With diesels in general – and VW diesels in particular – going through the mill right now, the launch of two new petrol Golfs is not only timely but potentially a saviour for a car that has been so strongly linked with diesel engines for much of its life.
These two engines are your options in the new Golf 1.5 TSI Evo. Their paper specs look enticing. For a start, both of the new units use less fuel than their predecessors. The old 123bhp 1.4 TSI is replaced by a new 128bhp variant, while the new 148bhp version replaces the old (and also 148bhp) 1.4 TSI.
You can only have the high-powered 148bhp engine in GT or R Line trims. With R Line styling, it’s easy to confuse the 1.5 TSI with the flagship Golf R. You wouldn’t confuse the two on 0-62mph performance, mind: the 148bhp car’s 8.3sec time is actually a tiny bit slower (by 0.1sec) than the old 148bhp 1.4’s.
Putting the stopwatch away helps you to discern the real-world difference between old and the new, which takes the form of a much more progressive power delivery in the new 1.5 engine. It pulls with more gusto from low rpm too.
The lower-powered 128bhp may also be weaker in performance numbers and on the road, but you won’t feel cheated on fast B-roads or when joining motorways. Both are all but silent at cruising speeds. We got an impressive 52mpg on our mixed-roads route in the 148bhp car, not far off the official 55.4mpg.
Only when you’re running fully loaded might you wish you had the 148bhp car’s extra shove. The rest of the time the 128bhp is perfectly adequate, plus it’s cheaper and more economical. It would be our recommendation.
Handling wise, nothing has changed, so composure and comfort are the watchwords even on poor road surfaces, with fine body control engendering a lovely feeling of assurance and expectation in the driver. An Audi A3 is marginally more agile, but the Golf’s steering is pure and its grip is strong.
Again, it’s a case of ‘as you were’ with the driving position, which is excellent in both visibility and range of adjustment. There has been a significant change to the infotainment though, with a big new 9.2in touchscreen that’s clearly designed to put the Golf up on the same aesthetic rung as the A3 and BMW 1 Series.
The screen dominates the dashboard and looks spectacular, but it’s form over function here because the absence of physical buttons means you have to take your attention away from the road to make changes. We’d go for the much more useful Active Info Display option (£495) which puts a configurable and very clear digital screen up in place of the regular instruments.
Practicality is as great as ever, with loads of room for four (and a fifth at a pinch) and a well-shaped boot if you don’t need the extra space of the Skoda Octavia.
At £20,365 for a basic 128bhp 1.5 TSI, the price gap with the old 1.4 TSI 125 is minimal, but you’re getting a cleaner and more fuel-efficient car. The £23,455 148bhp model is a fair bit cheaper not only than its 1.4-litre TSI forebear but also than an equivalent A3.
Of course, no new Golf is a budget choice, but a few minutes’ driving tells you why this is so. The classiness and polish of the experience is usually only available in much dearer cars.
Some might say that the main competitor for these new 1.5 Golfs is the also mightily impressive 1.0-litre petrol Golf at under £19,000.
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo 150 R Line 5dr
Price from £25,095
Engine 4cyl, 1495cc, turbo, petrol
Power 148bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 184lb ft @ 1500rpm
Top speed 134mph
Economy 55.4mpg (official average)
CO2, tax band 116g/km, 22%
Tony Middlehurst is a writer for WhatCar.