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First drive: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Highline. Image by Volkswagen.

First drive: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Highline
You weren't expecting anything other than a Golf, but more so? Good, 'cause that's what you're getting.


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Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Highline

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

It's a Golf. And those three words tell you probably more than the succeeding thousand-odd ever will. Honestly, you may as well just skip to the end, as nothing that follows below fundamentally changes the fact that the Volkswagen Golf, updated here in its seventh generation form, remains the most effortlessly desirable, quietly stylish, refined, comfortable and satisfying family cars around. There's a good reason that Volkswagen claims to sell one every 40 seconds around the world.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Highline
Pricing from: 19,465
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 115g/km (VED Band C 30 now, 160 if registered after April 1st 2017)
Combined economy: 55.3mpg
Top speed: 135mph
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Power: 150hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm at 1,500- to 3,500rpm

What's this?

Have there been changes for what we might call the Mark 7.5? Yes, but they're not massive. A tweak here. An update there. There are some significant new technology options, but if you're buying a mid-range Comfortline and not delving too deeply into the options list, they won't trouble you here.

Volkswagen claims that this is now the 'fully digitalised Golf' and there's something to that. The amount of computing power and data uplinks on which a Golf driver can now (optionally) call would make an Apollo engineer weep into his coffee. The Golf can now be had with full internet connection, a Wi-Fi hotspot of its own and a world of apps and add-ons that should please the more smartphone-obsessed amongst you. It can call for the emergency services if you have an accident, tell you what the weather is going to be like, how expensive petrol at the next available filling station is, spot pedestrians wandering into your path and slam on the brakes and even, when fitted with active cruise control, recognise that you've dozed off and, if you're too far asleep to hear the warning bells, bring things to a safe halt all by itself.

The access points for all this tech are new screens. Even the most basic S-model Golf will now come with a 6.5-inch central touchscreen as standard, and the top-spec display is now a 9.2-inch whopper. It looks impressive, and the graphics are very, very slick, but it's not all good news. The lack of a physical button for the radio volume is rather annoying (the touchpad volume control is really irritatingly fiddly) and the much-hyped 'gesture control' means that you can waggle your hands around in front of the screen to change the channel or track, but not much else. To be honest, it's more annoyance than convenience and seems, at first experience, more distracting than, I don't know, maybe a button? Car companies are desperately chasing tablets and phones in their systems, assuming that's what people want, but forgetting that physical switches are often a better ergonomic choice.

The big screen in front of you is better. It's an optional 12-inch all-digital instrument display (basically the same as the Audi Virtual Cockpit, but with Volkswagen-ised graphics) and it's great - bright and clear, a little cluttered at times depending on how you set it up, but actually quite useful. Good enough to make you wonder why we put up with physical clocks for so long. The rest of the cabin is unchanged and is comfortable, roomy and palpably well put together. Well, it is a Golf after all.

Outside, the changes are utterly minimal. There are new lights with LED signatures and the old Xenon option has been dropped in favour of full LED candlepower. The rear lights are all LED across the range, the bumpers have been tweaked, there are some new colours and wheels and that's your lot. With 33 million sales down the line, why would you mess with a winning formula?

There is a new engine choice though - a 1.5 TSI turbo petrol four-cylinder, which will, eventually, replace the 1.4 TSI. Later this year there will be a 64mpg-capable 130hp BlueMotion version of this engine, but for now you can have it in this 150hp form. It keeps the Cylinder-On-Demand technology from the old 1.4 (shutting off two cylinders under a light throttle load), but adds a hybrid-style coasting function and a new valve timing system, which can switch to the more efficient Miller Cycle mode when conditions are right.

How does it drive?

Well, it's a Golf. That means it's remarkably composed, refined and comfortable, with just enough feedback through the steering wheel and chassis to keep a keen driver on their game. There's nothing much exciting here, it must be said, but as always the Golf is a hugely satisfying car to drive, and one which makes long journeys a pleasure rather than a chore.

The steering lacks the incision of the Ford Focus', but it's nevertheless well-weighted and accurate, with a modicum of feel and feedback. As long as you avoid the most basic rear suspension, the ride quality is fine (although tyre noise from the rear remains noticeable) and you can fling the Golf about on a twisty road with some abandon.

The 1.5 TSI engine is, thus far, a bit of a mixed bag. We tried both DSG and manual versions, and the manual was by far the nicer. The DSG transmission seems to be losing its way slightly in recent years, and its shift patterns seems to exacerbate a faint flat-spot in the 1.5's power delivery, so the slick, slightly-notchy six-speed manual is definitely nicer. The 1.5 is mostly very refined, certainly at sane road speeds and around town - and if you've just stepped out of a diesel Golf, the silence will come as something of a shock. It gets a bit rough and harsh when revved to the redline though, so there's not much pleasure to be had from extending it too much. Fuel economy is at this point somewhat unproved. Volkswagen quotes better than 56mpg, but we didn't get it past 45mpg on the twisty, fast roads of Majorca. We'll find out more when we get to test this engine at home, on more familiar roads, later this year.

A short spin in the updated Golf GTI, however, reminded us just why we love the Golf so much. The GTI now comes with a 230hp 2.0 TSI engine as standard (the Performance Kit model stretches to 245hp) and it just feels wonderful. The steering is far more alive than that of the standard car, the chassis balance near-peerless and the engine responsive and enthusiastic, with a pleasingly gruff bark from the (partially faked) exhaust sound. Even in the face of such competition as the Ford Focus RS and the 310hp Golf R, the GTI remains one of the most perfect performance cars out there.


Are you one of those who skipped to this part? Good - because all you need to know is that this is still a Golf. For all of Volkswagen's travails in the past year, this is still one of the very best family cars you can buy. For most of us, the update will pass unnoticed because it requires a good delve into the options list to find all the new stuff, and in any case items such as gesture control are all but useless. The new 1.5 TSI engine is nice, but to be honest the best Golf is either a 1.0 TSI 110hp or the wonderful GTI. Plus ca change, as they obviously don't say in Wolfsburg.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Neil Briscoe - 4 Feb 2017    - Volkswagen road tests
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- Golf images

2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.

2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.2017 Volkswagen Golf. Image by Volkswagen.


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