We already know that the Volkswagen Golf is an excellent family hatchback. In fact, we'd still rate it as best in class — and three years on, still deserving of the 5-star review we gave it back at launch in 2013.
But just how much Golf do you need? That's the question posed in this first drive. Because Volkswagen has just introduced a very interesting new addition to the Golf range: the 1.0-litre TIS. At first sight you might dismiss it as not worthy of consideration, but you'd be foolish to do that. Here's why.
Volkswagen Golf (2016) first drive: Cubic capacity, squared
The joy of the Golf is that there's one for everyone. The stonking, 911-bating R, the brilliant all-rounder with spangly-bits GTD, the motorway-plodding TDI, and the sensible shoes TSi petrol.
Up until now, in the lower reaches of the petrol range you've been able to choose from an 85bhp 1.2 TSi, a 125bhp 1.4 TSi and a 150bhp version of the same TSi engine. All are good: we loved the 150's mix of flexibility, frugality and speed back in 2013. But could you cope with a Golf that had just three-cylinders, and a cubic-capacity of just 1.0? That's usually the type of engine reserved for tiny city cars.
Or at least it used to be. With everyone downsizing and engine technologies improving all the time, this tiny engine actually kicks out a whopping 115bhp (i.e. more than its bigger 1.2-litre brother). That's pretty impressive given its physical size. Or lack of it. Not only that, but it produces only 99g/km of CO2 and will strop to 62mph in a sprightly 9.7-seconds.
Volkswagen Golf 1.0 first drive: Setting the standard
Not available in the base spec "s" trim, the 1.0 is available as a Match Bluemotion edition, with either a 6-speed manual gearbox (like we drove) or a 7-speed DSG automatic.
Match trim is good news too, because — going against the cliché of VW's being underspecced against the competition — it has front and rear park sensors, adaptive radar cruise control, heated front seats and the Discover Navigation system with a 5.8-inch touchscreen, and a proximity sensor all as standard.
Jump on board and the cabin architecture of the Golf is just starting to show its age. The dash feels slightly cliff-like, the interior looks sparely appointed and the trim running down the centre console looks (and feels) cheap. An Audi A3 or Merc A-Class it ain't.
Nonetheless, in a very Germanic way, the joy of it is that anyone can jump on board and quickly work out how to adjust wheel, seats, mirrors and get comfortable. Everything falls to hand and only the electronic parking brake is there to fox the unfamiliar — but even this auto-releases much more happily as you try to pull away than many competitors we could mention.
Volkswagen Golf 1.0-litre TSI first drive: Refined drive
Speaking of pulling away, the most intriguing thing about the 1.0 Golf is its refinement. Start it up, and but for the briefest chunter from the starter motor, this is one of those engines where you keep asking "is it on?". With stop-start as standard, the biggest day-to-day driving issue is actually remembering if the engine is running or the stop-start is active. There's none of the 3-cyclinder imbalance at idle that many other three-cylinder engines exhibit.
But then you rev it, and it produces a nice, thrum-like warble that's got a lot more character than a typical four-cylinder engine. It feels fleet-of-foot too, skipping along the road at a decent rate of knots and — despite there being lower-spec Golfs featuring a cheaper, torsion-beam rear axle arrangement — the ride is smooth and settled.
Combined with a light clutch action and slick gearshift, this is actually a contender for one of the car's we've had most pleasure driving all year. Not only does it do little wrong, but it's really easy to develop a rhythm with the car, make decent progress and actually enjoy the driving.
The refinement of the Golf — as ever — still stands out. It's a hushed and comfortable place to spend time. The touchscreen, despite now looking on the small side compared to some, still works better than most. And the dials are clear, with what few assistances system there are being easy to use.
Volkswagen Golf first drive: Not everyone plays Golf
For anyone who would normally default to Diesel — as many do — such is the appeal of the fuel economy of a modern TDi, it's well worth considering this new 1.0 petrol model. We'd recommend it to anyone mainly confined to town driving, or doing less than 10,000 miles per year anyway — beause it's more suited to that role than any diesel.
Not overwhelmed by the Golf's size in the slightest, it's efficient, quiet, quick and will doubtless produce less NOx emissions than an equivalent diesel, too (which we're sure VW will not love us for pointing out). What's that phrase? Something about necessity being the mother of invention? The new 1.0 Bluemotion Golf definitely feels like it's been the beneficiary of it.
There are many people who don't play Golf. They don't get it, don't understand the point of spending the extra money when you'd get something else for less. We're not here to persuade those people they are necessarily wrong. The world would be boring if we all drove Golfs. But after an hour behind the wheel, you can understand why this car continues to be so popular and sell so well.
At £21,530 as tested — with CarPlay/Anroid Auto enabling AppConnect (£125) and metallic paint (£560) thrown into the mix — the reality is that this Golf works out at about a grand more than an equivalent Ford Focus. The bigger gap exists to the Astra, which comes in at around three grand less. All are decent cars; we enjoyed driving the Golf most.
Interior appointments put aside, the Golf 1.0 TSi's price tag is still good enough to make you question why you'd spend more on an Audi, BMW or Merc.