After seven generations and with total sales now well over 35 million units, Volkswagen has launched the latest Golf. Number 8. The statistics are remarkable enough on their own, but there’s an extra sense of occasion about this new Golf for reasons that go beyond the car itself.
As the Golf has been around for longer than most people on planet Earth have been alive, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which Volkswagen isn’t churning them out by the thousands each and every day. But VW has bet big on the EV revolution and pretty much all their medium to long term planning involves electric cars. And with the recent launch of their ID.3 fully electric car which is decidedly Golf-sized, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Golf has a lot more days behind it than in front. But what’s in a name, right? Volkswagen practically invented the family hatchback and there’s little doubt that they’ll continue to be a major force in the segment.
Whether or not the eight generation will be the last, it’s clear as soon as you step into the new Golf that they’ve taken no half measures to modernise the model up to the latest standards and beyond. Analog knobs and switches appear to have been banished from the interior altogether, in fact. There have been times when you could hardly tell one generation of the Golf from the next but that’s definitely not the case here both inside and out. The front and rear of the car have been considerably redesigned and even the VW logo itself has had an update. A fairly subtle one though, it must be said.
Compared to the previous Golf the new one feels like it’s from a different century on the inside. There’s a big screen right in front of you in the dashboard and another one to your right for the infotainment. That might sound pretty standard for a contemporary car but the way they’ve designed and integrated it all is very sleek indeed. VW is calling this a “digital revolution” which sounds about right but it might not necessarily appeal to everyone. Touchscreens are still a tad devisive especially among those of retirement age. There’s also gesture control, but that’s probably even harder to use for most. Fortunately, you can also just talk to your new Golf now. Just start a sentence with “Hello Volkswagen” and tell it whatever you’d like to change.
You don’t even have to tell it exactly what to do, you can say you’ve got cold feet for example and it will increase the temperature in the footwell for you. And because it has a clever microphone setup it can tell whether it’s the driver or passenger who is talking, and adjust settings only on that side of the car. If you like complaining about things (guilty as charged) then the fact that you can now nag your car about stuff will be a big step forward. You don’t even need a passenger anymore to absorb your negative energy. Thanks VW!
With some luck the next step forward in AI technology will allow us to have a conversation with our car about how badly everyone else is driving. So that when you shout profanities at other road users (which they obviously can’t hear) at least you’ve got your car to agree with you. You know, positive reinforcement. Anyway, bottom line the new Golf is jam packed with tech and the best part is that it’s there from the cheapest models onwards. It’s not limited to high specification cars, which really adds to the value for money. The materials and build quality are top notch too, giving the car a positively classy vibe on the inside. It’s not edgy or frivolous — aside perhaps from the function that lets you change the colour theme of the screens as well as the ambient lighting — but it really is lovely.
The Golf may be the mature grown up among hatchbacks, but it has nevertheless always had a reputation for great handling. The new one is no exception. There’s loads of grip, superb body control and pretty good steering feel to let you know what’s going on. But of course we’ll have to wait for the superlative GTI and R models to find out what it’s like when the sportiness is dialed up a couple of notches. As far as engines go, it turns out that the Russian market is a bit of a special case as it gets to keep the same engines that powered the previous generation. There’s the basic 1.6 litre naturally aspirated one which can be had with either the 6-speed manual gearbox or the 6-speed automatic. The more powerful choice is the 1.4 turbocharged unit which only comes with the 8-speed automatic. Unlike the European versions, the automatics are not dual-clutch DSG type but rather a traditional automatic which uses a torque converter setup. There’s a couple of electrified hybrid Golfs for sale in Europe but none of those seem to be coming to Russia in the foreseeable future either. It seems to be just a matter of (no) demand.
Of course as I attended the European launch in Portugal, the cars that I actually got to drive had slightly different engines from the ones that you’ll be able to buy in Russia. I don’t think that’s much of an issue as in all fairness the engines of the “regular” spec’d Golfs are never going to be the centre piece. They do their job smoothly and quietly and with sufficient power and that’s probably the only thing that the average buyer will care about. Performance and character are only really relevant to the yet-to-be-released sportier models which will use a larger and much more powerful turbocharged 2 litre engine.
The overarching impression I got when driving the Golf is that it feels like much more car than its size suggests. You wouldn’t for a moment think that you’re driving anything less than a premium mid-size German car. It’s quiet and comfortable on the move, providing an experience very much on par with something like a BMW 2 or even 3 series. It’s hard to fault it on anything at all dynamically, in fact. It’s just really good. Like the previous Golf and the one before that. Just slightly better each time. Volkswagen have pretty much perfected the recipe over the course of the past 4 decades, and they’ve held nothing back for this latest one.