The VW Golf Mk 5 offers a better cabin than its rivals and some great engines, but reliability can’t always be taken for granted and used values are relatively high.
High-quality cabin
Breadth of range
High prices
Patchy reliability

Used car review: VW Golf Mk 5 (2004-2009)

Evergreen hatch needs careful buying

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What is it?

The Mexicans had a name for the original VW Beetle: El Ombligo (belly button). The reference may seem obscure but it makes perfect sense, as everybody has one. But the Beetle sold only 21 million copies, while so far VW has churned out more than 30 million Golfs. Perhaps the Golf is the new El Ombligo? After all, despite the model’s supposed exclusivity, it is one of the most ubiquitous family hatches out there. Amazingly, though, it hasn’t make the mid-sized VW any less desirable.

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The Golf’s popularity is down to a multitude of factors, not least of all its perceived quality. The reality, however,  is that the Golf isn’t as reliable as some of its adversaries. As a result, it never does as well as you’d expect in owner satisfaction surveys, with oriental rivals usually beating it. Alternatives such as the Toyota Auris, Honda Civic, Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30 tend to break down far less – but they don’t offer the feel-good factor or cabin quality of the Vee-Dub. Another reason for the Golf’s popularity is its mind-bending choice of engines, trims and body styles. Three and five-door hatchbacks are just the start. You can also have an estate and a high-roofed MPV edition, the Golf Plus. You can’t have a convertible, though. VW introduced the Eos coupé-cabrio to run alongside the Golf Mk 5, so a soft-top edition was never part of the plan. Whether you want ultimate economy, serious performance or a balance of the two, the Golf can oblige. The 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines do the job (but no more). Much better is the 1.4 TSI unit found in the Golf GT. However, VW’s diesels are also excellent, with the 2.0 TDi easily the pick of the bunch. The 1.9 TDi now feels dated, although it’s still punchy. Mk5 golf What the Golf doesn’t do well is provide fun, though the still-great 197bhp 2-litre GTi and 3.2-litre R32 can make your heart beat faster. Fast and a brilliant drive, there are some cherished examples to choose from – although you’ll have to sort the wheat from the chaff. But another great thing about this ever-popular VW is that posh people love them, which is why it’s not hard to find as-new examples, and all at a fraction of the cost of a new Golf.

What to look out for

Flooded footwells can result from failed door seals, while the rear light lenses fog up when their seals go. Air con condensers and compressors fail (with consequent big bills), and heating and ventilation systems can be very temperamental. Electrical issues tend to centre on the engine cooling fan not cutting in, so idle the engine for a while and see how hot it gets. If looking at a diesel, make sure there isn’t lots of blue exhaust smoke; the turbo’s oil seals can fail, leading to big bills. If you’re buying a Golf with an FSi engine, ask the previous owner what they fed their car. It should have been run exclusively on super-unleaded. Anything else will lead to running and starting problems. Four recalls so far isn’t a disaster. Three affected only diesel editions. Potential issues included fuel leaks, the auxiliary heater overheating and a short circuit in the heater element. The most recent recall (in December 2009) was aimed at cars with DSG, which could suffer from a loss of drive.

The one to buy

A 2009 58-plate VW Golf 2.0 GTi DSG 5dr should be priced at around £12,000 on a dealer forecourt, while a private buyer should ask for around £11,000 for the same car.


1984cc, 4 cylinders
197bhp @ 5100rpm
207 lb ft @ 1800rpm
6-speed semi-auto
0-62mph in 7.2sec
Top speed:
35mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
L 4205mm, W 1760mm, H 1505mm


Volkswagen Golf Mk5 rivals