Volkswagen calls the Golf mk8 a ‘digital revolution’. The VW’s dashboard is entirely digital, with no conventional instruments, even on entry-level vehicles.
What’s more, this is the first VW to use CaraX technology, which shares information between cars to warn of potential hazards ahead. In addition, there have been changes in the design and the engines, with a view to cutting emissions and using less fuel.
We’re testing the 115hp 2.0-litre TDI Life with a six-speed manual gearbox.
What are we looking for?
You can see what VW means by a digital revolution when you sit inside the car and see a screen in front of you instead of dials. But has VW concentrated too much on infotainment and connectivity? Is the car itself a standard-bearer, or has VW’s digital ambition come at the expense of evolving other aspects of the Golf?
The in-car tech might be very different, but in other respects, VW has played it safe with the new Golf. To look at, drive and tow with, the mk8 is clearly an evolution of the mk7.
Under the subtly new skin, the Golf is based on an uprated version of the same platform, so it’s no surprise kerbweights show little change.
Our 2.0 TDI 115hp manual model has a kerb weight of 1380kg. That gives an 85% match figure of 1173kg, comfortably inside the legal maximum of 1500kg. So a caravan will need to be quite light to make a prudent match for this Golf.
We matched the VW to our long-term Bailey Discovery D4-4. This has a MiRO of 1059kg, making it a 77% match with no camping gear inside the van.
Although the less powerful of the pair of 2.0-litre diesels available in the Golf 8, the 115hp engine can comfortably tow a caravan of this weight, with one or two provisos. It feels lively when pulling away and has no trouble reaching the motorway limit.
However, the six-speed gearbox’s ratios have been chosen with economy in mind, so the engine is only pulling 1500rpm or so in sixth at 60mph. The Golf will hold this speed on a motorway incline while in top gear, but feels happier in fifth. We sometimes dropped to fourth when caught behind slower traffic.
It’s not underpowered for towing, but the engine certainly doesn’t have a lot in reserve for brisk overtaking. The more powerful 150hp engine should have a bit more poke to spare, with peak pulling power of 266lb ft rather than 321lb ft.
That should make a big difference to how the Golf responds at speed. Choosing this model also offers a wider range of tourers to tow, with a higher kerbweight of 1465kg.
Apart from steady acceleration, the Golf tows very well indeed for a relatively small and light car. Traction is really good, with the front wheels gripping the road without wheelsspin when pulling away briskly or starting on a slope.
At speed in still air, there are no issues with stability. Only when caught by the bow wave of a high-sided vehicle did the caravan tug at the back of the car, but we never felt nervous or uncomfortable.
When hitching up, the light controls and smooth clutch make the Golf very easy to manoeuvre. A reversing camera is a £300 option on the entry-level Life spec, and it gives a clear view of the towball as you back towards the caravan. The towball swivels out at the press of a button inside the boot, although you need to lock it into place by hand. There’s plenty of clearance between the ball and the bumper, and the electric socket is on the side of the tower where it’s easy to reach.
A space-saver spare wheel is standard, and there’s no warning in the handbook against using it while towing if needed.
Ignore the 10-inch touchscreen and the digital instruments and concentrate on driving, and there’s not a lot to tell the new Golf from the old. It drives with the same competence and composure as before.
The steering is precise and well weighted – it’s light at parking speeds but doesn’t feel remote or artificial on a B-road. Corners are despatched without fuss, although perhaps a Ford Focus is more involving.
With tall tyres on relatively small 16-inch alloys, our Life spec car rides comfortably However, you do feel bumps more from the rear of the car than the front.
With this engine, the Golf has relatively unsophisticated torsion beam rear suspension. The more complex multilink set-up on cars with 150hp or above promises a more supple ride.
There’s also a Dynamic Chassis Control option, which allows the driver to alter the suspension between Sport, Comfort and Normal settings. VW says there’s now more difference between the settings than there was in the mk7.
We’ve yet to drive the latest Golf with this option fitted, although colleagues who have say it’s well worth considering, even at a price of £950.
Without the weight of a van to hold it back, the engine has a much easier time. It can sound a bit gruff if revved hard, but there’s little point in doing so – the diesel does its best work in the middle of the rev range.
Wind and road noise are kept to reasonable levels, making the Golf a quiet and comfortable car for long journeys.
Space and practicality
The dimensions of the Golf have hardly changed, so space inside is much the same.
There’s a reasonable amount of room for people and luggage, but there are more spacious hatchbacks – and some of them provide that additional space at a lower price point.
Up front, there’s a good range of movement in the steering wheel and the seat, including lumbar adjustment, so getting comfortable is straightforward. As you’d hope, the Golf is well finished, although not as plush as the interior of an Audi Q3 or BMW 1 Series.
Your view from the driver’s seat is inevitably drawn to the 10-inch touchscreen and the digital instruments, which can be customised in all sorts of ways. For example, most of the instrument screen can display a map, so navigation directions are in your line of sight.
Volkswagen has moved away from shortcut buttons around the screen, preferring to offer an uncluttered appearance. There are some shortcut touch pads for common functions, such as the air conditioning, which respond to contact but don’t need to be pressed. The trouble is, these rather blend into the background, which seems like form over function.
If you decide to upgrade to the Discover Navigation Pro system (£1600), many controls can also be managed through gestures, which the car detects, or by voice command through the ‘Hello Volkswagen’ function.
VW says digital microphones promise easy voice recognition, but that wasn’t our experience. When we tried to call home, the system tried to navigate us to Caughall, in Cheshire…
The back seats have enough room for adults, but a Škoda Octavia is roomier. Air vents between the front seats provide a comfortable temperature for rear-seat passengers.
With all seats upright, the boot has a 381-litre capacity. With them folded (leaving a slight slope to the floor), that increase to 1237 litres. Again, the Škoda Octavia has much more luggage space.
Buying and owning
Even in entry-level Life spec, the VW Golf 2.0 TDI 115PS costs £24,900. That makes it more expensive than the equivalent Ford Focus or Škoda Octavia.
On the other hand, the VW is well-equipped, despite being a base model. The flashy digital cockpit is standard, as are climate control, LED headlights, 16-inch alloys, compatibility with Android Auto, and wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Fuel economy is superb, in solo-driving and while towing. The official combined figure is 68.8mpg, and we achieved 36.6mpg towing the Bailey.
The new Golf is a very good car. But so was the old one. VW has given star billing to the car’s infotainment, digital instruments and connectivity. But while the screen is clear and the range of functions and services impressive, this cleverness has come at the expense of ease of use. The Golf has never been a form over function kind of car, but the digital cockpit is two steps forward and one step back.
To us, the most impressive improvement is one VW has not been shouting about so loudly – the exceptional fuel economy and emissions.
To return 36.6mpg while towing makes this Golf one of the most fuel-efficient cars that we have ever tested, including hybrids. If the trip computer is within touching distance of the truth, the Golf can match or beat its official economy figures in everyday driving.
From the driver’s seat, the new Golf is very satisfying to drive. It’s a shame that the more sophisticated rear suspension from the more powerful Golfs isn’t fitted to this model, but even without it, the VW balances a comfortable ride and taut handling better than most.
It tows well, too. Economy-focused gearing means some ratio swapping to maintain momentum at speed, but that’s a small price to pay for such low fuel bills.
The 150hp diesel, with its extra power, torque, and higher kerbweight, might address our minor criticisms of the new Golf’s towing ability. But as it stands, the 115hp mk8 makes a very good lightweight tow car.
How much will it cost on finance?
You can put a Golf 2.0 TDI 115 Life on your driveway for £333.46 per month, with a Solutions PCP from Volkswagen Finance. That’s based on a customer deposit of £4783.84 and a deposit contribution from VW of £1100. VW sweetens the deal by covering three of the monthly payments, with an optional final bill of £9918.90 to own the vehicle outright after three years.
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Traction is good, with the front wheels gripping the road without wheelspin when pulling away briskly or on a slope
|Engine Size||1968 cc|
|85% KW||1173 kg|
|Towball Limit||80 kg|
|Maximum Towing Limit||1500 kg|
|Torque||221 lb ft|
|Offical MPG||68.8 mpg|
|Towing MPG||36.6 mpg|