Volkswagen has reimagined what its Golf family hatchback should be, this eighth generation model packaged very differently from its predecessor. Under the skin, hybrid engineering is prevalent further up the range but for potential buyers, what will probably matter most is the distinctive new nose and the classy minimalist cabin. Loyal Golf owners will find lots to like here.
As one former Volkswagen Group Chairman once pointed out, 'the biggest mistake any Volkswagen Golf can make is to stop being a Golf'. Which is why the seven previous generation versions of this model have been marked by such gradual evolution. Visually though, this MK8 model certainly looks a little more distinct. Too much of a change? Only you can decide. In some ways, this eighth generation version isn't actually quite as much of a step forward as its predecessor. Most of the stuff you can't see is the same as before - the MQB platform and most of the engines for example. And the ground-breaking full-electric e-Golf is no more; Volkswagen wants to reserve full-battery-tech for its new ID family of models. Still, mild hybrid-tech features strongly and there are big steps forward in cabin design and quality. Sounds promising.
Most of the engineware in this Golf is carried over from before and as usual, gearboxes include the normal 6-speed manual and 7-speed DSG auto transmission options. The line-up starts with a 110PS 1.0-litre TSI petrol unit which is paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Order this base three cylinder unit in DSG auto form and it'll come with the brand's 48V eTSI mild hybrid tech. The volume part of the petrol range is built around Volkswagen's familiar 1.5-litre TSI EVO powerplant, developing either 130 or 150PS. The faster 150PS version of this unit makes 62mph from rest in 8.5s en route to a maximum of 139mph and if you order it with the optional 7-speed DSG auto transmission, you'll get that 'eTSI' mild hybrid tech we mentioned earlier. There's also a Golf GTE plug-in hybrid which mates a 1.4-litre TSI 150PS petrol engine with an 85kW electric motor, creating a total system output of 245PS, yet offering an all-electric WLTP-rated driving range of 40 miles. An alternative e-Hybrid model uses a 204PS version of this PHEV powertrain and has a 44 mile range. You'll search in vain for a full-electric version to replace the outgoing e-Golf: Volkswagen's ID.3 model covers off that niche. The MK8 Golf GTI hot hatch also offers 245PS from an uprated 'EA888 evo4' version of the usual 2.0 TSI turbo petrol powerplant. A 300PS version of this 2.0 TSI unit features in the Golf GTI Clubsport. Or you can have it with 320PS and 4MOTION four-wheel-drive in the top Golf R. Both these top sporting variants come only with 7 speed DSG auto transmission. If you want a diesel, you'll find that Volkswagen has improved its 2.0-litre TDI 150PS offering, plus, as before, there's a 115PS version of this same TDI powerplant for entry-level customers. At the top of the range, the same engine develops 200PS in the top Golf GTD. From an engineering perspective, this MK8 Golf, like its predecessor, uses the same front-wheel drive MQB platform, here updated so as to offer greater structural rigidity. As usual, there's the option of Volkswagen's 'DCC' 'Dynamic Chassis Control' adaptive damping system which works with a 'Driver Profile' driving modes system offering 'Eco', 'Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Individual' settings. And of course there's extra camera-driven tech, including an optional 'Travel Assist' system which combines Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane assist to allow 'hands-free' driving at speeds of 130mph. Which sounds vaguely alarming but which Volkswagen assures us is a significant safety aid.
From the front, you might think that this MK8 model line doesn't look especially 'Golf-like' with its lower nose and slimmer grille flanked by beady full-LED headlights. Different front bumper styling varies with different trim levels and the rear features a set of angular LED tail lamps. The rear hatch features the brand's latest logo above 'Golf' lettering and the arrow-shaped C-pillar design (a Golf signature feature since the fourth generation model) is carried forward onto this one. Dimensionally, this model is virtually the same size as its predecessor and as before, there's a choice of either five-door hatch or estate body styles. Inside, there's a radical difference over the previous model with a contemporary cabin dominated by a couple of screens. There's a 10-inch centre-dash infotainment monitor with the usual features - including 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring which can now be operated wirelessly. Complementing this is a 10.25-inch 'Digital Cockpit' TFT instrument display screen - the largest in the segment. Elsewhere, virtually all the traditional switches and buttons have made way for touch-sensitive ones - though buttons on the steering wheel and door panel do remain, as does the dash one for the hazard flashers. Rear seat space and boot capacity both remain much as before, so reasonably class-competitive.
To start with, there's a single five-door hatch body shape and just two trim levels, base 'Life' and plusher 'Style'. As we said earlier, there are three core engines - the 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre TSI units; and the 2.0 TDI EVO diesel (offered in 115 and 150PS guises). The Golf has always been one of the pricier options in the family hatchback segment - and it still is. You're looking at pricing in the £23,000-£35,000 bracket. In other words, this car, as before, has been price-positioned just above mainstream family hatch models like Ford's Focus and Vauxhall's Astra. And just below premium-badged family hatch contenders like BMW's 1 Series, Audi's A3 and the Mercedes A-Class. To combat the technology of ritzy models like these, this MK8 Golf arrives with quite a portfolio of optional semi-autonomous driving tech, including a 'Travel Assist' feature that allows the car to accelerate, steer and brake on motorways at speeds of up to 130mph. Standard equipment across the range includes a 10-inch centre-dash infotainment screen with an operating interface that responds to the command 'Hey Volkswagen', followed by whatever you want to ask. Also standard are the full-LED headlights and the 10.25-inch 'Digital Cockpit' instrument binnacle screen. Entry-level cars run on 16in wheels, but higher levels will gain 17-inch rims, plus extra ambient lighting options, chrome exhausts and leather trim options. Plush 'R-Line' models will get bespoke bumpers, trim elements and sports seats, with various similar tweaks featuring on the GTE version. Volkswagen also says that this MK8 Golf will be upgradeable, so if required, features like adaptive cruise control, light assist and a wi-fi hotspot can be added and enabled after you bought the car.
Let's get to the WLTP-rated efficiency stats. Across the range, fuel consumption is claimed to have improved by around 10%. The base 1.0 TSI petrol unit manages up to 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 121g/km of CO2. The mild hybrid 48-volt electrical system boosts the returns of the 1.0 eTSI DSG auto variant to 54.3mpg and 118g/km. This electrified set-up recovers energy that would otherwise be wasted when slowing down, redeploying up to 16hp and 25Nm of electric boost under acceleration. The 130PS version of the 1.5 TSI engine manages 53.3mpg and up to 121g/km. The top 150PS version of that 1.5 TSI petrol unit manages up to 51.4mpg on the combined cycle, with up to 124g/km of CO2 emissions, while the figures for the mild hybrid eTSI DSG auto variant are 49.6mpg and 129g/km. If you'd rather have one of the more conventional TDI diesel units, you'll find that both are cleaner than before, with changes claimed to cut CO2 emissions by 17%. The 2.0 TDI EVO 115PS unit manages up to 62.8mpg on the combined cycle, with up to 118g/km of CO2 emissions, figures that the faster 150PS version of this engine improves to 61.4mpg and up to 122g/km in DSG auto form. For the GTE plug-in hybrid, Volkswagen claims a combined fuel economy figure of 176.6mpg and emissions of 36g/km. For reference, the alternative Golf eHybrid 204PS version of this model manages 235.4mpg and 21g/km of CO2. Across the range, the car's coasting function (available with DSG auto transmission) aids the efficiency figures we've just mentioned. Even more significantly, a redesigned AdBlue delivery system cuts nitrogen oxide emissions across the TDI range by 80%. Volkswagen plans to introduce mild hybrid into these diesel units too in the near future. And warranties? Well the standard package is three years and 60,000 miles. We can't see why Volkswagen couldn't extend that mileage limit to 100,000 miles, since that what you get on its mechanically very similar Caddy model. Doing that though, wouldn't give Volkswagen dealers so much of an opportunity to sell extended warranty packages. There's one for four years and 75,000 miles or, if you plan to see a bit more of the world in your Golf, there's a five year / 90,000 mile package.
Where the MK7 Golf was radical in its engineering but conservative in its packaging, this MK8 model is the precise opposite. To some extent, it's a pattern we've seen before with this model line and in this case, the result is a very complete package. The Golf has always been slightly pricier than mainstream-branded family hatch rivals but lesser versions have sometimes struggled to justify that premium. With this eighth generation version, we venture to suggest that you'll feel much happier about parting with the extra cash. And you might even feel that this VW is a better home for your money than a pricier premium-branded model of this sort - the Audi A3 that shares nearly all of this car's engineering for instance. This is still, as a Golf always should be, a benchmark in its segment; a car that must feature highly on any family hatch buyer's shopping list. In short, this is still a Golf - with all the model line heritage, depth of engineering and inherent quality that this badge has come to represent. So nothing's changed. Even if everything seems different.