What stands out?

The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is an all-round convincing small hatchback and wagon, combining comfort with rewarding steering and handling. All versions, especially the GTI and R hot hatches perform strongly, and their turbocharged engines use very little fuel. Broadly effective auto braking is standard and options extend to a customisable digital instrument panel.

This Golf ‘Mk7.5’ will soon be replaced by the eighth-generation model so look out for good deals.

What might bug me?

Driving at less than 80km/h on the space-saver spare, until you can fix your full-size flat tyre.

Driving auto Golfs in stop-start traffic. The dual-clutch transmissions fitted to Golf automatics do not provide the fluid, elastic take-up from rest that you get from a traditional automatic gearbox or a CVT.

If you're after an all-wheel-drive Golf Alltrack wagon, perhaps the fact there is no longer the powerful yet economical diesel version.

What body styles are there?

Five-door hatchback, and five-door wagon.

The wagon body is about 300mm longer than the hatchback body. Most of the extra length is in the boot, but you get a wee bit more space in the cabin too – and there is an extra 15mm between the front and rear axles.

The Golf 110TSI and GTI models are front wheel drive, while the 132TSI Alltrack high-riding wagon and Golf R hot hatch and wagon drive all four wheels.

Golfs are classed as small cars, lower priced.

What features do all Volkswagen Golfs have?

A sound system with an AM/FM radio, inputs via Aux, USB and SD card, Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming, and eight speakers, controllable from an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen.

Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which work with Apple and Android phones. If you plug your phone in through the USB socket, many of its apps – including mapping and music – are mirrored on the touchscreen display and can be controlled from there.

Cruise control, with a speed limiter (you can set an upper limit, to help avoid speeding fines).

City-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, multi-collision brake that ensures the Golf doesn’t move after a collision, and front and rear manoeuvre braking that stops the Golf at very low speeds – this is great for preventing you hitting a hidden object while parking.

Driver fatigue alert

Height and reach adjustment for the leather-wrapped steering wheel, from which you can operate the audio system, your phone, a driver-information display on the instrument panel, and the cruise control. Height adjustment for both front seats, and driver’s seat lumbar adjustment

A reversing camera, with guidelines, and front- and rear-parking sensors.

Wheels made from aluminium alloy (which are lighter than steel wheels, and look good without plastic trim discs). Anti-theft wheel bolts, and a space-saver spare wheel with speed and distance restrictions.

Tyre pressure sensors. These tell you when a tyre has lost pressure, so that you can stop driving on it and have it repaired before it goes flat.

Daytime running lights that are illuminated by very long-lasting LEDs, and LED tail-lights.

Heated and power-adjustable external mirrors.

Rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which can help you recover from a skid. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Golf safety features, please open the Safety section below.)

All Golfs are warrantied for five years, with no limit on kilometres travelled over that period.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

There are four turbocharged-petrol engines available in a Golf, ranging from the economical 1.4-litre 110TSI, through to the Alltrack’s 1.8-litre 132TSI and the powerful 2.0-litre engines in the Golf GTI and Golf R hot hatches.

With diesel engines no longer available, the 110TSI is the most economical, consuming as little as 5.4 litres/100km with the seven-speed DSG (dual-clutch) automatic transmission in the official test (city and country combined).

This is the only engine available in the standard Golf hatchback or wagon variants and is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or DSG (dual-clutch) automatic transmission. The manual hatch consumes 5.7 litres/100km while the heavier automatic wagon drinks 5.6 litres/100km.

One reason you would not choose the 110TSI is because you want the more rugged Golf Alltrack Wagon, which has the powerful 132kW 132TSI engine that comes standard with a six-speed DSG automatic that drives all four wheels and returns about 6.8 litres/100km on the test.

Another reason is if you prefer one of the high-performance Golf variants including the legendary Golf GTI whose 2.0-litre engine sends 180kW/370Nm to the front wheels via a sportier seven speed DSG auto. This consumes about 6.5 litres/100km on the official test, though expect that number to rise when driving the GTI in the spirit it’s intended.

The most powerful engine in the Golf range is the 213kW/380Nm 2.0-litre in the Golf R flagship that brings all-wheel-drive traction via a seven-speed DSG. It’s available in hatch or wagon versions that consume 7.2 and 7.3 litres/100km respectively.

As well as being the most affordable Golf, the 110TSI Trendline manual is a very enjoyable car to drive, with sporty, short-shifting gearbox that makes it a good budget alternative to the GTI.

The DSG automatic transmissions offered with all other Golfs operate more like a computer-controlled manual gearbox than like a traditional automatic. That fluid, elastic feeling with which a traditional auto moves off from a standstill is missing, replaced by a power take-up that can feel more abrupt - especially if you need to lift off and reapply power at low speeds.

Once on the move however, DSG shifting is exceptionally smooth and fast – and the design is very fuel-efficient.

(Power outputs and all other Golf specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly Golf, the 110TSI Trendline, has cloth-covered seats, manually controlled air-conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, the petrol engine, and the features found in every Golf. The manual gearbox is standard, with the auto an extra-cost option.

The 110TSI Trendline wagon comes only with the automatic gearbox and adds roof rails and a luggage partition net.

Spend more again on a 110TSI Comfortline hatch or wagon and you get more appealing cloth trim on the seats, and various cosmetic touches inside that lift the feel of the cabin. There is satellite navigation, which responds to voice commands. Dual-zone climate control maintains independent ventilation temperatures for the driver and front passenger. Auto transmission is standard (and the only option).

Optional on all automatic Trendline all Comfortline Golfs is a $1500 Driver Assistance Package that brings several active driver aids including adaptive cruise control, which will slow you automatically to match the speed of a car ahead on the highway – resuming your preset speed when the way is clear. You also get lane-keeping assistance, a blind-spot monitor, and a rear cross-traffic alert, and park assist, that will automatically steer your Golf into a parking spot, among other features.

If you want more luxury, you can pay still more for a Golf 110TSI Highline hatch or wagon, which brings you Vienna leather trim in the cabin, comfort sports seats with improved hip bolstering, heated and power-adjustable front seats, and a memory for the driver’s seat and exterior mirrors (which makes it easy to restore your adjustments after a companion has driven the car).

You can unlock your Golf Highline and drive away without removing its proximity key from your pocket or bag. Headlights use very bright and long-lasting LEDs, and there are front fog-lamps for extra light when needed. A powered glass sunroof can help you enjoy the car on fine days.

The Highline also includes the active safety features found in the Driver Assistance package including adaptive cruise control and park assist.

The Golf Alltrack wagon brings the more powerful 132TSI engine and ‘4Motion’ all-wheel drive. It comes with features found in the Comfortline plus front fog-lights, LED ambient interior lighting, and power-folding exterior mirrors. You can also add the Driver Assistance Package to the Alltrack for about $1200.

The Alltrack Premium comes with Driver Assistance package and the luxury items found in the Highline including Vienna leather trim, heated front seats, electrically adjustable driver's seat with memory function, and exterior mirrors with memory function. It also has LED headlights.

The Golf GTI comes with the more powerful 2.0-litre engine, seven-speed DSG auto and Driver Assiatance Package as standard, and most of the features found in the Comfortline spec. Extras include iconic Clark tartan sport cloth seats, GTI body styling, 18-inch alloy wheels, and performance features including front and rear ventilated disc brakes, adaptive chassis control, and gearshift paddles.

The Golf R hatch and wagon bring more power and luxury over the GTI hatchback with the more powerful 2.0-litre engine, and the same interior trim and comfort levels as the Golf Highline. You also gain a 9.2-inch infotainment system and digital gauge cluster, LED headlights that point into corners, automatic high-beams, R body styling, 19-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, metallic or pearl paint as standard.

Option packages

As well as the Driver Assistance package there are several ways to add more features to your Golf.

These include the Sound and Vision Package for the Comfortline, Highline and Alltrack Golfs ($2300) which expands the central touchscreen to 9.2 inches (with control by gesture available), and supplies a more powerful sound system with bass-boosting sub-woofer. It replaces the conventional dashboard gauges with a digital display, which permits you to emphasise the information you need most, and customise its presentation.

An R-Line Package, available only to Golf Highline customers for about $2500, and brings fancier 18-inch wheels, firmer suspension, progressive speed-sensitive steering, tinted windows, and sportier aesthetics inside and out.

For about $2500 you can add Sport Luxury Package to the Alltrack Premium that adds 18-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel mounted gearshift paddles, panoramic electric glass sunroof and tinted windows.

The Golf GTI Sound and Style package costs about $2300 and brings 19-inch alloy wheels, 9.2-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and the premium sound system.

There is also a Luxury Package for the GTI that for about $3900 adds Vienna leather appointed upholstery, heated front seats, power-operated drivers seat and exterior mirrors each with memory function, and panoramic sunroof.

The Golf R has most of the above features as standard, though you can add the premium sound system ($1000) and/or panoramic sunroof ($1900) separately.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The 18-inch wheels that come with the extra-cost R-Line package look great, but their lower profile tyres give a rougher ride, and they may cost more to replace.

The only standard colour is white. All others are extra-cost options.

How comfortable is the Volkswagen Golf?

In many areas the Golf is the best small hatch for the money, and those areas include interior quality and equipment. Even the least costly version makes a good impression, with an ergonomically excellent steering wheel wrapped in leather, comfortable cloth seats, and classy cabin design.

The Golf's driving position does not follow the typical small hatch pattern of favouring those with short legs and long arms, and the front compartment offers a comfortable place for driver and passenger alike. Second-row comfort and space, while not quite as generous as in some other small cars, are enough to keep most adults happy.

About town, the Golf is a breeze to drive with smooth, light steering and a good view of surroundings from the driver’s seat. Cabin noise levels are about the same as in many other small cars. Engine noise is low, which helps you relax in the cabin when cruising.

This also applies to the Golf GTI and R versions that can dial back their aggression to offer comfortable and sedate daily drive through town, even on their firmer suspension and low profile tyres.

Opt for the Infotainment Package and the bigger 9.2-inch touchscreen looks luxurious and is easier to use than the standard 8.0-inch unit. It is complemented by a 12-inch digital instrument cluster, the Active Info Display, which can also show navigation instructions – so that you don’t have to look across to the touchscreen.

What about safety in a Golf?

Every Golf comes with anti-lock brakes, stability control, seven airbags, tyre pressure monitors, a reversing camera, LED daytime running lights, auto emergency braking, and a driver fatigue monitor.

That is a first-class package for a popular small car, enhancing safety on many fronts.

The airbags are in the usual places: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; a third protecting the driver’s knees; an airbag outside each front occupant at chest level to protect from side impacts; and a curtain airbag extending down each side of the car at head level, protecting front and rear occupants from side impacts.

The standard auto-braking on a Golf operates at city and highway speeds, Volkswagen says. The radar-based system scans the road ahead for obstacles, warns you of potential collisions, and can apply the brakes automatically if it concludes a collision is imminent.

Called Front Assist and City Emergency Brake, the auto-braking works in two stages. At speeds under 30km/h, it will initiate a full emergency stop should you ignore its collision warning. At higher speeds it will follow audible and visible warnings with a jolt from the brakes – implying it is time you started braking yourself. Should you ignore that, it will brake automatically with the aim of quickly reducing your speed.

The standard fatigue alert assesses your work on the steering wheel, warning you if you show signs of falling asleep.

To most Golfs you can add at extra cost a Driver Assistance Package that gets you Adaptive cruise control and three more sensor-based driver aids: lane-keeping assistance, a blind-spot monitor, and a rear cross-traffic alert.

Lane Assist uses a camera-type sensor to check your position on the highway in relation to road markings. If it concludes you are about to drift into an adjacent lane, it will attempt to gently steer you out of trouble – also vibrating the steering wheel to wake you up if required. The point is to help you keep your mind on the job of driving, reducing the risk from distraction or fatigue.

The blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert look rearward. The former effectively extends the range of your mirrors, helping you keep track of traffic near your rear corners. The latter is helpful when you are attempting to reverse blindly from a car-park: it warns you if another vehicle is heading your way from the side.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Golf its maximum safety score of five stars, most recently in July 2017.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

For the enthusiastic driver, the Golf offers one of the most rewarding chassis and suspension set-ups available in a popular small car. Steering is precise and communicative, and roadholding inspires confidence – thanks largely to a well-designed, independent, rear suspension. Body-roll is minimal.

Both the 110TSI and 132TSI engines are very drivable with their good if not outstanding ability to gather speed balanced by their lively dynamics. The dual clutch automatic gearbox does take a bit of time to really get to know it – after all, it's still a manual at heart, and as such will behave as such when it comes to pausing and taking off at traffic lights. It’s easily manageable after some experience, though.

There are more powerful small cars available, but if it's performance you’re after you can upgrade to the sporty GTI or R versions.

On the road the Golf GTI immediately feels right. All the controls feel exactly as you’d expect them to. It’s a very entertaining drive, with accurate steering, strong brakes and a pleasing level of adjustability in the chassis. It can be driven very hard with confidence.

The Golf R ups the ante with additional power and the all-wheel-traction that helps further inspire confidence and improve handling on wet roads or gravelly roads.

At the other end of the scale, the Golf Alltrack’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive has surprisingly capable off-road manners and ability that far outstrips some high-riding SUVs. You can negotiate varied road surfaces via the Driving Profile Selector with hill-descent control helping you with braking down steep and slippery slopes.

It’s let down a little by its sporty wheels which seem out of place off road and also add to road-noise. Smaller diameter wheels with chunkier tyres would be an improvement.

All Golf versions are satisfying to live with day to day. You can appreciate the fine styling and general quality even when it they’re parked on the driveway.

How is life in the rear seats?

Some other small hatchbacks and wagons offer more room in the back, but the Golf here remains pleasant and practical and has enough headroom and leg room for adults.

Wide-opening doors make life easier for loading kids and cargo.

Isofix child seat anchors are provided, as well as conventional seatbelts for up to three rear passengers.

Some hatchbacks inhibit vision out for children with a rising window-line. The Golf in contrast offers a decent side-view, which will keep kids happier on long drives, without compromising the generally appealing exterior look.

How is it for carrying stuff?

Golf hatchbacks offer 380 litres of cargo space behind the rear seats, which is quite a lot for a car of this type. Fold the 60-40 split seats and quoted capacity rises to 1270 litres.

The longer wagon lets you squeeze in a lot more, with a 605-litre boot that expands to 1620 litres.

There are hooks in the boot for tying down your load. The boot floor height can be adjusted: the taller setting eases unloading, while the lower lets you get more stuff in.

Golfs can legally tow a braked trailer weighing up to 1500kg, and diesels 1600kg. All Golf wagons also come with factory-fitted roof bars, which make it easy to add roof racks or storage pods.

Where does Volkswagen make the Golf?

All Golf 7.5s sold in Australia are made in Germany.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Not much. The Golf is well specified for a car at its price level and covers most bases from affordable hatchback to all-wheel-drive wagons and hot hatches.

One thing the Golf range does lack is a sedan as found with the Kia Cerato, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra and Skoda Octavia.

Maybe a manual gearbox in the hot hatch versions, as available in a Hyundai i30 N, Honda Civic Type R, Peugeot 308 GTi, Renault Megane RS, and Subaru WRX STi.

The Ford Focus is another direct rival to the Golf that features hatch and wagon versions.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

It's hard to go wrong with any Golf – at either end of the price range, or in the middle.

The more affordable Golf 110TSI Trendline is a tidy package and you can have a manual gearbox or (at extra cost) auto. We’d suggest spending the extra $1500 on the Driver Assistance Package.

That said, at the other end of the price range a Golf Highline is also very appealing. And even if you add to it the R-Line and Infotainment packs, you’ll pay about as much as you would spend for the cheapest Audi A3.

Of the performance versions, it’s hard to go past the GTI that has all the equipment you need and still offers a pure driving experience even without the manual gearbox.

Are there plans to update the Golf soon?

Yes. The current Golf, which Volkswagen calls the Golf 7.5, arrived in July 2017. It is a facelifted Golf 7, with a revised (and reduced) range of engines, bigger touchscreens, and extended options and driver aids.

The Golf 7 (denoting the seventh generation) first went on sale in 2013. An update that arrived in the third quarter of 2015 brought slightly more power to the 1.4-litre petrol engines, with matching changes to the model names: the 90TSI gained 2kW and became the 92TSI, while the 103TSI gained 7kW and was renamed the 110TSI. That update also equipped the Golfs with new touchscreens, better multimedia features (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), and more equipment on some models.

The updated Golf GTI and Golf R versions about the middle of August 2017.

The 110TDI and 135TDI diesel engines were dropped from the range in August 2018.

Volkswagen’s eighth-generation 2020 Golf Mk8 was unveiled in Germany in October 2019 and is expected to arrive in Australia in the middle of 2020 with a GTI version, with the all new Golf R expected several months later.