The Golf is the car that everyone else in the family hatchback market has to beat. Whether we’re talking Corolla or Focus, Megane or 308, i30 or Ceed — this is the biggie, the car that defines the segment. For this eighth generation (35-million-or-so sales and counting) VW has basically kept the structure of the previous Golf 7 (with some minor updates and a little bit of weight-saving thrown in) and plonked a new, smoother-looking body on top (still recognisably a Golf though) and a high-tech new cabin on the inside. Basic dimensions are unchanged, so you still get decent legroom and headroom front and rear, and a reasonable 380-litre boot (in other words, all you really, actually, need for most purposes).
You’ll be able to choose from petrol (1.0- and 1.5-litre turbos) and diesel (just two 2.0-litre offerings for now), but there’s no replacement for the all-electric e-Golf this time around (thanks to the arrival of the new ID.3 electric hatchback). You will be able to get mild-hybrid versions of the petrol engines though, which should help to save a bit of fuel.
The new interior looks and feels great (apart from a couple of cheap-feeling plastic panels) with all-digital instruments and a big central touchscreen standard across the range.
How is it to drive?
It depends on which version you’re driving. As with the Ford Focus, VW is going to offer the Golf 8 with two rear suspension setups. Basic cars, those with engines pumping out less than 150hp, get a cheaper-to-make torsion bar rear suspension. Pricier versions, those with 150hp or more, get a more sophisticated, more expensive, multi-link rear end. Thus far, we’ve only been allowed to drive the more sophisticated version, but the news is good — very good.
While the pricier rear end doesn’t turn the Golf into a sports car, it has a remarkably good balance of comfort and agility. It also sticks like glue to a chosen cornering line, which will keep enthusiasts happy. The steering is a little light, but it gets better if you put it in Sport mode. It’s also refined and quiet when cruising on the motorway.
Of the engines, the 1.5 eTSI turbo petrol with mild hybrid is ultra-smooth, and has good performance, but might be a bit thirstier than you think. The 2.0-litre 150hp TDI diesel is a terrific engine (even if diesel is less than fashionable right now) with punchy performance and good refinement.
When is it coming to Ireland?
The Golf 8 will land here in March, with prices starting from approximately €24,900 for a basic 1.0-litre TSI petrol with 90hp. The Golf 8 gets new trims, starting with a basic ‘Golf’ and then moving up through Life, then Style, and on to range-topping R-Line. That basic price is about the same as that of the current cheapest Golf, but standard equipment improves with digital instruments, a bigger touchscreen, LED headlights, connected features and ‘always on’ internet connection, plus keyless push-button ignition. Later in 2020 we’ll see sporty GTI, GTD and R models, as well as a choice of two plug-in hybrid variants.
Any juicy technology?
Oh yes, but much of it will be on the options list. The new Golf will have the option of a package of advanced driver aids that will keep you in your lane and take care of braking and accelerating on the motorway. You can also spec it with sophisticated Matrix LED headlights (which dip automatically when they see oncoming traffic) and a ‘Car-to-X’ communications system that can take in warnings from motorway control systems and even other cars if there’s a hazard on the road ahead.
Volkswagen hasn’t taken any big risks with the new Golf (which does leave us feeling slightly as if it’s not a big enough step over the old one), but it remains a classy, ultra-capable choice. The new cabin looks smart, the chassis still feels good and it’s just as desirable as ever.
Words by Neil Briscoe