This car has been superseded by a newer model, click here to go to the latest Volkswagen Golf Hatchback review.

4 out of 5 4.0
Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

Still the one to have if you're after a dependable family car…

Volkswagen Golf Hatchback (04-08) - rated 4 out of 5
Enlarge 45 photos

At a glance

New price £11,845 - £21,640
Used price £345 - £4,955
Fuel economy
Not tested to latest standards
View pre-2017 economy specs
Road tax cost £30 - £340
Insurance group 6 - 32 How much is it to insure?

PROS

  • Great engines and good to drive
  • Well-finished and spacious interior
  • Plenty of specialist support out there

CONS

  • A class act, but it's not infallible
  • Watch for DMF issues on cars with miles
  • Most rivals are comfortably cheaper

Volkswagen Golf Hatchback rivals

Written by Keith Adams on

Is the Volkswagen Golf (2004-2009) any good?

Without wishing to sound too much like a Volkswagen ad, it’s the car other manufacturers tried untiringly to mimic, but never quite managed to equal.
Throughout its life, solid German engineering, practicality and the attraction of that classy Volkswagen badge on the grille have remained constant, which is why the Golf continues to attract buyers.

Perhaps that's why more than rivals such as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Vauxhall Astra, the Golf gets a namecheck as being the must-have family car for so many people.

Due to the instantly recognisable shape of the panel just behind the rear side window, you can trace the design lineage right through from the first model to the current offering.

That said, the Golf success story hasn’t been without its hiccups. The Mk3 from 1991 was a huge let-down after the much-loved and now iconic MkII. Bloated looking and bland, with roly-poly handling, it was safer and boasted more luxuries, but the extra weight ruined the driving experience.

Thankfully, the Mk4 from 1998 was a step back in the right direction. It had sharper handling, more space and a more generous spec list, but soon looked dated both in terms of styling and technology.

That’s where the more rounded Mk5 from 2004 comes in. As well as its rakish styling, the new Golf was bigger in the back, safer, came with a wider range of engines and transmissions, and, best of all, was much more sophisticated underneath, thanks to a new platform, electric steering, multi-link rear suspension and direct injection for most of the petrol and diesel engines.

What's it like inside?

Volkswagen Golf (2004-2008) used car buying guide

You can adjust the steering wheel for height and reach while the driver's seat is multi-adjustable too, which makes for a comfortable driving position. As well as being attractive, the dashboard is functional with large, easy-to-use buttons and - where fitted - a simple sat nav system. All the controls are close to the driver for on-the-move adjustments and the screen is close enough so you don't have to squint.

The system is a bit slow however, but cars from March 2008 come with a much faster and slicker system. The sat nav directions - as well as average fuel consumption, radio station, time and range are displayed in a panel in the instrument cluster, so you only have to momentarily take your eyes off the road.

Practicality

The Golf's boot space is more than capable of coping with everyday family life. There are cupholders in all models and plenty of handy, well-thought-out storage space including deep door pockets and a large central cubby. A 'storage pack' was available too that includes a flip-down sunglasses pouch, cupholder and bottle opener.

What's it like to drive?

Volkswagen Golf (2004-2008) used car buying guide

A standard 1.4-litre kicks off the range, but with only 75bhp on offer, it feels weedy and doesn't offer enough power for confident overtaking. The entry-level FSI is a 1.6-litre.

Volkswagen claims this petrol engine has diesel-like economy with petrol refinement, but in practice, you'll need a delicate right foot to get near the claimed figures. A 1.4 TSI model was launched in summer 2006 and despite the small engine size it's available with 140bhp and 170bhp - that's because it uses Volkswagen's latest engine technology that combines a supercharger with a turbo.

Both outputs are excellent to drive, offering quick-off-the-mark performance, instant response and power when you need it. They're economical too, as the fuel-hungry supercharging equipment cuts out when it's not needed - mainly at higher speeds. It's possible to get 38mpg and above in everyday driving, which makes the 1.4 TSI a faster, cheaper and quieter alternative to a diesel.

But Golf's three diesels are superb, offering low fuel consumption, pace and power. The 2.0 SDI is a bit old fashioned, gutless and often hard work, so go for a 1.9 TDI or 2.0 TDI - they're fast, torquey and fuel efficient, albeit noisy. The 1.9-litre gets 105bhp or 115bhp, while the 2.0-litre is available with 140bhp and - from July 2006 - 170bhp.

A tweaked version of the 1.9-litre TDI is used in the Bluemotion model and along with longer gearing, helps to deliver lower emissions of 119g/km and an impressive economy figure of 63mpg - plus there's no difference in performance over the standard 1.9 TDI. The Golf comes with either a five or six-speed manual and an excellent semi-automatic system called DSG.

Handling

Volkswagen Golf (2004-2008) used car buying guide

Comfortable, assured and predictable sums up the Golf. It's not quite as involving as the Ford Focus or as agile as the Honda Civic but it's enjoyable nonetheless and has excellent road manners.

The suspension is well controlled over most road surfaces and makes for a hushed and smooth ride, reflecting the Golf's refined and grown-up nature. The slick gearbox offers quick and precise changes while the steering is nicely weighted and offers decent feedback.

Ownership and running costs

Fuel economy is pretty good, especially on the 1.4 TSI and diesel models while the Bluemotion model is peanuts to run. The on board computer informs you when your car needs to be serviced, so intervals can be varied, depending on usage. Servicing costs themselves tend to be high in the Volkswagen dealer network due to high labour rates, though the costs of parts can be quite reasonable.

The Golf scores well on the eco front. With an average of 161g/km CO2 across the range, its emissions are relatively low for a small family hatchback. Eco-conscious buyers and those looking to keep costs down should go for the Bluemotion model - thanks to emissions of just 119g/km it's cheap to tax while it will average 63mpg. It looks like a standard Golf and drives just as well - plus comes with features such as air conditioning and ESP as standard.

There were a handful of minor teething problems, which were cleared up under warranty. Aside from that, this Golf is proving to be very reliable.

Safety

This generation Golf was the first Volkswagen to achieve a top five-star Euro NCAP crash test result. In addition, every car has twin front airbags passenger, driver and front passenger side airbags, head airbags, anti-whiplash protection, five three-point seatbelts and Isofix child-seat anchor points.

All cars have an alarm, immobiliser and a stereo that's unique to the car, as well as a key that's difficult to copy.

Which Volkswagen Golf engine is best for you?

There’s a wide choice of engines to choose from, ranging from the somewhat flaccid 75hp 1.4 up to the 16v 200hp 2.0 TFSI in the GTI. In between, there’s also a 1.6 FSI (fuel stratified injection), a fast and flexible 150hp 2.0-litre normally-aspirated petrol, and a punchy 140hp 2.0 TDI turbodiesel.

The pick of the bunch is the GT TDI with its talented DSG transmission or the lively 1.6 FSI petrol. The staggeringly quick but frugal 2.0 TDI 170 is also an excellent choice.

Volkswagen Golf (2004-2008) used car buying guide

A range of new engines appeared in the summer of 2006, including the 140bhp 1.4 TSI/TFSI twincharger (turbocharged and supercharged) petrol that appeared in the MkV GT. From 2007 there was also the highly fuel efficient BlueMotion (above), which could eke out 62.8mpg. In late 2007, the 1.6 FSI petrol engine was replaced by the new chain-driven 123hp 1.4 TSI fitted with just a turbo.

VW Golf Mk5 buying guide

As you would expect, all units should prove reliable if looked after, but it would be a mistake to be complacent when buying cars with missing history or obvious running problems. The plastic timing belt tensioner on the 1.4 16v can fail, so confirm that it was replaced at the same time as the timing belt, due for replacement every 60,000 miles.

A common issue on FSI engines concerns worn cam followers for the high-pressure fuel pump. If a car cuts out for no reason, or the engine check light is illuminated, it could be on its way out. If it does fail, the damage can be expensive to remedy. A receipt showing that the cam follower and seal have been replaced will offer peace of mind.

Volkswagen Golf (2004-2008) used car buying guide

Timing chains for the 1.4-litre TSI

The 1.4 TSI had a timing chain, and if it’s not been treated to fresh, quality oil it can stretch and rattle, so listen for this. The PD diesels are reliable, but if you notice a distinct lack of power or, worse, if it goes into ‘limp-home’ mode while on a test drive it could be suffering from a clogged variable vane turbo.

The 2006-2009 Siemens Piezo injector engines, as fitted to the 2.0 TDI BMN, are less reliable and there was a recall in 2012. Lift pumps can let go and the earliest 2.0 PD engines had a complicated fuel cooling system that is also troublesome. Any MkV that doesn’t run perfectly should be viewed with suspicion.

The 140 and 170hp TDI was fitted with a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) from 2007, so watch for any warning lights. Thankfully, the late-2008 common rail 2.0-litre diesel (identified by its four-digit engine code and angled manifold mouldings on the plastic engine cover) is largely trouble-free and very smooth.

Make sure you use the right oil

PD engines require oil that meets VAG specifications – namely 505.01 (fixed servicing) or 507.00 (variable) 
– so search through receipts to ensure it’s been used, otherwise the car might have suffered camshaft wear. A sign of a fastidious previous owner is if they’ve changed the oil and filter every 7000 miles and used a long-life brew.

The storming R32 model went on sale in late 2005 and inherited the same 3.2-litre V6 from its predecessor, albeit with an extra 10hp (250). It could do 0-60mph in a tad over six seconds and featured four-wheel drive, stiffer suspension and beefier brakes to cope with its supercar-like performance.

What else should I know?

The MkV remained untouched visually during its lifetime, although 
a limited run of 1500 Edition 30 cars 
were released in October 2006 and 
there was another limited edition 
Pirelli model, both of which used a 230bhp version of the GTI engine with beefier turbos and camshafts. Needless to say, both are sought after.

A revelation in many respects, the MkV instantly put the Golf back into contention as the world’s best hatchback. But since the arrival of the MkVI in 2008, MkV values have taken a hit, which means you can buy one for significantly less than you might have thought.

Volkswagen Golf Hatchback rivals

Other Volkswagen Golf (2004 - 2009) models: