Diesel cars can hardly escape the news these days, and it’s usually bad news for whatever reason, rather than for their impressive fuel economy.
Irrespective of the truth behind the bluster and the bad press, there’s no doubt that the image of diesel-powered cars has taken a hit. With the strong probability of increasingly tough emissions regs it’s hard to see anything other than a negative effect on the sales of new diesels, and the resale values of used ones.
Luckily, if you want a new Golf, Volkswagen is offering electrically-powered and petrol-powered versions of its evergreen family hatch, both of which are very appealing alternatives to the diesels.
On the petrol front, the spec of this new 1.5 TSI Evo looks very interesting. Replacing the 148bhp 1.4, it offers identical power to the outgoing model and the promise of more than 55mpg.
Naturally, the 1.5 TSI Evo has the low-profile styling mods that created the so-called ‘Mk 7.5’ Golf range earlier in 2017, such as sharply-styled bumpers, a new grille, and LED lights front and rear. You can fool plenty of bystanders into thinking you’re driving VW’s top hot hatch, the Golf R, if you buy the 1.5 TSI in R Line trim, as per our pics.
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo 150 R Line 5dr
Price: from £23,445 (1.5 TSI): £25,095 for R Line
Engine: 4cyl, 1495cc, turbo, petrol
Power: 148bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque: 184lb ft @ 1500rpm
Top speed: 134mph
Economy: 55.4mpg (official average)
CO2, tax band: 116g/km, 22%
Volkswagen is claiming an 8.3sec 0-62mph time for the new 1.5. Stats buffs will wonder why this time is 0.1sec slower than the old 148bhp 1.4’s, but in real-world driving the 1.5 feels like it has more oomph than the 1.4 thanks to the more progressive nature of its power delivery and its extra urge from low revs.
Better yet, the 1.5 is practically noise-free once you’ve attained your desired cruising speed. Part of the engine is closed down when power isn’t required, which helped us to score 52mpg on our everyday roads route. That’s impressively close to the ‘official’ (but often wildly optimistic) average figure of 55.4mpg.
The rest of the Golf driving experience is what you’d expect, and that’s also a good thing because the modern Golf drives very well indeed, with a poised assurance on even quite poor road surfaces and a faithful, controlled confidence when pressing on. The Audi A3 is slightly more responsive to steering wheel inputs, but in isolation the Golf’s steering has a good feeling of substance about it.
Inside, the excellent driving position has a familiar predictability. Big adjustability to both seat and wheel makes it easy to find a comfy position, while visibility all around the car is hard to beat.
In order to lift the Golf up closer to premium-badged models like the A3 and the BMW 1 Series, Volkswagen has boosted the cabin ambience by offering a new and much larger 9.2in touchscreen infotainment system (the biggest one you could get on the old car was 6.5in). It does look brilliant, but in practice it’s not that hot on functionality: the absence of physical buttons makes menu-switching a distracting and potentially unsettling experience when you’re driving. We much prefer the Active Info Display which uses a configurable digital screen in place of the regular instrumentation. It puts a lot of very clear information in front of the driver. Unfortunately, it’s a £495 option.
On the plus side, Golf practicality is as satisfying as ever. Four adults fit in easily, five without too much of a squeeze, and the boot is very accommodating too, if not quite as big as the Skoda Octavia’s.
There’s more good news on the new 1.5 TSI Golf’s starting price. At £23,445 it’s actually £770 cheaper than the old 1.4, and perhaps more usefully it’s also less than a like-for-like A3. There’s no getting away from the fact that the Golf remains a high-priced choice in the family hatch market, but you only have to drive one for a few minutes to understand why. It delivers a fine mix of interior quality and driving excellence that you’d normally pay even more for in rival offerings.
The only thing mitigating against the 1.5 is, ironically, another Golf. The 1.0-litre petrol version is also highly desirable, and can be had for under £19,000.