Review: Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008)

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Rating:

Decent handling and comfortable on the move, impressive TSI engines, massive improvement over the previous Golf, high-economy Bluemotion models, high quality feel of interior, five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Generally harder ride than a Focus. 1.9 TDI diesel is noisy but far more reliable than 2.0 TDI. Demoted from 4 stars to 3 stars for too many expensive problems.

Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008): At A Glance

No car is as important to any car maker as the new Golf is to Volkswagen. That famous David Bailey, Paula Hamilton commercial, “Few things in life are as reliable as a Volkswagen” was for a Mk II Golf. But the Mk III was a step back. And though the Mk IV was an improvement, it has hardly been the last word in reliability. VW had pushed living on past reputation as far as it could. The cars still carry status a Focus owner can only dream of, yet the public probably wouldn’t have forgiven another Golf that didn’t really live up to it. "

If you've never ever driven a Volkswagen Golf before and your perception is of a rock-solid piece of superb German engineering, then this Volkswagen Golf will live up to that perfectly. It looks good. It feels good. And it drives very well indeed.

From the first point of contact with the Volkswagen Golf it's hard not to be impressed by the German cars excellent build quality. The weighty doors close with a satisfying thud and all the controls work with real precision. The Golf's sophisticated image still sets the benchmark for desirability among hatchbacks and it's easy to see why it remains so popular.

True, the safe looks won't break any boundaries but the simple lines and detailing appeal directly to Volkswagen's core buyers. There's not much that catches the eye, aside from the circular design of the rear light clusters, but the unfussy approach is neat. Fortunately what the Golf lacks in visual impact it more than makes up for in quality.

The cabin, although quite sombre, uses top quality materials with a layout that is easy to get on with and a high-class construction. There's good storage too although standard equipment isn't as generous as many other hatches of this type. But there are some great engines available from economical (if somewhat noisy) TDI diesels to advanced turbocharged TSI petrols.

Sadly, the Mk V Golf has not always been the paragon of reliability that buyers perception expected it to be.

VW Golf Mk V 2004 Road Test 

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What does a Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008) cost?

List Price from £22,325
Buy new from £20,071
Contract hire from £169.20 per month

Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008): What's It Like Inside?

Dimensions
Length 4204–4246 mm
Width 1759 mm
Height 1479–1513 mm
Wheelbase 2578 mm

Full specifications

The Volkswagen Golf has an immediate air of solidity that few rivals can come close too. The soft touch leather steering wheel is great to hold and from the gearchange to the stereo controls, everything works with real precision. The cabin design may not be dramatic, but it's attractive and user-friendly.

Blue-lit dials, damped cubby lids and top notch materials provide an upmarket feel while the driving position is excellent with plenty of adjustment in both the seat and steering column. There's good room for passengers in the back too. Although the Golf isn't the widest or longest hatch around it manages to offer good legroom, although the bulky central transmission tunnel makes it a squeeze with three adults on board.

The boot is longer and wider too so the Volkswagen has the edge in terms practicality and there's plenty of stowage on board with deep door pockets both in the front and back, a good size glovebox and a dash top cubby. The rear seats don't fold down flat but this is only a minor gripe.

Child seats that fit a Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008) like to drive?

We tried three versions: the 105PS 1.9 TDI PD, the 140PS 2.0 GT TDI 16v, and the 115PS 1.6 FSI.

The 1.9 TDI sits on sensible 195/65 R15 tyres, which absorb some road shock, but the ride quality is firm rather than compliant. Much firmer than the Mazda 3, for example. But that's part of the hewn from solid character of the car.

It handles well, it goes as well as a lower powered TDI ever did, the gearchange is positive, the seats are comfortable, there's a huge range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, the trim looks carved from a coal face, the instruments light up with a posh blue glow. The variable power steering is light when you're manoeuvring and firm when you're cracking on. It's the kind of car that won't send you giggling with glee, but will leave you smiling with satisfaction. Month, after month, after month. Just one criticism: there's a fair amount of dashboard reflection in the windscreen which Mazda managed to avoid in the Mazda 3.

Onwards and upward, then, to the 2.0 GT TDI 16v, which has all the qualities of the TDI and brings a smile to your face. It has one of the best matched engines and gearboxes I've ever driven. Though there's no steam engine low-end torque allowing you to slid your foot off the clutch in 2nd without stalling, once you're on the move there's a gear for every eventuality and no need to visit all of them on your way up or down the box. You find yourself ‘block changing' perfectly naturally, dropping it onto the wide band of peak torque from 1,750 to 2,500rpm very easily indeed. There's absolutely none of that straining at the leash violent aggression you get from old fashioned all or nothing TDIs that your really have to keep between 2,000 and 3,000rpm. This one will sing all the way from 1,500 to 5,000 very pleasantly indeed. All the advantages and economy of a diesel, then, with some of the character of a good petrol engine. And geared at around 34mph per 1,000 rpm in 6th, you're barely ticking over at our ridiculous motorway speed limit.

Our last and final ride was the 1.6 FSI, which stands for ‘Fuel Stratified Injection'. The idea is to more precisely meter the fuel in the manner of a direct injected diesel giving more power at wide throttle openings and better economy on light throttle.

This makes it a very nice 1.6. It obviously lacks anything even approaching the torque of the 2.0 GT TDI. But it's a pleasant petrol engine with a decent stack of six ratios to help it along and does not feel in the least underpowered. When you think that the old Mk IV GTI had no more than 115bhp and a five-speed box you could regard the 1.6 FSI as something of a bargain.

As with the new Audi A3 and the VW Touran MPV, technical enhancements over the Mk IV that give the Mk V such a solid feel include a massively stiffer (80% stiffer) body structure, a different mounting system for the front suspension, multi link fully independent rear suspension and electro mechanical power steering (explained in the A3 test on this site).

The main thing is, the VW Golf is now where is should have been in its Mk III and Mk IV incarnations, but wasn't. In terms of strength and that hewn from solid feel it is genuinely back at the top of the class.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
1.4 41 mpg 13.9 s 165 g/km
1.4 GT TSI 39 mpg 7.9 s 174 g/km
1.4 TSI 39–45 mpg 7.9–9.4 s 149–174 g/km
1.6 FSI 40–42 mpg 10.8 s 161–168 g/km
1.9 TDI 52–57 mpg 11.1–11.3 s 132–143 g/km
1.9 TDI BlueMotion 63 mpg 11.3 s 119 g/km
2.0 GT TDI 48–51 mpg 8.2–9.3 s 145–156 g/km
2.0 SDI 52 mpg 16.7 s 143 g/km
2.0 TDI 48–51 mpg 8.2–9.3 s 145–156 g/km
2.0 TDI 4MOTION 48 mpg 9.5 s 156 g/km
GTI 35 mpg 7.2 s 189 g/km
R32 26 mpg 6.5 s 255 g/km

Real MPG average for a Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance

95%

Real MPG

22–72 mpg

MPGs submitted

1089

Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Volkswagen Golf (2004 – 2008)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Does my Golf need a modification to its cambelt?

My Mk5 Golf has had one cambelt replacement done at the main agent in 2011. I have now done over 100000 miles and have booked in at an independent garage specialising in Volkswagen for a cambelt and waterpump replacement. But they tell me that I will need to have an insert to allow the stud between the tensioner and the cylinder to be appropriately tightened as this modification was not made in 2011. They have not proceeded with the cambelt replacement as they say that a specialist will need to be booked to come in (at a cost of £129 plus VAT) to drill out the stud and put in the insert to ensure that the stud holds. I have contacted the agent but they say that they don't deal with many Mk 5s and do not seem to be aware of this modification (but are rather vague about it). I have also looked on the internet and see some mention of an insert of this type but nothing definitive. Please would you advise as to the need for this? If it is not needed, the price of cambelt and water pump at the main agent is cheaper than the independent garage with an insert.
Yes, it needs the insert. Don't be tempted to save money by skipping the work. Without it, the 2.0 timing belt tensioner stud can shear and cause catastrophic damage to the engine. A replacement tensioner stud has been included in official Volkswagen timing belt replacement kits since mid-2013.
Answered by Dan Powell
More Questions

What do owners think?

Our view gives your our opinion, based on driving hundreds of cars every year, but you can't beat the views of someone who lives with a car day-in, day out.

  • 5 star 17%
  • 4 star 67%
  • 3 star 17%
  • 2 star
  • 1 star

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