Nine months ago, I upgraded my car to a new Volkswagen Golf 8, and I thought it was time to put together some of my thoughts so far.
I bought the car myself, with my own money, after an extensive search of multiple manufactures. VW had no editorial input into this review, nor have they seen it before publication.
My specific car is a Golf 8 Style with the 150HP Petrol TSI engine and manual gearbox. It is in Atlantic Blue with the following factory fitted extras:
- Winter Pack – Heated front seats, heated steering wheel and three zone climate control.
- Reverse Parking Camera – Camera Hidden in the rear VW logo shows you the area behind your car when reversing.
- Park Assist – Allows it to automatically parallel park or reverse into perpendicular parking spaces.
- Dynamic Chassis Control – Allows the car’s handling to be controlled by the driver’s selection.
- Variable steering – Changes the steering ratio based on speed and driving profile.
- Spare wheel – Adds a space saving spare wheel in place of a puncture repair kit.
- Keyless entry – Allows the doors and boot to be unlocked with the key in your pocket, by lightly touching the door handle.
- Mobile key – Allows a phone to be used in place of the car key (currently supports a small number of phones)
I bought my car in person (between lockdowns) at a local VW agent. While much of my experience will be specific to the agent rather than the Golf or VW, they are the franchise of choice for VW and form an important part of the end customer experience.
I found the experience to be a bit of a mixed bag; On entry, not knowing what I was looking for, I was very impressed with the no-pressure way that the agent showed me the range, listening to my thoughts, and helping me understand the differences.
When I returned to purchase, I felt welcome, as they sat with me though the purchase process. I’d note, however, that I found their approach somewhat flippant – the agent, went through the process of selecting the purchase options at very high speed, and multiple times I had to stop him and double / triple check exactly what I would be getting.
The agent’s knowledge of the car was good – he was able to explain what the function of each extra was. There were some gaps in his knowledge, though, specific to the Golf 8. This led to some post-deposit confusion, where it was not clear if my car had the 10” Discover Pro infotainment system or Discover Media. Over an hour and four VW sales people later, I still have no idea what the difference between Discover Media and Pro are. Frankly, I don’t think VW do either.
After I collected the car, I continued to have issues with the against. After several weeks, I was missing the Gap insurance documents, I called them several times over a number of weeks and was told that the software they used to automatically action the purchase was not working but it would be corrected in the “next couple of weeks”, It took three months for this to be resolved.
Driving and Using the Car
Using the car day-to-day, I’ve found it to be very well thought out and refined. It is full of helpful touches, such as the carrier bag hooks in the boot (trunk), the spacious door pockets on all four of the doors, and the way that the passenger side wing mirror folds down while parallel parking to show the kerb. The lack of a dedicated sunglasses holder did not escape my notice.
The car easily accommodates front passengers comfortably and also rear passengers have reasonable (if not excessive space). The trunk has a decent capacity and is free of too many lumps and bumps in the loading space. With both rear seats folded, I’ve easily accommodated sizable Ikea furniture boxes. The trunk floor lifts to reveal a modest hidden space with room for tools and a first aid kit.
To drive, the Golf 8 is an enjoyable experience; the 150 HP engine is ample and agile for both city driving and long distance motorway driving without any dramas. The driving modes make a modest, but noticeable difference to the car’s acceleration and handling in the corners. In Sport mode, I was not able to detect any appreciable lag from the turbo and the car was accelerated in a lively and fun way.
Similarly, the impact of Dynamic Chassis Control is subtle but noticeable. In sports mode the car sits flatter while cornering at speed and rides rougher over poorly paved roads. The variable steering is quite noticeable, when traveling at speed it is firm and responsive, giving a good feeling of connectedness to the road. But when manoeuvring, it is light and easy to turn.
Build quality is good, the trim plastics are pleasant to touch and are well fitted, with no loose panels or vibrations. With that being said, I did have some faults that have been resolved under warranty:
- Keyless entry on the passenger side was intermittent. VW replaced the passenger door handle and there were no further issues.
- After six months, the boot lid stopped opening, and would not unlock. VW replaced the lock, and the issue was resolved.
- After six months, the reversing camera failed. VW replaced the camera, although there are still intermittent issues (more on that later).
While the Golf 8 received a modest visual update to previous models – with a lower, more angular look- most of the updates are with the technology. The new Golf contains many cleaver tech features that make it easier to drive and safer on the road. It can be a little tricky to understand them all, so let’s look at each feature in turn:
Travel Assist is VW’s assisted driving system (it’s not self-driving, you and it are driving at the same time), it controls the car’s speed, braking and steering to maintain the car’s position in the lane and obey the current speed limit or the speed of the traffic around you.
It’s not as sophisticated as Tesla’s Autopilot, but when running it really improves the driving experience; at first it can be a bit weird, because while you’re holding the wheel you can feel the car constantly inputting small corrections to keep the car in its lane. However, once you get used to the feel, it comes to feel more like its reading your mind as you steer.
I’m particularly like how the car remains in control when traffic slows to a full halt and will resume when it sets off. With a manual transmission, this is a little bit clunky with the drive handling the gears as is starts and stops, but having the car automatically follow the car in front at 9 mph is very useful in London traffic.
Travel Assist doesn’t perfectly work all the time, though. It uses a camera mounted behind the rear view camera to “see” the road, but if the road markings are too dim, the road too complex or a corner too sharp, the system will hand over control back to the driver.
In theory, this isn’t a problem as you were both driving anyway, but the car stops putting any steering effort in at all, meaning there’s a jerk as you react to the car suddenly straightening a tiny bit. It’s safe, but not the smoothest experience for your passengers, and I’m sure there’s a better way.
Even if Travel assistance is not active, the lane assist system always runs in passive mode – if you are stray outside of your lane it will take control of the wheel and steer you back. I have found this a good safety feature.
Park Assist allows the car to automatically parallel park or back into a perpendicular space. It works using the front mounted camera to measure the gaps between cars and compute a path to park in that space.
It successfully inserted me into some pretty tight spaces, using some impressive multi shunt manoeuvres. Its aware of the distance to all objects around you, so as it steers backwards, it will not hit other cars with the front. I’ve been really impressed with some of the things it’s done.
It has some limitations though. The system measures distances between the cars, not the lines on the road. Meaning it can only park in a space with a car on each side, and if one of them is offset in their space, so will you be. Also, it can only ever reverse into space – great if you’re parking for a quick getaway, less good if you want the trunk accessible to put your groceries in.
Safety Features (Front & Side Assist)
The car is covered in safety features, both to help avoid accidents and to improve safety in the event of an incident.
One of the best, is Side Assist – an orange light on the inside of the wing mirrors. When there’s a car in the blind spot or approaching from behind, the corresponding light on that side will come on. If you start to steer in that direction, the light will flash. This is a simple system but works really well and is perfect for people with limited mobility to turn their heads.
While driving, the car is also using Front assist to measure the distance to the car in front. If you are likely to collide with an obstacle, it will warn you with a loud beep and large red visual warning. If you fail to heed these warnings, it will automatically brake the car to a complete stop.
Adaptive & Predictive Cruise Control
All models of the Golf 8 have adaptive cruise control, which uses a radar sensor behind the VW badge to measure and match the speed of traffic in front. Easy to read controls on the steering wheel allow you to easily change how closely behind you follow. In driving, both on the motorway and in town, I found this to be very reliable and a great improvement over classic cruise control.
In addition to adaptive cruise control, it also has Predictive cruise control, which uses a combination of GPS and the camera to automatically change the car’s cruse speed based on the road ahead or speed limits. It will automatically slow you down when entering a slower speed zone and speed up when leaving. I love how this works with variable speed limits on UK motorways, reading signs on the overhead gantry and changing speed in time.
Unfortunately, there’s some problems here. When running, it can sometimes behave erratically – I’ve found it has issues on dual carriageways, when passing the entry/exit lanes, the car will sometimes display “30 detected” and start breaking hard from 70 mph.
Sometimes while driving the system has got into a state where it will bounce backwards and forwards between two speeds. It’ll be cruising at 70, then jump to 40 for a few seconds, then back to 70. While you can override the system by pressing on the accelerator to maintain your speed, braking hard on the motorway for no reason, ranks as one of this car’s most dangerous faults.
Further to some erratic speed selection, the system frequently suffers a range of failures. The experience of driving the Golf is one of almost always having some kind of error appear on the screen, I’ve had a range of them, all at random times.
All these errors reset, and the car works fine again once the car is “restarted”. Unfortunately, this only happens 10 minutes after the doors are locked. I’ve found myself stood at the roadside next to my locked car, just waiting for it to restart. Honestly, the highest value change VW could make to the car right now would be to add a “reboot” button somewhere in the software.
A very cool feature of the car is its emergency SOS system, this is a cell phone built into the car, that automatically connects you to a VW emergency control centre in the event of an accident or if you press the glowing button in the roof (which looks like it should control a missile launch).
Thankfully, at time of writing, I haven’t had cause to use this. But it’s nice to know that it’s there. This is another area of the Golf’s technical woes, though. While driving, you hear two clicks from somewhere in the roof that sound like something hitting the windshield. About 10 seconds later, the car’s internet connection will go down, then reboot with message “Emergency SOS Call Active”. Confusingly this just means the system is available and not that a call is actually in progress.
Update (November 2021): VW have fixed this! However you will need to return the car to the dealer for a software update (the over the air update will not resolve it).
If this happens enough times on a trip, it eventually stops restarting, lighting an orange warning light and a message to “Contact workshop”. This doesn’t just leave the SOS system disabled, and WeConnect unavailable, it breaks everything else.
At the initial SOS system failure, the car will display “Dynamic road sign display is currently limited”, meaning, the cruise control will randomly change speed with no particular pattern; breaking hard and accelerating.
As with all other errors from this car, it resets if you lock the doors for 10 minutes, however there’s more to know here; if you turn the car off for less than 10 minutes with SOS system unavailable, the next time it starts, the infotainment system will not work – just displaying an unskippable “loading” message.
Park Distance Control & Reversing Camera
I really love that the car has 360 degree parking sensors, that automatically engage when the car is moving slowly in any direction. It works well and really helped me. I also love the reversing camera, which is super useful when manoeuvring parking.
It’s not without fault, though, the camera was replaced under warranty after four months because it stopped working and the replacement flickers.
As mentioned, my car had some work done under warranty – as with the purchase experience this is handled by VWs dealer network, not themselves.
Booking an appointment was as easy as phoning VW and contactless drop-off was easy. I was told that the repair would take up to two days, so opted not to take a courtesy car. The repair took a week and VW continually refused to give me a loan car as mine was “technically derivable” despite being in several pieces across their workshop.
On paper, the Golf 8 should be a decent purchase, with the refinement of a long-standing product range, paired with 21st century technology and safety features. VW’s hardware engineers have done a great job of delivering on a decent iteration of the Golf family and a solid car, nicely striking a balance between drivers’ car and practical workhorse.
However, it is let down by the experience delivered by the software running on the car. I’d perhaps find it in my heart, one software engineer to another, to forgive them some day-one foibles. However, in the nine months I’ve driven the car, there have been only two software updates and they have shown no improvements over these issues.
I will, of course, update this post if improvements are delivered. But as it stands, I cannot recommend you buy a Golf 8. VW really dropped the ball and are either unable or unwilling to fix it – with no sign of improvements on the horizon. Honestly, If VW would give me a full refund, I would take it.
Update (October 2022): In the year since my car’s most recent software update, I’ve had no further issues with the SOS system failing, but a small handful (3/4 times) of minor glitches, such as the sonar parking sensors being “unavailable” until the car is nest rebooted. It’s a huge improvement, and makes the car, for the most part, pleasant to drive. I would like to see some indication that VW are actively working to improve the car, but it seems their attention is elsewhere, so I wouldn’t expect the Tesla-like experience of getting new features and improvements.
Based on these updates, I think it’s fair to update my star rating, as of 2022 3.5 out of 5.
VW: If you’re reading this – Get in touch, I’ll gladly test and give you feedback on any beta updates for the car.