TEPPING INTO A NEXT generation Golf is like slipping into an off e-peg suit and discovering fees like one tailored to our own specification in ermyn Street. It’s brand ew, yet utterly familiar. It fits erfectly yet is identical to e next dozen on the rack. nd you can go anywhere it, be seen by anyone in any context and no one is

going to turn their nose up. 1fsVW has been mastering ‘ is ad for nearly 40 years but is possible its latest attempt il n also be remembered as greatest. This mgt seem ldd since even I, someone ho professes to do this for a Hying, struggle to tell its lines apart from those of the car

• succeeds, but beneath at so familiar shape lies ij n entirely new and utterly `ansformed machine. The 2-11tre turbodiesel car 1 drove is larger yet lighter :han the car it replaces, :aster yet far more frugal, all . jf which represents good, solid progress. But it is not

kwuntil you climb aboard and rive the thing that you will ctually appreciate what has achieved here. The driving environment is masterly, functional, yet luxurious to an extent not hithedo seen in cars of this

size outside the realms of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. The quality is not the next best thing to that offered by the premium German brands, it’s at least as good and in some cases better. The 2-11tre diesel sounds and operates much like the last one. But while performance is appreciably better, fuel consumption has

been transformed, offering an on-paper improvement of fully lOmpg.

But impressive as it looks on paper, on the road it is better still. It is the ride quality that strikes you first. This humble little hatchback actually glides. There are full-size expresses, the BMW 7-series and Jaguar XJ among them, that don’t offer such polished lowspeed bump absorption. If you blindfolded your passengers and drove them around town, they’d think they were in a luxury car. But it’s not. The Golf is a medium-sized family hatch with an unlikely appetite for the open road. In its leap from one generation to the next it has leff over 100kg of mass behind (largely thanks to extensive use of aluminium in the all-new platform it sits on) and you can feel it every time you turn the wheel. The car always feels on its toes, controlling its roll rates, keen to keep to an apex and always receptive to mid-corner changes of plan. It feels sporting in all the good ways: its steering

provides great confidence, its chassis balance enough adjustability to make the car feel agile on the limit. Past negatives, padicularly the harsh ride and aggressive off-centre steering response, are nowhere to be found.

This may be a somewhat gushing review but it’s written from the perspective of someone who got into the Golf immediately after driving the all-new Audi A3 and Mercedes A-class and a year-old BMW 118d, and found himself convinced the Golf was the best of the lot. The irony is the Audi is based on the same running gear but is nothing like as good to drive in practice.

So tf you’re an old Golf driver wondering whether to renew, there’s really no debate n you can wear the high prices of the new car. The bigger issue confronts those who’d traditionally shop among the more exalted brands. WW you continue to do so in the knowledge you may end up with an inferior product, or will you buy the best family hatch of its generation? I’d get the Golf every time.