- Smooth, economical engines
- Hybrid and electric options too
- Performance versions offer thrills
Regardless of whether you choose a petrol or diesel engine, performance – and efficiency – will be boosted by a turbocharger. Even the petrol unit in the plug-in hybrid is equipped with one, but if you’d rather not have a conventional engine at all there’s a fully electric e-Golf.
Diesel Golfs deliver great fuel efficiency
Despite the varying power outputs, all of the TDI engines in the Golf are either 1.6- or 2.0-litres in capacity. The smaller 1.6-litre TDI unit was originally launched in 90hp and 105hp guises but all of the current versions produce 115hp. Although outright speed isn’t the name of the game here, both five-speed manual and seven-speed DSG automatic transmission versions can reach 123mph, while the 0-62mph test takes 10.3 and 10.5 seconds, respectively.
Pre-2017 facelift there was also a BlueMotion version of the 1.6-litre, with various aerodynamic body aids to help it cheat the wind in its efficiency quest – although the smoothed-over bodywork helps the top speed increase to 124mph. This is the most fuel-efficient of the diesel Golfs with an official claim of 83.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 89g/km. We’re awaiting news of its facelifted replacement.
More performance is available with the 2.0-litre TDIs, available with 150hp or 184hp if you go for the sportier Golf GTD, producing 340Nm and 380Nm of torque from 1,750rpm. Both are equipped with a six-speed manual as standard, while post-facelift the optional DSG has been upgraded from six to seven ratios, in line with the rest of the range.
The lower-powered version in manual form can achieve 134mph and a 0-62mph time of 8.6 seconds (133mph and an identical 0-62mph for the DSG), while the GTD raises the stakes to 144mph and 7.5 seconds (143mph and 7.4 for the DSG). Post-facelift, VW has added a GTD BlueLine trim alongside the regular GTD for improved efficiency; this somehow still matches the regular versions’ performance.
Efficient petrol engines: a diesel alternative?
Absolutely. Smallest of the turbocharged petrol engines is the three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI. Post-facelift this offers a choice of 85hp/175Nm or 110hp/200Nm – the former capable of 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds, the latter the same sprint in 9.9 (which makes it slightly faster than the old 115hp version). Top speeds are 112mph and 122mph.
The 1.4-litre TSI remains available in 125hp guise with 200Nm of torque from a lowly 1,400rpm. With both the six-speed manual and seven-speed DSG it’ll reach 127mph and get from 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds.
Joining the range mid-2017, the 1.5-litre TSI Evo comes with 130hp or 150hp for greater performance. It can shut-down the engine whenever you’re off the throttle, borrowing technology from the GTE, while the 150hp variant makes do with Active Cylinder Technology (ACT) to switch off just two cylinders under light load.
GTE: the plug-in hybrid option
If you want to be green without sacrificing fun you will find the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE of interest thanks to its 1.4-litre TSI engine and electric motor combination. It promises GTI-style performance but with far more efficient running costs.
With a top speed of 135mph, the GTE can sprint to 62mph from a standstill in 7.6 seconds, yet return a claimed 188mpg. After driving the updated GTE we came away slightly disappointed with its noise and performance considering the GT aspect its name. The engine sounds coarse and has to be worked very hard to provide meaningful progress, but for many the ultra-low running costs and array of standard kit will more than make up for its dynamic shortcomings.
High-performance Golf GTIs
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged TSI petrol engine in the GTI produces 230hp – the same as the previous Performance Pack, which, along with 350Nm of pulling power, means it can sprint from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds.
It’s not just about the raw numbers with the Golf; it’s the way it goes about dispensing that performance that really impresses. With a wonderfully smooth and linear power delivery no matter where you are in the engine’s rev-range, there is instant grunt available.
Available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic, the former is more involving, while the latter does make for a relentless display of constant performance.
GTI Performance became the standard offering from 2017, with peak power nudging-up by 15hp to 245hp, at the same time adding larger brakes and a mechanical limited slip differential to improve its cornering prowess even further.
Even higher performance Golf R
Fastest of the regular range is the Golf R. Its 2.0-litre petrol engine is the same as found in the GTIs, but VW’s engineers have reworked it to produce 300hp with 380Nm of torque available from 1,800rpm.
It’s a very flexible engine meaning you have got indulgent power reserves in almost any situation. Yet it’s smooth and easy to drive slowly too.
Feeling every bit as quick as its acceleration figures suggest, just 4.6 seconds is required to cover the 0-62mph sprint in the DSG, 5.1 if you have a manual – acceleration away from the line aided by the R’s standard-fit 4Motion four-wheel drive system.
A high-performance Akrapovic exhaust is available as an optional extra on the 2017 Golf R, and we’d heartily recommend its fitment if you’re a keen driver. Adding that little touch of extra theatre is an appealing prospect. It isn’t too noisy; simply more purposeful.
Limited edition GTI Clubsport and TCR models
Introduced to mark the GTI’s 40th anniversary in 2016, power for the GTI Clubsport Edition 40’s 2.0-litre engine was uprated to 265hp, although for 10-second bursts this is boosted further to 290hp. Manual and DSG transmission options are again available and give 0-62mph times of 6.0 and 6.2 seconds respectively, while both have top speeds of 155mph.
Crowning the GTI family in 2016 was the two-seater GTI Clubsport S, restricted to just 150 examples for the UK. Power had been ramped up to 310hp, resulting in a top speed of 164mph and a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds.
In 2019, the GTI TCR was introduced as a run-out, limited-edition model. This was a development on the GTI Performance with a more powerful engine developing 290hp and 380Nm of torque, dressed up with minor styling additions.
It takes 5.6 seconds to reach 0-62mph and comes with the same pair of additional radiators up front from the hotter R to keep things cool.
In keeping with the rest of the GTI range, this remains front-wheel drive and sends power via a seven-speed DSG gearbox. You can also spec a Performance Pack that removes the speed limiter, raising the top speed from 155mph to 164mph.
Fine handling is a Golf hallmark
- Neutral, safe handling dynamics
- Performance versions have great traction
- Adaptive suspension works effectively
By being lighter and wider, this generation of Volkswagen Golf has far superior handling to the iteration that preceded it. Its lower, broader stance combined with sophisticated independent rear suspension arrangement on all but the lowest-powered variants, minimises the VW’s body roll making it more agile and consequently more fun than many hatchbacks in this segment to drive.
Electronic stability control for all models
All Golfs also come with XDS – a feature once reserved for the GTI model. In essence this electronic system reduces the amount of power being sent to a front wheel that’s losing traction, while through corners it feeds more to the ‘outer’ wheel, increasing stability and speed in the process.
It also works in conjunction with the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) which compensates for any tendency for the Golf to push wide through bends (understeer), making handling more precise and neutral.
The Golf is fitted with a variable ratio steering system that responds differently depending upon your speed – it makes town driving a doddle and parking easier by turning the wheels more for a given input at the steering wheel. There are also different driver modes to vary the weighting and while at slow speeds it feels a tad artificial, it weighs up progressively as speed increases.
Enhanced handling for performance models
If you’re looking for the sharpest hot hatch available, then the Golf GTI – multi-talented though it is – is not the car for you. Don’t for a moment assume the GTI is anything but a consummate handler, it’s just that it does everything with such committed security that no matter your speed it always feels completely safe.
There’s a more aggressive steering system that cuts down on the number of turns needed from the wheel, increasing the sharpness of the front wheels’ reactions.
Additionally the GTI is available with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) with Driving Mode Selection. This allows drivers to switch between Comfort, Normal and Sport modes, altering the reactions of the suspension to the road surface beneath it. Add to that the Eco, Sport, Normal and Individual modes of the Driving Mode Selection system and drivers can tailor the car’s responses to their own desires.
Specifying the optional GTI Performance Pack also increases the car’s cornering ability. While the standard car - and the GTD and GTE – uses an uprated XDS+ electronic differential, the Performance Pack adds a mechanical limited slip differential that can send up to 100% of the torque to the outside front wheel in extreme situations.
Given the GTI Performance Pack's capabilities, we believe that differential is the biggest single improvement over the regular GTI. It provides prodigious traction out of corners; while driving fast you can feel it working to provide the optimum amount of torque to either side of the car.
The Performance Pack also gets larger brakes, and while we didn’t find fault with them, we don’t think many buyers will tell the difference unless they spot the red callipers hidden behind the wheels. You’ll need to be using the brakes heavily and repeatedly before their extra potential can be realised.
Limited edition GTI TCR in 2019
The GTI TCR comes with the same front locking differential as fitted on the GTI Performance and uprated brakes to reign in the extra power. Opt for one of the two Performance packages and this upgrades the wheels to larger 19-inch items, fits adaptive suspension and beefs up the rear shock absorbers. The pricier Performance Pack comprises of the same components, but adds semi-slick Michelin Cup 2 tyres to increase grip for track use.
The steering has been sharpened up for when Sport mode is selected and makes this Golf GTI the best handling model in the range. The steering is sharper and better weighted than even the Golf R version, while the uprated brakes and lighter kerbweight means it stops and feels a little more agile than its flagship, all-wheel drive sibling.
Even without the semi slick tyres of the pricier Performance Pack, there’s plenty of grip available from the Pirelli P Zero tyres on the optional 19-inch wheels.
This hasn’t transformed the Golf TCR into a performance hatch that thrills on the same level as the Honda Civic Type R, but the absence of squirming from the front wheels under power makes this far less uncouth than the SEAT Leon Cupra 300. You sense that you’ll get to use the car’s power more effectively and efficiently all the time.
All-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R
While the GTI is front-wheel drive, the Golf R makes use of VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system for superior traction and confident handling in all situations. It works by diverting torque to the rear wheels when it detects the front ones starting to slip. In extreme cases it can even send all power to the rear wheels, or a proportion to either end of the car as required. The system reacts in fractions of a second, which means you’re never struggling for grip.
Its huge traction levels are appealing but keep pushing through them and, like the rest of the Golf range, the fun ends in a front end washing wide. We did find the steering to our liking, however, although the TCR now pips it for sharpness. The added weight of the all-wheel drive system means it’s not quite as effective as the lighter GTI TCR under braking, especially in the wet.
Grown-up handling for Volkswagen Golf GTE
We weren’t particularly enamoured with the GTE in the handling stakes. You can really feel the extra weight of the batteries in both models, and while you can forgive this in the pure-EV e-Golf – a car that’ll seldom find its way onto an entertaining B-road – in the GTE this seems a bit of a shame. It lumbers to change direction when compared with the GTI, which seems incongruous given it features a higher performance GTE mode button near the gear lever.