Volkswagen Golf Mk8 (2020-2021) Expert Review
For only the eighth time since 1974, there is a brand new Volkswagen Golf. Closely related to the hugely popular family car it replaces, the new Golf introduces a raft of connected technologies and driver assistance systems, as well as more distinctive front end styling. The very modern interior is new, but the way the car drives will be familiar to mk7 owners upgrading to this new model.
- Five-door hatchback
The new Golf isn’t quite as new as VW would have you believe, not least because the basic platform at its core and many of the engines are carried over from the previous model. You can therefore think of this new version as more of a comprehensive facelift than a complete clean-sheet redesign.
The mk8 looks rather a lot like the mk7 from the rear, but the frontal styling is sufficiently different to mark the new model out from the old one. Whether it’s actually better looking is another matter altogether. Within the cabin, a pair of 10-inch digital displays (which come fitted as standard to all new Golfs in the UK) take centre stage in a clean, minimalist dashboard layout. There are precious few physical buttons, the infotainment and ventilation controls now either buried within the central touchscreen or relocated to a trio of (slightly awkward) touch-sensitive sliders just beneath it.
The interior is every bit as spacious as before, but no more so (a result of that carried over platform), while build and material quality are still good, but no longer outstanding for the class. With no all-new platform to get busy with, VW has focused its efforts on a new suite of connected technologies and driver assistance systems. One such function is called Car2X, which enables the new Golf to communicate with local traffic and roadside infrastructure to warn the driver of hazards in the road ahead, traffic jams and even approaching emergency vehicles.
VW calls this the ‘digital Golf’. Among the driver assistance systems are familiar programmes such as lane keep assist. That particular system has its uses, but many drivers will find themselves habitually switching it off at the start of each journey. There’s also traffic sign recognition, an automatic speed warning (which can also be switched off), adaptive cruise control, and forward hazard detection.
The Golf is available firstly as a five-door hatchback. Whereas a three-door model was available last time out, there’ll be no such version of the mk8. A five-door estate will follow in due course, however, for added practicality.
There are various powertrains from which to choose, including three petrols and two diesels. This line up will expand in the coming months and years, particularly as the high-performance GTI and R models are introduced. Although there’ll be no full EV model, VW will soon bring to market a plug-in hybrid. Meanwhile, mild hybrid versions of the certain petrol models are available from launch. There is a six-speed manual gearbox and seven-speed DSG (dual-clutch) automatic gearbox to pick from.
In terms of the way the Golf drives, there’s been almost no progress from mk7 Golf to mk8. That’s not necessarily a criticism given the previous model was perhaps the best family hatchback you could buy, although with rival car makers such as Seat, Ford, Audi and Honda all making substantial improvements with their own hatchback offerings, the Golf is no longer the clear class leader.
Three Things To Know
- The most basic versions of the VW Golf use front-wheel drive and a simple and cheap torsion beam rear suspension arrangement (the same was true of the mk7). Meanwhile, higher-spec models feature a more sophisticated multi-link rear end. For some people that won’t matter one bit, but keener drivers will appreciate the improved ride quality the multi-link arrangement confers. Be sure to choose a Style-specification car as a minimum if you’d rather your Golf came fitted with the better of the two rear suspension layouts.
- In UK trim levels, entry-level Golfs are badged Life (in other markets there’s a trim that sits beneath Life, but there are no plans for it to be offered here). Next comes Style, followed by R-Line. These are broadly comparable with the SE, SEL and R-Line badging on other VW models. The company expects the Life version to be the best-seller, most of those being fitted with the mid-range 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol engine that develops 128bhp.
- The sporty Volkswagen Golf GTI, GTD, GTE and R models are on their way, but until then the powertrain line-up features three petrol and two diesel units. The petrol range starts with a 1.0-litre turbo that delivers 109bhp, followed by the 128bhp 1.5-litre turbo. This engine does also have a more powerful sibling, which develops 148bhp. There are mild hybrid versions of all three petrols. The diesel line-up, meanwhile, consists of a pair of 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesels developing either 113bhp or 148bhp.
- Unlike it's predecessor, there's no all-electric e-Golf version of the mk8. Buyers instead can opt for VW's electric ID.3.
Which One to Buy
- If you’re on a strict budget: the cheapest, most basic Golf is a Life model with the 1.0-litre petrol engine. Just make sure its 109bhp will be sufficient for the sort of driving you mostly do (that amount of power will be perfectly adequate around town, but may feel a touch undernourished on the open road).
- If you want to save at the pumps: the less powerful of the two diesel engines officially returns 68.8mpg on the combined cycle. However, if you drive fewer miles than most, a petrol version might prove to be cheaper to buy and run.
- If you live in the city: pick one of the hybrids. The mild hybrid powertrains don’t offer any electric-only range, but they do help to reduce emissions and fuel consumption. When the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE arrives during the second half of 2020, it’ll become the pick of the range for town driving.
- If you’re a petrolhead at heart: with 242bhp and completely reengineered suspension, the GTI promises to be a thrilling hot hatch (while also being perfectly usable day-to-day). An even more powerful four-wheel-drive Golf R variant will arrive later in 2020 with, according to rumours, a mighty 329bhp. Finally, if you’re a keen driver who also values good fuel efficiency, check out the 197bhp diesel-powered Golf GTD.
Even the most powerful of the 1.5 TSI petrol engines (in theory the least fuel efficient engine in the line-up, bar the sporty models) should return fuel economy of just over 50mpg, says VW. Of course, when the high-performance variants arrive, they’ll do so with rather more of an appetite for fuel than that – you shouldn’t expect any more than 30mpg in mixed driving from a Golf GTI, for instance.
Meanwhile, the less powerful petrols will return as much as 53mpg and the diesels almost 70mpg. Keep in mind, though, that these are all official figures supplied by the manufacturer – the real-world returns will fall a little short. For local journeys, the plug-in hybrid GTE will be easily the most efficient. With a 37-mile electric-only range, you might find you rarely awaken the petrol engine at all, depending on your own driving habits.
VW offers fixed-price servicing on its cars and it also gives you the option of spreading the cost over a number of years. A minor service will cost £184 and should be carried out every 12 months or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first. Meanwhile, a major service will set you back £354. You’ll need one of those every 24 months or 20,000 miles.
A brand new car shouldn’t need any unscheduled remedial work during the first couple of years of its life, but as the vehicle ages the odd job might need to be carried out to fix faults or replace worn out components. For a new set of front brake pads, for instance, a VW dealership will charge £169. For front pads and discs, you’ll pay £319.
While high-performance models will cost a little more to tax, the majority of Golfs slot into the basic Vehicle Excise Duty band. That means you’ll pay £175 or £215 for the first year and £150 thereafter.
VW offers a full manufacturer warranty on all of its new cars that lasts up to three years. For the first two years there’s no mileage limit. The warranty then expires after the end of the third year or once 60,000 miles have passed, if that happens sooner. Most car makers offer a fixed three-year/60,000-mile warranty on their cars, meaning VW’s warranty is pretty much par for the course. However, certain manufacturers such as Hyundai and Kia underwrite their cars for five or even seven years.
Golf drivers can pay to extend their warranties for as little as £136 per year. The Golf mk8 is too new for us to know how reliable it’ll prove to be or how many warranty claims the typical owner is likely to make. Given that this new Golf is essentially an updated version of the previous model, though, prospective buyers can take comfort from the knowledge that VW should have ironed out any major problems that afflicted the mk7 by now.
Related to that is the Golf’s excellent safety certification – like the previous one, this latest model was awarded the full five stars by Euro NCAP, thanks in part to its six airbags as standard and suite of driver assistance systems.
The CarGurus Verdict
Despite all VW’s talk of this being the ‘digital Golf’ and that swanky, eye-catching new cabin, the mk8 doesn’t do much, if anything, that the mk7 didn’t. It does have more assistance technology than before and the pair of digital displays make the dashboard look crisper and more modern than the old car’s, but buyers might find the new touch-sensitive slider controls more fiddly to use than physical knobs and buttons when on the move.
The new Golf is no more spacious than before and nor is it significantly more fuel efficient. It isn’t any better to drive, either, although the mk7 performed so well in that regard that by simply matching it, the mk8 becomes one of the best handling and riding cars of its type. So when all’s said and done, the new Golf doesn’t really move the game forward. That means the competition has closed the gap on VW’s classy hatchback, but the Golf is still one of the best family hatchbacks you can buy.