters, a center console with traditional buttons and buttons for climate control and an integrated infotainment screen) gives way to a digital revolution in Golf terms. From now on, the instrument panel is digital (10 inches) as standard, the infotainment screen is 8.25 inches as standard, and 10 inches as an option. The selector lever for the DSG gearbox is now small because there is no longer a mechanical link between the lever and the gearbox.
The finish quality in the previous generation Golf was at a high level, making this generation struggling to do visibly better and, therefore, what seems to be pedaling on the spot. But it is mainly the ergonomics that are problematic. We understand that the Golf wants to follow the trend from higher segments to hide everything behind the scenes and that Wolfsburg wants to be the first to introduce this to the mass manufacturers in the C-segment – although Peugeot, for example, has had this uncomfortable habit of doing the same with its climate control system for years.
But with the best will in the world, we don’t understand how a system of sliding and sliding, and of separate buttons to open the climate control sub-menu, is better than a classic system with buttons that you find and operate blindly. It looks sleek and slick, and the marketing department dictates that we all want to swing and pinch, but that’s where it stops.
Is the bar too high?
There is also room for improvement in the smoothness of the screens’ operation, which follows the path taken by the Touareg before the Gulf. The time the system takes to think at start-up suggests that Volkswagen wanted to offer all digital functions but should have invested more in them. Nor is voice control on the same level as, for example, the MBUX from Mercedes.
Don’t get us wrong: the new Golf is quite capable of everything, but over the years, it has set the bar so high for itself that it stands out all the more when something isn’t at that high level. It does indicate that the Golf has become much more digital underneath than you would indicate on the outside. The Volkswagen communicates with its surroundings, updates new software and gadgets that you order afterward – or that VW can only offer later – keeps you even longer and tighter on the course when things threaten to go wrong, and is even more of an extension of your smartphone than before.
Free from criticism
What this new Volkswagen Golf has done fine and without criticism is the mild hybrid 1.5 eTSI. The four-pit 150 hp is coupled to a belt-driven starter/generator with a 48-volt circuit and a DSG gearbox with seven gears. We now know the adage: recover energy when braking, switch off the internal combustion engine a little earlier and switch it back on later at the lights, and a small boost when accelerating.
On paper, this results in a sprint to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds, a WLTP consumption of 5.7 l/100 km, and CO2 emission of 130 g/km according to the same measurement method (106 g/km for the NEDC figures among us). In practice: a test average of 6.6 l/100 km and a 1.5 eTSI that is easy to handle and discreet in all traffic situations. Especially at the bottom of the revs, the light electro-pressure is noticeable. Volkswagen has tinkered with the sound insulation and made the steering a bit smoother. But don’t be mistaken: it all remains good, businesslike and safe, with an everyday pleasant driving comfort with the stiff German edge.
Cost of all that? Thirty-one thousand seven hundred sixty euros, with a modest budget for options if you want to take full advantage of all the novelties. Although, as said, you can still download and ‘unlock’ some of the options afterward. That’s quite a wave, especially if you know that the new Audi A3 with 1.5 TFSI of 150 hp also costs 31 700 euros. The mild-hybrid variant will follow there later. A Seat, the new Leon with 1.5 eTSI of 150 hp, costs 27 685 euros.
Is this eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf again the reference in the C-segment? Yes, it will introduce a lot of new technology into the more democratic battlefield of mass manufacturers. But in its elaboration, it seems as if the unwavering reference has dropped a few stitches. As if their minds were already somewhere else in Wolfsburg. But if consumers can appreciate that the new Golf bets on two horses, with a cautious stylistic evolution on the outside and a drastic digital revolution on the inside, its success seems guaranteed once again.