Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3

Volkswagen Golf R (2021) interior view

  • Dual screens are a radical departure...
  • Yet it feels familiar to use
  • Massively reduced button count

How is the quality and layout?

Build quality is as you'd expect with much of it made from solid materials that feel like they're built to last. The instruments are taken care of by a 10.25-inch Active Info Display screen (called Innovision in VW-speak) behind the steering wheel, with various layouts to choose from - ranging from the traditional rev counter and speedometer dials, to a full screen sat-nav map or the driver-assist systems.

Minimalism has entered Volkswagen's interior design ethos, resulting in very few physical buttons. You can add a head-up display too. Rather neatly, the colour of the displays can be made to complement or contrast with your choices for ambient lighting with a range of 30 different hues.

Downsides of the interior? In bright sunshine, the glare of the shiny black screen surrounds can dazzle a bit. This area of the dash also looks cheaply finished. Compared to the previous generation Golf there's a notable increase in the number of cheaper plastics found around the cabin, particularly on the lower areas of the dashboard and the mouldings surrounding the gearstick, which does feel rather jarring given the Golf's high retail prices.

Infotainment and tech

What infotainment system you get depends on what model you buy, although none are particularly user friendly. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available and for many people, these will be preferable to use than Volkswagen's in-built system.

There are some quirks to using the system. If you perch your hand on the dash while using the touchscreen, you can end up pressing the volume bar, climate control or Driver Assist button instead, which then takes you away from where you already were. It may get easier with practice, but this is where the ergonomics fall down, and will frustrate owners in the earlier days.

Voice control is triggered by the phrase ‘Hello Volkswagen’ and responds to natural commands like ‘navigate home’ or ‘I’m cold’. Because it uses clever digital microphones that can tell where the talker is sitting, you can tell it 'I've got cold feet' and the car will warm up the corresponding footwell.

If this is all starting to sound a bit out-there for the reliably middle-of-the-road Golf then fear not. A number of things are controlled by a clever slider in the middle of the dash by swiping one way or the other – the panoramic roof, the air con, and map zoom for example. It’s actually quite simple once acclimatised.

Thanks to an onboard eSIM card the Golf can hook up to VW’s new ‘We Ecosystem’. This allows you to do clever stuff like use your smartphone as a key or find information on restaurants in your area, for instance.

Other optional niceties include a Harman-Kardon sound system with 480 watts of power and 10 speakers including a subwoofer in the spare wheel well.

Comfort

  • Suspension reworked for improved comfort
  • Sleeker shape for less wind noise
  • Seats comfortable and supportive

Depending on what model you pick this should be a real strong point for the VW Golf. Pricier models get independent rear suspension for a better ride and it features the option of adjustable suspension with a broad range of modes, allowing you to stiffen or soften things depending on your mood.

We found the ride in its softest mode to be very good indeed, with the ability to shift to a much firmer setting if you want to corner quickly. The simpler - and cheaper - torsion beam-equipped Golf rides well enough, but displays more thumpiness over potholes and other similarly poor surfaces.

The Golf is also more aerodynamic this time around and some models feature low-rolling resistance tyres, so noise in the cabin is kept in check, although there is still a bit of rustle from the door mirrors.

Things don't become much less comfortable on the GTI and its optional, larger 19-inch wheels, either. The ride is noticeably firmer, but remains compliant, with enough suspension travel to absorb bumps well - it's far less bouncy than a Focus ST or Renault Megane R.S.

You'll notice a fair amount of road roar from the tyres but the GTI's cabin remains a little quieter compared with other VW group products, such as the Skoda Octavia vRS. It's far from hushed, but thankfully the standard stereo system is punchy enough to drown out the noise with little trouble.

2020 Volkswagen Golf front seats

The seats in this new generation car are also excellent - comfortable and supportive but bolstered well enough to keep you held in place during keen cornering. There's also a driver's massage function on higher spec cars.

We tried the optional Vienna leather sports seats on the GTI, which provide plenty of side bolstering and offer a little more lumbar support than normal. They also brighten up the cabin thanks to the light grey and red highlights, although the tall backrest with the integrated headrests can impede forward vision a little, for those sat in the back.

Combined with the customisable mood lighting settings, it's a smart, comfortable and up-to-date interior.

2020 Volkswagen Golf interior mood lighting control