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Away from big-ticket PHEVs, we look at the cheapest - and mildest - route to electrification in the Golf range.
We try the latest Golf with the least powerful of its mild hybrid petrol engine options.
LED headlights, DRLs and rear lights, 16in alloy wheels, climate control, keyless start, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors, automatic lights and wipers, 10in driver display, 10in touchscreen sat-nav, wireless Apple Carplay and wired Android Auto connectivity, three-year We Connect Plus subscription, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, driver alert, dynamic road sign display
Plug-in hybrids are getting a lot of attention at the moment, and Volkswagen isn't missing out on the market with its Golf - with a second joining the range soon in addition to the existing GTE hot hatch. However, while they offer great company car tax rates and the potential for massive fuel savings if they are plugged in regularly, PHEVs also tend to be among the most expensive powertrain options to buy. It's perhaps welcome, therefore, that VW has also introduce the variant tested here. It's a mild hybrid version of the entry-level engine in the Golf range, a 110hp petrol (130hp and 150hp mild hybrids are also on offer), and to complete the cost-conscious picture, it comes here with the Life equipment grade, the cheapest option in the line-up.
The powertrain sees a 1.0-litre engine augmented with a 48V lithium-ion battery and belt starter generator, which recover and redeploy energy normally lost when braking. As a mild hybrid, it isn't capable of driving the car on battery power alone, however, what it does do is provide a torque-boost when pulling away, and also allow the car to coast with the engine off when the accelerator is not pressed - something that occurs with impressive regularity in practice, even at motorway speeds.
Compared with the equivalent 110hp petrol Golf, the mild hybrid saves a mile per gallon of fuel, and sits one BIK band lower due to reduced CO2 emissions. However, the costs picture is slightly skewed because petrol Golfs come with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the mild hybrids come with a more expensive seven-speed DSG auto, meaning that, on a whole life-cost basis, the petrol still works out slightly cheaper.
Given the entry-level power output, you wouldn't expect this engine to offer lightning acceleration, but it's reasonable enough. It acquits itself fine on motorways, for instance, and certainly isn't left gasping when climbing hills.
As a drive, the Golf flows nicely between corners and, while it's not a dynamic masterpiece, it feels reasonably light and agile, with good road holding, aided by the electronic differential lock that's standard throughout the range. Ride comfort is decent around town and improves further on faster roads.
For an entry-level car, the Golf Life features some good standard equipment, such as LED lights, adaptive cruise control, a 10in driver display and 10in touchscreen sat-nav. There's the by-now customary gripe about the latest-generation Golf's overly fiddly infotainment set-up, but to take a more positive aspect, where we've previously been critical of some interior materials used further up the range, those deployed with this entry-level spec feel more acceptable, relatively speaking, and everything feels well assembled. Another advantage of only having a mild hybrid system is there's no big battery to eat up boot space, meaning the full 374 litres is present here. That might seem like small comfort to drivers eyeing the huge potential tax savings (and extra power) of the PHEVs, but if the up-front economics of those models can't be made to work, then the mild-hybrid offers a reasonable frugal alternative.
Volkswagen Golf Life 1.0-litre eTSI 110 PS 7spd DSG