The latest Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI is about as good as family hatches get. Jonathan Crouch explains why.
Ten Second Review
If you're looking for an economical family hatch, start with the Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI and then consider other options. Chances are you'll come back to this model. With 150PS of grunt, 68.9mpg fuel economy and a chassis that delivers real fun, it's about as good as hatchbacks get.
"Just buy a Golf." It's a bit of advice usually doled out by motoring journalists who don't want to listen to another protracted 'What car should I buy?' diatribe over dinner. Yet there's a reason for it. Volkswagen Golfs have tended to be so reliably excellent that it's hard to go wrong following this line of reasoning. Yes, some have been a little dull, but in choosing Volkswagen's hardy perennial, you always knew you weren't going to be saddled with a lemon. Still, times change and in order to make sure that I was still doing a sterling service for dinner party guests before ushering them onto more stimulating topics of conversation, I decided to get behind the wheel of what might be the pick of the Golf range, the 2.0-litre TDI 150.
The TDI diesel and BlueMotion badges that adorn this car's sharply chamfered rump might lull you into thinking you're in for a soporific spell behind the wheel. That's far from the case. The common rail diesel sparks up with a bit of a chunter but settles down into a modest idle. It's not so smooth that you're going to forget which pump to pull up at but it's far better than the agricultural old VW Pump-Duse diesel engines. It's more flexible too. Where the old 2.0 TDI engine was an exercise in turbo lag and then a shortlived lunge as it spooled up, this latest 150PS unit offers its peak torque of 320Nm between 1750 and 3000rpm. It feels seriously muscular and it works really well with the DSG twin-clutch gearbox. Sport mode will plug you straight into the meat of the torque and will hold gears a little longer if you're coming into a corner. This Golf Mk 7 does corners really rather well. There's just enough movement in the body to signal clearly where the limits of grip are, but punt the car into a well-sighted bend and it feels like a decent hot hatch in its grip, steering response and body control. Its performance in a straight line is more warm than hot, making 62mph in 8.6 seconds on the way to a top speed of 134mph, but it's a car that's easy to flow along a decent road with. You rarely feel the weight of the diesel engine in the nose and the expensive multi-link rear suspension means that there's little bump and thump entering the cabin even on poorly-surfaced roads.
Design and Build
The clever MQB modular chassis not only offers Volkswagen the scope to run different models spun off it down the same production line, it also pares weight right back, such that this Golf Mk 7 rolls back the years. In fact, it's not significantly weightier than a Mk 4, despite boasting massively improved safety features and more interior equipment. It's miles bigger inside too. The driving position is almost unfeasibly adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position. The cabin's a little wider than before, which helps with elbow room, and there's also a bit more rear leg space which is a welcome touch. The boot measures a hefty 380-litres, is well shaped and features a low loading height. Quality is right where you'd expect it to be and there's been a notable effort to make the previously rather dour interior styling look a bit glitzier, with metallic finishes, the option of classy piano black fascia inserts and even an LED mood lighting strip in the doors. After all, Volkswagen couldn't have Hyundai interior looking more upmarket, could it?
Market and Model
A Golf with the 2.0-litre TDI 150 engine is priced from just under £22,000 for a manual three-door in SE trim and tops out at just over £25,000 for a GT trim with five doors and a DSG gearbox. That might sound quite a lot for a diesel Golf but this is one car that grows on you, impressing you day by day with the way it combines entertainment and sheer practicality. The SE model gets ADC (Automatic Distance Control), 16-inch Toronto alloy wheels, the Composition Media System, pre-crash preventive occupant protection and seats finished in black 'Zoom/Micro' cloth. Step up to a GT model and you'll find 17-inch Dijon alloy wheels, ambient lighting, the Discover satellite navigation system, front fog lights, parking sensors at front and rear and seats finished in black Alcantara/'Global' material. When you compare the prices for many rivals, you'll appreciate that this Golf actually works out cheaper than you might at first imagine.
Cost of Ownership
The Golf 2.0-litre TDI 150 in a typical five-door SE trim fitted with a manual gearbox makes an for an extremely affordable ownership experience. Even when put up against rivals from Vauxhall and Ford, the Golf works out markedly cheaper to own. Over a three year/36,000 mile ownership period, the Golf will cost 51 pence per mile to run, the Focus 2.0TDCi Zetec S will set you back 58 pence per mile while the Astra 2.0CDTi 165 stings you for 72 pence per mile. The Golf wins almost right across the board. It's cheaper to insure than these rivals, it gets much better fuel economy, residual values are way better and, believe it or not, it's even cheaper to service. Go for a manual car and it'll return 68.9mpg on the combined cycle, while a DSG-equipped model drops that to 62.8mpg. It's a similar story on emissions. A manual nets you 106g/km, while the twin-clutch version emits 131g/km. Stop/Start and battery regeneration systems help the Golf TDI 150 to these exemplary figures.
What more can you really ask for? With the Volkswagen Golf TDI 150, you get a car that's well built, has a decent amount of zip to its engine, handles really well and costs less than an equivalent Focus or Astra to own. By any measure, that would appear to be a slam dunk. At this point in the review, I normally balance things with a few caveats, explaining why the car is in fact, a few grades away from perfection. With the Golf, however, I'm struggling. About the only real complaints are the high-ish asking price, the clunky satellite navigation and the cheap, non-damped tailgate release. Other than that, it puts in a barnstormer of a performance. If you're shopping for a family hatch, try this one first. Try a few rivals afterwards but know that you've got a solid yardstick of excellence against which to gauge them. If you're not back at the Volkswagen dealer looking for a dotted line to sign, I'd be very surprised indeed. Save yourself the legwork. Just buy a Golf.