2023 Volkswagen Golf Life 1.5 review: Go with the times

2023 Volkswagen Golf Life 1.5 review: Go with the times
PHOTO: CarBuyer

The Volkswagen Golf, now into its eighth generation, has consistently been one of the best-selling hatchbacks in the world. The latest version arrived in Singapore in mid 2021, and since then escalating COE prices have been putting the brakes on new car sales for every mainstream dealership here.

Many of them, including Volkswagen, are adapting by importing unique specification variants that aim to lower the barrier of entry, which is where the new VW Golf seen here comes into play.

The launch edition of the VW Golf had a punchy 150 horsepower, 1.5-litre turbo engine with 48-volt mild hybrid assistance. It's as complete as you would want for an urban family car, but its power output places it in the Category B COE bracket, which is more expensive than Category A COE cars that have maximum power outputs of up to 130 horsepower.

So here's a new version of the VW Golf, the Life 1.5 eTSI. In essence, it's the same car with its engine detuned and power capped at 130 horsepower. The interior is practically identical to the more powerful variant, officially named the Golf Life Plus to distinguish between the two. 

There are actually no visual differences between the two variants that help set the less powerful version apart, but then you're also unlikely to buy a Golf to try and outdo the other fellow who already has a Golf, unless it's the Golf GTI that you want.

Here in the standard, base model car, you still get the full digital cockpit experience, which wowed us with its Star Trek-like clean styling and interface at launch and is still a great place to be in. There's the now-trending ambient light customisation too. Mobile phone connectivity is pretty much standard these days and in the Golf it's no exception. There's also wireless phone charging fitted as standard equipment.

The controls are a mix of touch panel operations and rotary knobs for audio volume and radio tuning, which is a good mix. After frustratingly faffing about with the touch sensitive volume sliders on Mercedes-EQ cars, we stand by the notion that some things are really best left with tactile feedback, especially a volume knob.

The gear selector lever is just a little toggle rather than a big, chunky stick, which helps make the centre console look very tidy. It's a design trend that has been in luxury cars for years but only recently began migrating across to mainstream cars, including the Kia Niro.

If you're wondering how cars achieve this, it's because gear and drive selection is now almost always electronic, rather than using mechanical pushrods or cables of old. Which means that the gear selector just works like a computer mouse; trigger the right buttons and the electronics put the car into gear for you. 

You get sequential gear shifters on the steering wheel to manually choose a gear for the car to hold, which in an urban context is useful in engaging engaging braking down a long slope or ramp.

The car has a peak torque output of 200Nm, a drop of 50Nm from the more powerful version. The result is a car that's slower to accelerate from a standstill, taking 9.4 seconds to hit 100km/h. The drive is smooth and totally undramatic, with the big consideration of requiring you to plan your overtaking moves far ahead as the car needs room to accelerate.

The good news is that the engine is very quiet, and the mild hybrid drive allows the car to coast along on the highway with the engine deactivated for quite some time if you time the gaps between cars just right. 

It claims an official fuel economy of 4.8L/100km, which is right on what we managed to record after three days of driving around with the car. With petrol prices the way they are these days, The awesome economy of this Golf is a big advantage, and will allow you to drive more than 700km between fill ups if the conditions are right. 

The entry-level specification Golfs, including this one, feature simpler, semi-independent rear suspension setups versus the fully independent rear suspension of the Golf R-Line and Golf GTI. It sounds 'cheaper' on paper, but in use there is very little difference if you're not slinging the car around the Nurburgring.

Actually, The Renault Megane RS has a similar semi-independent suspension setup and it was once the fastest front-wheel drive car to lap the Nurburgring circuit. So that put to bed the theory that fully independent suspension systems are inherently 'better'. 

There are no cheap new cars in Singapore now and Volkswagen's position as a kind-of premium, but not quite top flight luxury product, puts it in an awkward place. There's the mechanically similar Skoda Octavia 1.0, though with an even less powerful three-cylinder engine but much cheaper and equally refined for the Golf to compete against.

Away from the continental brands, Kia's Niro Hybrid is a respectable competitor, and the small Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid is also a proven, economical, and reliable urban car. 

Where do we stand with the VW Golf Life? It's the most affordable Golf you can buy in Singapore now, and it has lost none of the refinement that can be found in its more powerful family variants. It's slower, but not by much, though more economical on fuel, and a solid choice if you really, really want to buy a new VW Golf but can't stomach the current Cat B COE prices. 

2023 Volkswagen Golf Life 1.5 eTSI

Drivetrain type  Petrol-electric mild hybrid 
Engine  1,498cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 130hp at 5000-6000rpm
Torque 200Nm at 1400-4000rpm 
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Electric Motor Not stated
Battery Lithium Ion, Unknown kWh
System Power Not stated 
System Torque  Not stated
0-100km/h 9.4 seconds
Top Speed 213km/h
Fuel Efficiency 4.8 L/100km 
VES Band  A2 / -S$15,000
Agent Volkswagen Singapore
Price S$175,900 with COE and VES
Availability  Now
Verdict  Still the most well-balanced hatchback you can get now, if you can put up with the less powerful engine of this variant

ALSO READ: Mercedes-Benz to update van portfolio

This article was first published in CarBuyer.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.