Driven/Written: VW Golf 1.0 TSI (2020)

Covering over 2000 kilometres in a week should be sufficient to determine whether the new Golf is swansong to a past era or herald to a new dawn.

All Images: The author

Covid-Christmas was bound to be special. Even without any cases among our relatives, my partner and I did our utmost to plan 2020’s challenging festive season diligently. As usual, we were willing to travel to (limited numbers of) relatives at the other end of the country, but only if all relevant parties felt safe about it.

My better half’s 99-year-old grandmother made it clear that she’d rather take the risk than remain by herself (a state that had caused her to lose her ability to speak for a period during the first lockdown). Other family members organised themselves in such a way that certain branches would be able to meet, without mingling with others. Eventually, this enabled us to create a sound itinerary for these unusual Christmas holidays.

But before we could start our trek, professional commitments meant we could only precisely schedule our trip the weekend before Christmas, by which time rental cars had reached a status akin to toilet paper nine months previously. As much as we were eager to honour our carefully planned commitments, we certainly didn’t want to spend €600 for the privilege of driving around in a wheelchair-converted VW Caddy, nor €1,200 on a 3-series for a week. This resulted in a few days of needlessly unnerving alternative plans being devised and abandoned.

Thankfully, a great many customers seem to have taken advantage of car rental companies’ relaxed Covid-related cancellation policies, resulting in the entire lineup of our preferred provider all of a sudden becoming available on the morning of December 22nd. Which didn’t mean we bagged ourselves a bargain, but at least a proper car – in this case a Skoda Scala (or similar), for less than four figures.

The Skoda Scala eventually turned out to be a VW Golf, which was perfectly fine with me. Particularly having walked past a VW T-Cross at the rental company’s parking lot – the worst or similar I’d ever had the (dis)pleasure of being allocated.

As is well-known, the eighth iteration of VW’s defining product is really just a substantial facelift of its predecessor – a car I happened to like, particularly in GTI guise. However, despite its status as a mere update, this Mk VIII version marks something of a watershed too, in that it’s the first Golf created under the auspices of CEO, Herbert Diess, introduces VW’s all-new, and highly controversial user interface and, fundamentally is likely to be the last Golf as we know it.

So paradoxically, this moderately updated Golf must succeed at being competently mundane while simultaneously providing a glimpse of what the future holds for VW and the mainstream motor car.

In terms of Golfness, Mk VIII sends out decidedly mixed messages. The doors open and close with the kind of subdued squelching noise that has been suggestive of Teutonic quality for some time. Wind and road noise suppression prove to be very effective when on the move too. The seats, though by no means outstanding, are definitely superior to those fitted to less prestigious brands’ cars (or VW’s own T-Cross).

The basic ergonomics – seating position, steering wheel adjustability etc – remain unchanged from the Mk VII and hence are perfectly acceptable. However, this solid basis has the effect of casting the areas where Golf VIII fails to live up to the promise of its name and heritage in a notably harsh light.

First of all, there’s the air-con, which never settles on a steady temperature, but oscillates between the extremes – a phenomenon we’d previously encountered in a Ford Fiesta, but not in a Golf, possibly the consequence of a cheaper unit being fitted to the Mk VIII version. Some of the plastics used in the cabin would cause Ferdinand Piëch (were he still around), to demand someone’s head on a stick as well.

But this must be considered of lesser relevance in this context (even taking the nasty plastic cap on the gear lever – one of the main touch points after all) – into account. For the Golf doesn’t feel as if it’s made of Dacia-grade materials that have been rolled in white glitter, as with the VW ID-3. However, what is noteworthy, for all the wrong reasons, is the Golf’s user interface, which is every bit as awful as claimed by a great many members of the motoring press. It is, quite simply, the worst such system I have ever experienced.

Eschewing buttons for a combination of a touchscreen and numerous touch-sensitive fields, the Golf conveys an air of Captain Picard-era futurism. The naive graphics, what with their ‘3D’ grids and shiny reflections, also appear more like some tribute to Tron (1982), the Starship Enterprise’s Holodeck (1987) or The Conran Directory of Design (1985) than a revelatory breakthrough in automotive ergonomics. In fairness though, the display of just speed, fuel, sat-nav directions and immediate fuel consumption on the driver’s screen was far more legible than the previous version’s cacophony of digital gauges and information overload.

Its nostalgic appearance proved to be the least of the Golf UI’s issues the longer I experienced it, as the dashboard’s touch-sensitive fields’ complete lack of haptic feedback led to latent insecurity on my part, which didn’t abate over the course of 2000 kilometres spent behind the wheel. Truth be told, I delegated control of the main touchscreen to my partner, rather than acquainting myself with the intricacies of the (many) buttons on the steering wheel.

This resulted in her shouting at the screen on a regular basis, for example after she’d unintentionally changed the radio’s volume by having come too close to the field controlling it at the bottom of the screen. Such operating errors would prove to be very common, again without much improvement through familiarisation over the course of the week.

Driver aids, like the potentially nerve-wracking lane departure warning assist, had to be deactivated at the start of every journey via numerous sub-menus (putting Peugeot at the top of my hypothetical shopping list, on the basis of providing a dedicated button for this input alone).

The Golf cabin in all its multi-sensory glory.

Having lulled myself into a false sense of security by having allegedly switched off any active safety system, I was eventually introduced to another such nuisance, when the Golf unexpectedly came to an abrupt, ABS-assisted halt, just as I was driving it into my mother-in-law’s garage. So vehement was this display of kinetic forces in action that I feared I might actually have hit something – yet it was merely a dramatic introduction to yet another enormously irritating aid: Front Assist.

Unfortunately, we failed at adding the deactivation of Front Assist to our regular ritual at the start of each drive, leading to another needlessly drastic emergency braking action in a small village, as the Golf’s sensors had seemingly decreed I was in danger of crashing into an elevated flower bed at a T-junction. Despite my having turned the wheel by this point and hence the car coming nowhere near a crash, the Golf again came to a sudden, complete and unintended (on my part) halt. If another car had been closely behind us, a rear-end collision would have been inevitable.

As is well-known, VW’s newest UI system still suffers from major software glitches, resulting in us being unable to connect either smartphone with the car. Thankfully, the Golf’s DAB radio meant we had more choice and better sound quality than usual for our acoustic entertainment, even if we were denied the music of our choice. Little things please little people.

In that same spirit, the Golf’s meagre TSI engine made me abandon any intention of employing it in any pleasurable way. With no low-end torque, followed by a quick, faint jolt of turbocharged momentum that soon gave way to an impression of excessive strain, the downsized three-cylinder engine quickly established that providing driving pleasure was beyond its capabilities.

Since driving quickly brought so very little pleasure, I deliberately chose to drive it exceedingly economically instead. As the car felt underpowered under most conditions anyway, I changed into tall gears early, as suggested by yet another assist. Just a few years ago, I’d have considered such low rev levels somewhat excessive and even imprudent, but the combination of forced induction and very small swept volume meant an inevitable adoption of a very different, languid driving style.

Enjoyable this wasn’t, but with an average of barely more than five litres of petrol consumed every 100 kilometres (57 MPG), the Golf turned out to be as parsimonious as its joyless performance suggested.

As I returned the Golf, a peculiar, alleged surprise & delight feature reminded me of how significantly the automotive paradigm has shifted. In addition to having lit door handles, the Golf also comes fitted with courtesy lights below the wing mirrors – which cast not just any light, but a strange ‘dot matrix’ pattern onto the pavement. Is this why the Roberts & Claudias of this world are supposed to aspire to a Golf? Such attention to detail?

If this courtesy light gimmick – and the spreading of Volkswagen badging all over the car – make the difference between this and a Skoda Scala, I’d rather do without all that surprise and delight.

The driving experience certainly wouldn’t be among the arguments in favour of choosing the Golf either. It’s a decent car to be driven around in, but as a driving tool, it’s downright unsatisfying. For that matter, I’d rather drive an electric car (though not across most of Germany in one go, for obvious reasons) than any of these feeble last hoorays of combustion-engined automobiles.

On the basis of this Golf, the mainstream car as we know it has run its course and is simply overextending itself in its quest to reach acceptable levels of efficiency. An internal combustion engine of this character simply won’t be missed.

Speaking of character, VW’s efforts to infuse this Golf with it must be considered misguided. Clearly, ostentatious solidity and ‘a cut above’ materials are seen as yesterday’s answer to the question of what mates a Unique Selling Proposition. This Golf still plays the refinement card of yore (and plays it reasonably well), but otherwise it is a product whose design – rather than just style – focuses too heavily on gimmicks.

In that context, wireless charging for one’s smartphone is welcome, just as the blue ambient lighting turned out to be quite a bit more pleasant than the previous, white iteration. Yet the pseudo-progressive UI design in particular, even if all features actually worked, must be considered no mere step, but a giant leap in the wrong direction.

The contradictory nature of this car makes itself obvious everywhere: in its faddish Heidedesign style, in its gimmicky features and its compromised driving experience. This isn’t a vehicle without substance, but too many of the changes introduced are to the detriment of this substance. The Golf has ceased to be a constant.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

52 thoughts on “Driven/Written: VW Golf 1.0 TSI (2020)”

  1. Clearly here the ergonomic flubs are very much getting in the way of what one used to think of as the car itself. In terms of that fabled thing called UX, the Golf´s makers are not at the top of the game. They are first and foremost engineers steeped in a century of analogue interfaces for about 20 control. Now this company is asked to do intuitively what only perhaps Apple know how to do. As a matter of interest, did VW field test all this with the over 65s? Or the many over 75s? I can imagine that many older customers, when faced with technology that makes you shout at it will simply buy a simpler car and not this one.

    The Golf has been over-whelmed by its controls for things not much to do with starting, stopping and turning.

    On a side note,the panorama of screens is a mess. The view from the left into the car makes it look like the screen is jammed into place.

    And finally, the image of an Aral station somewhere in Germany is giving me pangs of homesickness. Southern Germany is my home-away-from-home and like the rest of you, the cabin-craziness is beginning to bite me.

  2. It is time for the Golf to die. To go out with a bang rather than a whimper. The bang being the sound made as its driver crashes into a solid object whilst distracted by its dangerous ergonomics.

    What justification do manufacturers offer for these touchscreen interfaces? I just went to Volkswagen’s UK website to see if I could find out. On the home page my attention is drawn to the ID.4 1st Edition, Our Range of Hot Hatches, The new Arteon Plug-in Hybrid, The new Tiguan and The all electric ID.3. No prominent link for the new Golf. Says it all?

    I eventually downloaded a brochure. Perhaps this will offer more insight? “A new generation of intuitive driving” says the headline on the page with the interior shots. “Inside, the focus is on design, function, comfort and personal choice, with technology that’s nothing short of revolutionary. If the exterior excites, the interior more than delivers. Colourful ambient lighting, a digital cockpit with intuitive touch controls”. This sounds great! Volkswagen seem most excited by the ambient lighting pack with a choice of 30 different colours.

    I can only assume that touchscreens are now cheaper to make and fit than a proper suite of physical controls.

    1. The problem ist cost reduction. The user interface has to be as cheap as possible which above all means without mechanical switches. My current Audi has very similar usability glitches because everything is operated via toggle switches and you can’t tell which function is active or not because the switch is always in the same position. There are toggle switches for front and rear fog lights (with no idiot lights in the line of sight so you have to look at the switch itself which is hidden behind the steering wheel rim), for heated front and rear window (same, but at least you can see the switches) and even the dip/main light switch is only a toggle. Everything in the HVAC panel is driven by rotary controls without any tactile indication or by toggles.

      Ferdinand Piech was right when he said that the boss of a car manufacturer should bea production engineer. Having a CEO that formerly was the boss of the purchasing department somewhere else seems to be a particularly bad idea.

    2. If it wasn’t so depressing it would be hilarious to me that my lowly 2013 Fiesta has an advanced feature whereby I can operate the essential HVAC controls by touch alone whilst keeping my eyes on the road. Something new cars costing tens of thousands of £/€ more apparently lack.

  3. I find the dot matrix pattern downlighting quite attractive. Much more so than the Range Rover Evoque (Or Evok-u, as I like to say) silhouette shaped ones on the Mk1 Evoque.
    However this Golf is a cheerless thing now isn’t it? A cold house of a car infact.

  4. Thank you very much for this interesting article. In your opinion in the Golf category which car has the simpliest “control system”? Sometimes i think that having an Extra TomTom, is a nice idea, you are sure that the external navi will always do what is supposed to do and you have the car screen available for other stuff.

    1. I’m perfectly happy using an old car with a smartphone performing infotainment duties.

      As far as currently in production models are concerned, I very much liked Peugeot’s UI approach.

  5. Hilarious report. My 2018 people mover of a supposedly inferior (read: French) brand already has most of the assist too. The lane assist was disabled once right at the beginning of our common experience and never had to be touched again. The other stay on as they seldom interfere with my (relaxed) driving – brake assist does its thing once in a while, but never to stand still luckily. Still, knowing that it could stop the car if I had a stroke (while reading the latest news on my mobile phone?) is sort of reassuring. Of course whenever I feel like driving a proper car there is an old, analog two seater faithfully waiting in the garage. I have long given up the idea of ‘one car does it all’. Still, even for me who never owned and doesn’t plan to ever own a VW, their descent is quite disheartening.

  6. Good morning Christopher and thank you for not pulling any punches in your report on the latest Golf. It is clear that the screen-based controls are a serious retrograde step in terms of useability and safety. Had your partner not been on hand to attend to the secondary controls, it is likely that they would have been a major distraction when driving. Moreover, it doesn’t sound like familiarity would bring about much improvement in their useability, given the lack of any tactile feedback.

    What will it take for manufacturers to reverse this dangerous trend? A series of fatal accidents where driver inattention is identified as the cause? This looks like another automotive industry scandal in the making.

    Your experience with the small-capacity turbo engine confirms my suspicions thst they are designed primarily to perform well in fuel economy and emissions tests, but are often strained and overworked in real world driving conditions.

    On a minor issue, it may be a lighting issue, but the interior in that photo looks dreary in the extreme in that uniform grey-beige colour.

    1. The interior is far from invigorating, but still superior to the dreadful T-Cross – with the exception of those interfaces, of course.

      Parking Mk VIII next to its immediate predecessor highlighted the delicacy of what constitutes ‘Golfness’. Mk VII was no car to get one’s juices cooking either, but there’s an unspectacular finesse to it that’s absent from the current car. Rather than offering outstanding mediocrity, if you will, the new car pretends to be outstandingly advanced while being sub-standard in crucial areas. Given they’re so closely related, the differences in character are astoundingly marked – and all to be blamed on Herr Diess himself.

    2. This (dangerous) trend is here to stay. Trying to sell new cars without will soon be almost impossible – rationality is rare among buyer of new cars. On the other hand, looking back at my personal experience, it doesn’t have to be that bad. The only switches left in my car are front and rear defrost, I think. Apart from ~20 on the steering wheel – I still do not know all of them. Oh, and thinking of it, three more for the electronic parking brake (what a stupid thing, cannot do J-turns anymore), central locking which closes as soon as the car rolls and the (quite useless because way too slow) parking assistant. There is yet no haptic feedback coming from the screen (as opposed to any mobile phone where you can globally turn it on or off) but this is technically possible, even only on specific screen areas, and is rather a cost and/or reliability question. I definitely can operate my car without co-pilot, though, and as stated before, the dreary line assist had do be disabled only once. Having to do it once or even more than once every day would definitely be a reason not to buy a car. But I have to admit that I had not checked this before buying my actual car – I certainly will before buying the next one. Actually I’ll probably have to establish a check-list (not even joking on this one). Long gone are the times where my grandfather would check a car by starting from the steepest hill around…

  7. Aren’t the dot-matrix down-lighters from the wing mirrors meant to look like the stipples on a golf-ball? I assumed that immediately as being an attempt at humour and/ or irony.

    I really enjoyed this review, especially the turn of phrase in the writing; very intelligently told and structured. Thank you.

    This comes across as a car, an icon if you like, at odds with itself. VW Golfs have always been, somehow, steady, and have mostly defied the lure of the latest gimmicks and fads. It’s always seemed to me that they deliberately wait a generation before implementing a new ‘thing’ just to see whether it proves to be a fad or a trend. And, when the new trend does appear in a Golf, it means that it has had chance to mature, be well executed, and be reliable.

    With this latest Golf VW seems to have lost its nerve, jumped straight in with the whole digital screen UI thing, and in the process, done it badly and unreliably. In its looks, it has also lost some of its distinctiveness. The Golf 8 has clearly been designed to look like its new ID.3 sister – especially from the rear. There’s an ID.3 down the road from us and I pass it every day when I walk the dog. It’s very distinct to my eyes from the Golf 7 – it looks like an ID.3, not a Golf, so it’s clearly a case of the Golf moving towards the new EV, not the other way around. Why would you do that when your model defines the class (across Europe at least)?

    I had an extended period with a Scala recently and have written a piece on it for DTW which will appear in due course. In it, I question whether the Scala and Golf would really be considered to be rivals in the same class – I thought not, but maybe now I am not so sure.

    1. Spot on. What you describe is the effect Herbert Diess’ reign has had on VW so far, which has been one of compromised disruption. It’s clear that Piech-era VAG is no more and simply couldn’t be, but the replacement vision has so far hardly been a convincing one. This Golf perfectly reflects that.

  8. The future of the family VW is the ID3. Conceptually, this company is at the beginning of its third era, with the ID3 succeeding Golf and Beetle as its heartland car. So far, so good.

    But it seems the challenge of delivering Golf Mk8 and ID3 at the same time was beyond them. Both appear to suffer from irritating flaws and execution, and therefore fall somewhat short of their promise. The Golf’s flaws can probably be fixed at a mid-cycle update, if VW is motivated to do so. The ID3 seems to be nearly very good, but perhaps its drawbacks are more fundamental and cannot be fixed without wholesale redesign.

    The base model Golf has always been pretty stodgy, so this 1.0’s lack of driving pleasure is rather in keeping with its predecessors. But reviews suggest that the GTI also appears to have lost its way, and this is a great regret.

    1. Personally talking I do not agree with the sentence that ID3 will replace the Golf, the ID3 is a project, once it is mature it will be called Golf again.

    2. Marco, the numbers tell a different story.

      About half of VW’s R&D budget over the next 5 years is committed to ‘digital and electric’… ok, that covers more than the ID project, but ID is a massive investment, with a new platform, new manufacturing and a new sub brand.

      VW simply cannot afford for it to fail. I guess the strategy is for ID to overlap with Golf, much as Golf overlapped with Beetle. But the direction of travel is clear.

      Whether ID3 is good enough to inherit this legacy is up for debate. I think the jury is out.

      Incidentally, one thing that really annoys me about the ID3 is that there is no storage compartment up front. There are two things everyone knows about the original Beetle: the engine was in the back and the luggage was up front. For VW to miss the second half of this clear and obvious association is both baffling and infuriating.

      ‘Legacy’ manufacturers seem unable to realise the full benefits of a dedicated EV platform in the way that Tesla can. It is legitimate to ask if the ID3’s platform really offers the customer any real advantages over, say, Peugeot’s approach, which is to adapt the same platform for EV applications. You would think VW’s approach would offer clear advantages in terms of efficiency and layout, but apparently not… or, at least, not yet.

    3. Interesting comparison with the Beetle. what I think, VW travels on two tracks, on the one hand exploit the old technology that generates cash and does not require too much investment, the other invest in pure electric, despite all the proclamations we still do not know how it will be the market in the next 5/10 years.
      In my opinion, if the market were to become electric, tomorrow the ID3 would be called Golf.

    4. I have been driving the most basic Golf I with the 1.1l and manual 4-speed box and while of course very slow it still was quite fun. Actually the officer I was driving around (a guest from a foreign army) once stated that he couldn’t say what was worse, my uphill or downhill driving (definitely downhill). I also drove a Golf II with the NA diesel and that was dreary.

  9. The best review of a current model I have read in years and so eloquently written – thank you Christopher. But I take no pleasure in the confirmation of how far the mighty have fallen: VW Golf R.I.P.

  10. The year is 2021: a VW Golf can achieve fuel consumption figures of barely more than 5 litres per 100 kilometres. It’s just not fun.

    With our Lancia Y (Tipo 840, 1995-2003), we have fuel consumption figures of 5.8 – 6.1 for short trips (drive to the golf course around the corner or into the city centre) and 4.8 – 5.2 for long trips on the motorway and country roads.
    And all this comes gimmicks-free, without blinking, beeping and not-better-knowing-Assists.

    The Alfasud Sprint needs between 5.8 and 7.5, depending on the driving profile, and this is an engine with a carburettor, over 40 years old. And believe me, every kilometre you drive is pure fun.

    So it looks to me like the last decades of vehicle development have brought us only touchscreens that are difficult to operate – and a screaming woman in the passenger seat, things the world doesn’t need.

    1. How is the Y to live with? They conform to an agreeable recipe. Is yours in one of the gazillion colours they offerred?

    2. Our trusty old pump jet diesel Golf IV can do more than 60 mpg and is tremendous fun to drive with its stomp pulling torque.

    3. Dear Richard, it’s wonderful to live with this vehicle. It has everything you need. You don’t need what it doesn’t have.
      It even takes you comfortably to Antwerp and Bruges and back again, so it’s definitely suitable for long journeys. (However, we are two people who are used to suffering, as we have already made trips to Italy and France with an Alfa Spider. Some would call that not a trip but an S/M experience).
      Ours is in orange metallic, quite a rare colour, at least here in grey stuffy Germoney, where there is apparently an unwritten law that cars can only be bought in 12 different shades of black. The colour was actually the reason why we spontaneously bought the car. However, the paint is already a bit faded in parts, but we see it more Italian, so it doesn’t matter.
      Technically, much is identical to the Fiat Punto, which was sold in larger numbers. This makes the supply of spare parts a little more relaxed – relatively speaking to the supply nightmare of FIAT/Lancia.
      The rust prevention is thankfully quite good. Because the corresponding sheet metal parts would be hard or impossible to get. Inevitably, you get used to a driving style that avoids the contact with the usual people (oldspech: i…ts) who don’t notice anything.

    4. Ok, but modern vehicles are much cleaner (I wouldn’t want to know the results of an emissions test on a 40 year old Alfasud), bigger, and much, much safer.

      I have had a lot of experience with various MkII Golfs. The latest Golf is much bigger, so the Polo is a better comparison in size. Try a long drive in each and then crash them into a wall. The Polo might not be hugely more efficient, but I promise you everything else will be better.

    5. I imagine the progress – if it is – is in weight. The Golf 8 probably weighs 40-50% more than the Alfasud yet betters its fuel efficiency. There’s more to life Etc., but breaking the link between rising weight and rising consumption has been someone’s challenge.

  11. An excellent review, thank you, but goodness that car (or rather its ‘systems’) sounds awful: I was reminded of my first encounter with such ‘active driver aids’ in a posh Volvo some years ago. Whenever the car disagreed with what I wanted it to do, a gigantic orange light mounted under the windscreen flashed in my eyes; staggeringly dangerous in my opinion. That cars now want to actively disagree with one’s steering input and decide to emergency brake themselves does not fit into my definition of progress.

    I now remember telling the owner of the aforementioned Volvo (a friend of mine) that if I were to own a car, it would either be old or a very simple model. A Fiat Panda and two Rover 75s later, it seems I should be glad I stuck to that resolution.

  12. Interesting review. I have to admit I had to google the Scala, such is my lack of interest in VW Group products ( though I still carry a torch for the Corrado…)
    I lost interest in the Golf after the Mk 4, and have long considered the 21st century version as a car for buyers with no imagination. I will warn my children not to drive too closely behind a new one.
    I note that Fords’ one litre turbo engine has won numerous awards and drives quite well, but is far from trouble-free in service.

    1. Hi Mervyn. There’s a piece on the Corrado scheduled for publication in the near future. Stay tuned to DTW!

  13. As I understand it, to score higher NCAP points these days the infuriating lane keep assist needs to be disabled on each occasion you drive, rather than just the once, as in the past. The Mazda 6 I drove last year was the first car I’d driven to have this and my arms ached like hell after a two hour drive.

    1. The first thing I bought after I got my last Audi was a piece of software called VCDS which emulates the diagnosis software used by VW dealers. With VCDS you can switch off start/stop, lane assist, ding-ding light warnings, seat belt alarm and many more. The only thing that can’t be disabled is the stupid bell that tells you that the car has a passenger airbag.

    2. I have a Mazda6, and the LKAS has both a separate dedicated on/off button and ability to turn if off in one of the screen menus. It’s impossible to live with it turned on, I agree. Once turned off it stays off. Maybe it’s because I live in North America, but I’d wager not. Nobody would buy the car in a test drive if that nonsense couldn’t be turned off, it’s that obvious and obnoxious.

      Unlike LKAS and traction control, the other ten nannies cannot be turned off as in this Golf (if one does so at every start up. which would drive me barmy). Their sensitivity can be modified, that’s all. I’ve had two unbeckoned sudden stops, both on occasions where my driving style and the car’s idea differed. Both times I was on the brake pedal but I’m used to cutting things closer than the programming. Releasing the brake pedal as it nosedives and the road ahead becomes clear does nothing — it comes to a complete stop anyway. Annoying. However, the Rear Cross Traffic alert is superb for reversing — it even picks up humans who suddenly appear from ranks of parked vehicles.

  14. Thank you for the insights, this unforunately matches my preconceptions about the current generation Golf. On the topic of user interface I’d nominate contemporary Renaults (in this class the particularly the Mégane). While they are certainly not as modern as PSA products, but – unlike in many Japanese cars – the display and buttons are well embedded into the dashboard and the developers seems to have thought of elderly people, so the basic functions are easy to operate.

    1. Around the end of the 90s there was a movement in car design, pioneered by Ford, for universal accessibility. I don´t see any of that now in the use of screen-based interfaces. I am not that convinced ergonomics plays the role it used to the 1980s and 1990s either. I am sure the seats and doors fit people. It´s the controls where ergonomic details are wanting. It´s rather regrettable that the more we know about this area, the less the ideas are put into effect. My suspicion is that the base line for ergonomic standards is mere acceptability rather than excellence.

  15. Thank you for this very interesting review. I drive an e-golf from 2015 and testdrived an id-3 in desember. I will focus on the software side of things. The userinterface of the id-3 is not of top quality. Fewer physical buttons, fussy system, slow replytime. I will not compare to the interface of tesla (I have experience with a 2017 model s) which is way out of id-3’s league in terms of practicality (after all software design is what tesla engineers are best at), usability , appearance, simplicity, responsiveness, well pretty much everything. Tesla has very few physical buttons but at least they have a well functioning software to compensate and the common sence to make the most of those existing buttons, that is they have tactile feed back so you know if to actually have pressed the button or not not (and no touch pads/screens outside the main one). The id-3 (and some mercedes I drove on holiday a year ago) has this sort of touch pad on the steering wheel that takes a lot of time to get accustomised with (and this is coming from a 40year old with above average digital abilities and direct interface with computers) and often ends up giving the wrong command (thank God they have usually assigned functions like radio-channel change, toggle between sensitivity levels of rain sensors and so forth).
    The trouble for VW is that their “new” software is actually experienced worse than their own design from 6 years ago. Even though they have pumped it with small gimmics ( and the graphics are obviously much improved) it is just inferior to the previous one in all aspects a driver would appreciate.
    I am afraid soon they will not be able to justify the premium price they command now.

  16. Here in Norway the police has focused really hard on cracking down on distracted driving this last year.
    Fiddling too long with the screens in your car is considered equal to using a phone, resulting in a 170 eur fine and two penalty points on your licence.
    I think Germany is doing the same, so it’s really odd for VW to go for such a fiddly and unintuitive system.

    1. In Germany you’re just not allowed to use your phone while driving, in theory at least. In practice, police just does not care despite of the fact that nowadays one out of three accidents on German roads is caused because the driver had to use his smartphone. But in September or October 2020 a Tesla driver got fined because he used his TV for operating something in the car. The guy went to court but the fine got confirmed by a High Court decision demanding that all major functions of a car mus be accessible via dedicated mechanical switches, a decision that caused some head scratching at manufacturers but even now has largely been forgotten.

    2. Hey Dave, that is very very interresting, do you have a link for that high court decision or the news article about it (a short google search with those words brought me nowhere)? Should this be implemented half of the new cars sold have to do a major redisign. Then again, the devil always hiding in the details, comes the subject of what is defined as “major function” in a car in order to fall under that desicion…

    3. The rationale of the High Court decision was exceptionally detailed and described every function relevant for driving as being in need of a dedicated switch. Examples stared were windscreen wipers and their interval settings, many HVAC settings, light switches. Open to debate were only things lime volume switch for the radio.

  17. A very interesting article and comments.

    At the risk of becoming the resident contrarian / nutter, I must say that, in the right spec, I think these are rather attractive, especially the interior which can look plush and well-finished, in the right colour.

    It’s currently the second best-selling car in Europe – I wonder how quickly, or whether the I.D.3 will take over its crown (the Golf currently outsells it 10:1).

    I acknowledge that I have an inner Robert / Claudia (that looks odd written down) and am a bit of a Volkswagen fan, despite having reservations about some recent models (Polo, T-Cross, and I.D.3), principally relating to the materials used in their interiors.

    Christopher, did you try the voice activation function? That might be a way around some of the user interface problems you experienced (I know it shouldn’t be a substitute for manual operation).

    It’s not been discussed much in the media, but next year sees the introduction of compulsory automatic speed limiters on new cars. They can be overridden and deactivated, but reset to ‘on’ after each journey. They will be popular…

  18. This pretty much sums up what’s wrong with cars today. I don’t want any of the driving nannies nor do I want a center screen. I’ll be driving old stuff from now on by the looks of things.

    1. I think the “problem” with all these gimmicky-nannie-cars is also that if you deactivate some functions before you start driving, “and a double-decker bus crashes into us” (courtesy by The Smith), the insurance company will say: “Oh, you deactivated this and that before you started driving? There’s nothing we can do for you now. We’re out of it.”

      Once all these assistance functions are in the car, one can’t get it out. (Benjamin Franklin sends his regards.)

    2. I fully agree. My next car will be some Alfetta or even Giulia. Or A Sei.

  19. I don’t think there is anything with the existence of the active safety functions per se. In fact I do think that if they exist they should be enabled every time you turn the car on because that way you always know what state the vehicle is in, as you’ve had to make a conscious choice to disable them. What you *shouldn’t have to do* is go through a zillion menus and sub-menus to turn the things off. The obsession with tidying up interiors and cutting costs by reducing button numbers is just daft.
    The touch screen blight is, worryingly, even extending to aircraft. If Boeing ever get the 777X out to airlines (who won’t be rushing to take delivery of such big craft for a few years), they will have touchscreens on the flight deck. At least in this application some thought has been put into to give the pilot somewhere to brace his/her finger in case of turbulence ( They have already crept into the A350.
    The other point about the safety systems is that we are rapidly approaching the point where accidents will occur because drivers fail to recall what the systems actually do. This might sound silly, but we may be getting close to the motor industry’s MCAS moment, where the car has just too many modes, too poorly implemented, for the driver to manage them correctly in an emergency or failure. There’s even an FIA paper on the matter: ADAS-study

    1. This is absolutely typical of a certain class of person who makes important design direction decisions in organisations.

      The touchscreen on the original iPhone in 2007 was a huge success and widely imitated, so how these people think it should be used everywhere for everything, regardless of whether it’s appropriate or not. It is the height of intellectual laziness.

    2. The problem with these nannying systems is not their existence as such but the way they work or rather don’t.
      When such a system is should work reliably and if that is not possible it shouldn’t be fitted to a car. How this stuff currently works undermines users’ trust and acceptance because drivers are mis-used as beta testers.
      The equivalent to the system that brought the Golf to unexpected halts is Audi’s ‘pre sense’. It uses a small camera scanning the road ahead and if there’s something the software thinks is dangerous it initiates an ABS-rattling braking manoeuvre. It happened on me twice – the first time a plumber was opening a rear door of his panel van parked at the side of the road and the second was a pile of snow at the side of the road that caused the alarm. The system can be adjusted to three permanent levels of sensitivity or it can be switched off permanently, but only for the current drive. As it’s hidden in the third of fourth level of a menu hierarchy switching it off for every drive is not an option – thankfully my ‘jail break’ software can deactivate it permanently.
      My current car is already my second one on which I had to spend a whole weekend browsing through CAN setups and switching off literally dozens of nannying alarms (you opened the driver’s door with the engine running! We are all going to die!) or functions protecting me from myself by preventing me from disengaging the parking brake without wearing a seat belt.
      In opposition to you I think that when these systems are fitted to a car and the driver does not want to use them it should be possible to permanently switch them off and there should be no way for them to re-activate themselves so the driver can be sure they are switched off and stay so.

    1. Micheal, if you don’t mind I have removed that, as it was a little chunky. I have retained the link to the site.

    2. I’m relieved, thanks, Eoin! I only intended the link to be there for reference, not the embedded pdf.

  20. Due to the almost complete lack of interest in hatchbacks, VW is not sending the new Golf Mk8 to North America. So good or bad, I’ll likely never know it for myself. A version of the GTI and R AWD will appear in 12 months or so. 12,000 Golfs was all the Golfs VW could unload in the USA in 2019, not enough to justify its continuing existence. If they added a three-inch lift and AWD and pretended it was a crossover, the punters would line up to buy ’em, I swear. Mazda CX30 to 3 hatchback sales runs about 10 to 1, and the saloon 3 well outsells the hatchback.

    The previous Golf Mk7 I found quite small with nasty egress from a seat closet stuck between the B-pillar and console, and the luggage space is small. Hasn’t ever struck me as a “family” car. Different paradigm for a different continent I suppose. And the GTI carries expensive insurance. The biggest seller not a pickup truck, at about half the F150 sales rate is the Toyota RAV4, but there is no de facto standard car everyone knows like the Golf as in Europe. I’d only ever want to test drive a 1.0t for the novelty value. People here buy a two or three year-old car/crossover with a real drivetrain, rather than justify the depreciation on something new like a 1.0t to “save money on gas”. Where’s the personal economy in doing such a thing for a vehicle it would be hard to shift later when nicer better-optioned examples wouldn’t be much more for the new-to-me punters?

    1. My father knew someone who bought new vehicles every three years, to avoid putting his previous one through its first MOT test. Which would be £50 max for the test, assuming there was no work to do. Possibly he just fancied it anyway, but I believe he bought them outright rather than on finance, so it’s a pricey way of motoring. On the other hand, he was a widower and it was his money to spend as he chose.

      I agree (again) with Fred G Eger, eventually insurers will mandate the safety systems being active if you want to be covered. Apparently such systems don’t work well with UK narrow country lanes, among various other situations. The Subaru system was rated as one of the better ones, but with below 1000 sold last year in the UK, could they be joining Daihatsu and Mitsubishi?

      (by comparison to Bill Malcolm’s figures, the previous Mazda 3 saloon comprised about a quarter of 3 sales – which was more than Mazda had predicted when they offered it; maybe find a USA Fiat 500 with 875cc turbo-twin if you really want a novelty )

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