2021 Volkswagen Golf eTSI 2021 Review

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We see if mild-hybrid power broadens the Volkswagen Golf’s appeal in our first drive review.

This could well be the most appealing version of the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf yet – and for a number of reasons. The first is the powertrain. We’ve tried the latest Golf in more powerful 1.5-litre eTSI mild-hybrid form before, but this latest 1.0 eTSI is new, offers less power at 81kW, but is also more affordable.

It comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic DSG gearbox only, due to the 48-volt mild-hybrid tech. This allows the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine to go into ‘coast’ mode, where the revs drop to idle when you’re off the throttle to improve efficiency.

The system’s party piece, though, is that it can also switch the combustion engine off altogether. Mild hybrids can’t run on electric power alone, so this engine-off coasting is only for shorter periods when you lift off the throttle, but thanks to the 48-volt electric architecture and a small lithium-ion battery that powers ancillaries (such as the power steering), it’s a clever way to reduce fuel consumption without the complexity – and cost – of a full hybrid or plug-in system. It means that this eTSI Golf will officially return up to 5.2L/100km with 118g/km CO2 emissions, and proves how electrification can not only benefit fuel economy, but in this case the character of the combustion engine.

You rarely notice the set-up bringing the engine in and out either, such is the (mostly) refined calibration of the tech. When you touch the throttle, the three-cylinder unit unobtrusively springs to life, with the mild-hybrid set-up’s belt starter-generator helping to deliver a small burst of torque at low speeds and when moving off to support the combustion unit.

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You don’t notice this extra oomph, but it does smooth out the acceleration – only occasionally did we notice a slight jerk from the powertrain. It’s never noisy, though, and with a rich spread of torque (it feels more muscular than its 200Nm output suggests) you don’t have to work it hard, either.

This easy-going nature is supported by the ride on Life trim’s modest 16-inch alloy wheels. The tyres’ chunky sidewalls add an extra degree of forgiveness to the way the suspension soaks up any imperfections in the road, so the Golf stays relatively settled, even on rucked country lanes.

It’s still more than dynamic enough, with fast, relatively communicative steering for a family hatchback, although it doesn’t engage you like a Ford Focus. But the grip is good, the steering is light and precise, and the Golf is secure and safe with just a hint of gratification to the way it responds if you start to go a little faster. The biggest compliment that we can pay is that it drives like a Golf should.

As with the electric VW ID.3 we reviewed last week, the Mk8 Golf seems like a slow burner, and this new powertrain extracts a little more from the package. However, compared with the biggest and best models in the class, the Golf’s 381-litre boot is outclassed, even if VW believes this is enough for its family hatch buyers. Storage inside is fine, but in some areas material quality could be a little better, especially when more pragmatic sister brand Skoda has gone upmarket with its Octavia.

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One element of the Golf that hasn’t improved over time is the infotainment. Featuring a 10-inch touchscreen set-up with sat-nav, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay. Wireless phone charging is also included. You can’t fault the tech on offer, but the execution leaves a little to be desired, because the climate control functions are also integrated into the screen. While the display is responsive to inputs, the set-up and multiple sub-menus can be fiddly to use.

The 10-inch digital dash is simpler and a nice touch, while other standard kit on even this entry-level car includes front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, predictive pedestrian detection, ambient LED lighting and VW’s We Connect online services.

This 1.0 eTSI mild-hybrid is one of the best Golfs we’ve tried yet. It’s smooth and refined – exactly as you want it to be – and it backs this up with strong efficiency helped by its electrification. But the same drawbacks remain; the infotainment is flawed and quality could be better in places. Still, overall the Golf is more appealing than ever as a mild hybrid.

Sean Carson

Final Verdict:
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