Old vs new: Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf has been in development for more than four decades, so it’s little wonder it is one of the best hatchbacks on the market. In fact let’s not beat around the bush – it’s the definitive hatchback.

A car that means all things to all people, this steadfast piece of automotive design has ranked highly on Europe’s car sales leagues for many years.

But the Golf has changed a lot over the years and, to see just how the latest MK7 facelift compares, we’ve pitted it against a Golf from the not-too-distant past – the MK5.

Launched at the tail end of 2003, it was produced until 2009, but how far does a decade of development go when we’re talking about the Golf? Quite a long way as it turns out…

Old vs new: Volkswagen Golf

Styling

We’ll kick things off with the styling, primarily because there’s really not that much to say about it. Slick yet understated is the Golf’s mantra. Squinting, the uninitiated will be hard-pushed to tell which one of these cars is the latest version.

Ok, that’s perhaps a little unfair; after the lacklustre MK3 and 4, the MK5 represented somewhat of a rebirth for the Golf, and its success means that Volkswagen hasn’t tinkered with its appearance too much. All the same, some changes are obvious.

The older car had softer, rounded details, and every generation since has gotten a sharper, more angular look. Essence though, the silhouette hasn’t really changed in a decade – if you took the badging away, there’d still be little doubt that these cars are close relations.

Interior

VW’s long-held reputation for build quality is integral to the Golf’s appeal, and the MK5 continued to cement this virtue back in the noughties. Up against the tech-filled cabin of the MK7 though, it’s always going to feel a bit dated.

Plastics have come a long way, and those blue-backlit dials have definitely had their day. As 10-year-old cars go however, it can still hold its own. Standard equipment included dual-zone air con, automatic wipers and even Bluetooth connectivity – class-leading for its day.

Aside from the improved ergonomics and plastics, it’s the MK7’s infotainment set-up that sets it out the most. Even the most basic new Golfs come with an impressive 6.5in touchscreen interface, while 8in and 9.2in interfaces are available the further up the range you go.

The pricier systems also feature a first for a mainstream family hatch – Gesture Control. A new tech aimed at reducing driver distraction, all that’s required to change radio stations or browse your media is a simple swiping gesture. High-tech today maybe, but it’ll be finding its way into many cars over the next few years.

On the road

Little doubt exists about the Golf’s on-road credentials. It remains the car that other manufacturers attempt (some more successfully than others) to emulate when they design their own family hatchbacks.

BeFunky Collage

What becomes apparent when you compare the MK5 and MK7 in this regard is the choice of powertrain. The former came before the down-sizing epoque began, and as such entry-level cars were offered with a 1.4-litre petrol engine.

A 1.6-litre petrol was available too, but far and away the most popular choice were the diesels – a 1.9-litre unit which eventually made way for a 2.0-litre. Following the much-publicised Dieselgate scandal, the automotive landscape is a very different sight in 2017.

Electric and hybrid versions are now available

If anything, it appears to have spurred on Volkswagen to develop the Golf in different directions; electric and hybrid versions are now available, the latter becoming an increasingly popular choice.

Driving down emissions is a clear priority across the rest of the range too. Small, turbocharged 1.0-litre units now make up the entry-level offerings, while a more powerful 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol features cylinder deactivation tech. Diesels are still part and parcel of the range too, with the 2.0-litre GTD arguably the first true diesel hot hatch to make it to market.

What about the GTIs?

It’s impossible to speak about the Golf without bringing up the iconic GTI which invented the hot hatch as we know it today when it launched back in ’74. As far as the MK5 goes, it really was spades ahead of its predecessor and reinvigorated the GTI moniker.

Volkswagen Golf GTI at 40: what does the future hold?

We’ll stop short of recommending you go out and buy one considering their age, but, for around £5,000, they are now quite the bargain. The 2.0-litre engine producing 197bhp is all that the excellent chassis needs to deliver a thrilling driving experience.

Of course, today’s GTI is more potent and produces between 227bhp and 242bhp depending on spec. Things don’t stop there these days though – it’s the Golf R that is the new range-topping performance model, featuring a highly tuned 306bhp engine and all-wheel drive.

Where the GTI is a hot hatch then, the R is the super hatch

Review: Golf R

Where the GTI is a hot hatch then, the R is the super hatch, and takes on the latest mad Civic Type R and rowdy Focus RS, but in a sensible, grown up sort of way – just like a Golf should, then.

Prices

We brushed over the prices of second-hand MK5 GTIs above, but you might be surprised at just how little you’ll have to shell out for a new one. Personal lease deals are currently available for less than £200 per month on some models – great value really, considering many rivals are more costly and less capable.

When the facelifted model launched earlier this year, it actually received a price-cut of around £750. Combine this with the Golf’s excellent residuals, and it’s probably one of the most appealing lease cars out there; little wonder the Golf is one of the most popular lease cars on ContractHireAndLeasing.com.

Conclusion

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It’s always interesting to look at how cars have developed over the years, and we recently did the same kind of thing with the Kia Sportage and Ford Fiesta but, in the Golf’s case, we have to say it appears to wear time rather well. Of course, it has evolved, but the fact it has been a popular, established sight on the roads for so long means changes aren’t as noticeable.

New Volkswagen Golf 2017 (5)

The Golf has always been at the forefront of the market too – it practically invented the hatchback, then the hot hatchback, and now it is employing hybrid and electric technology to ensure its next decades are as favourable as the last four have been. Who knows... with the GTE, maybe Volkswagen is poised to invent the hybrid hot hatch market too?

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