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The VW Golf is reliable, says Campbell Spray, and that's why he's reminded of two colleagues who owned one

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ENTERING THE DIGITAL AGE: The eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf looks sharper and more desirable, and the lighting system is first class

ENTERING THE DIGITAL AGE: The eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf looks sharper and more desirable, and the lighting system is first class

In the driving seat of the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf

In the driving seat of the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf

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ENTERING THE DIGITAL AGE: The eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf looks sharper and more desirable, and the lighting system is first class

For much of my career at this newspaper, there were two constant Johns in my professional life. First was the brilliant and witty chief sub-editor John Chambers and the second was the link to the advertising department, the all-knowing and effervescent John Hudson.

They became firm friends as well as colleagues. Both were incredibly hard-working, reliable, knowledgeable and with an appealing self-effacing manner. Interestingly, both owned - or more accurately, their wives did - Volkswagen Golfs as their family car.

This, I always thought, said a lot about them and the car; and none of it was negative.

Since its launch in 1974, as the successor to the much-loved Beetle, the Golf has become the pre-eminent family car. It offered very solid motoring value, doing all the basics well and then giving excellent resale worth. There was also the ability, for those who wanted to kick over the traces and rekindle their boy-racer ambitions, to get the powerful GTi, GTD and R versions while still being able to carry the family.

Recently, the Golf has succumbed to the onslaught of the crossover/SUV forces and lost its place as VW's top seller to be replaced by the Tiguan these days. However, for millions, the Golf is what they aspire to as solid family motoring which sends a powerful message of their values when parked outside their houses.

Forty-six years on from its launch, the eighth-generation Golf has just been launched. The changes, as always with the model, are incremental rather than revolutionary. It's basically the same size but with slightly more room for rear passengers and the excellent luggage area is still there - thankfully, with a space and weight-saving spare wheel and not an inflation kit.

However, I think it looks sharper and more desirable. The pronounced bonnet creases have divided people, but I think they work, and the lighting system is first class. VW makes much play of entering the "digital era" (at last, you may say) with the new Golf and the on-board graphics, connectivity and options are first class. I particularly liked that the air-conditioning can make things simple with options like 'warm my hands' and 'cool my feet'.

While the new Golf starts at €23,950, this is a makey-up price so people will be drawn into looking at incredibly low PCP packages. More realistically, people will be aiming at the Style package which brings the car to €30,750 and, by the time metallic paint and delivery is factored in, you will be paying €32,392 for the 1.5 TSI 130bhp petrol model which has an annual road tax of only €190.

There will be a full range of diesel, mild-hybrid and well-priced plug-in hybrid models available by the end of the year. The e-Golf has been discontinued as the all-electric ID-3 will begin to arrive over the next few months.

I liked all the safety and assistance equipment on board the new Golf, as well as the ambient lighting and the classy welcome beams on the ground outside the passenger and driver side doors. However, what most impressed me was the absolute smoothness of the drive, the well-balanced feel of the car and the very controlled steering.

The six-speed gearbox had great range, so much so that you often had to be prompted to change up or down - and after having a car with an automatic box since mid-March it made the transition for me relatively painless. The test car would do the 0-100km in 9.2 seconds.

It was a nice quirk of fate that I met John Hudson and his wife Mary for the first time for many, many months as they were leaving the Phoenix Park visitor centre last Saturday as I was walking over to the Golf I was testing.

Their five-year-old Golf looked in great nick, although Mary was very taken with the Dolphin Grey colour of the test car. Side by side, you could see the gradual evolution and it was appealing. Mary apologised that there wouldn't be any of her wonderful sloe gin this year, it was a "slow year for sloes", we joked, and John said I would get a column out of that. He knows me only too well.

After making 35 million Golfs and nigh on 50 years, this latest model should be pretty perfect, and I agree with a British colleague that it is "peak Golf". It has always been a bit pricey but you do eventually get the money back. It is increasingly being stuck between the premium level cars - for instance, there are some excellent Mercedes small SUVs still under €40k - and a lot of tasty competition both inside and outside the overall VW business.

Maybe it has had its day, but reliability, honesty and the appeal of old friends will always be hard to beat.

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At a press conference last Wednesday, spelling out some of the advantages of the new Golf, Donal Geoghegan, dealer principal of Frank Keane Volkswagen in Dublin, was fairly optimistic about how business has been since the lockdown ended for garages and showrooms.

He was "pleasantly surprised by consistent demand from customers'' for both car services and sales enquiries. There was an especially high demand for used cars, which he thinks will turn to positive orders for new cars in the next few weeks. The price of used cars was very strong and increasing in some areas which should help people negotiate good trade-ins.

A recent Carzone report showed that the Covid-19 crisis has meant that a very large percentage of people who don't own a car are open to purchasing one for reasons of safety.

While I am happy that dealers will have extra demand, it really is a challenge that public transport has to meet so our roads don't get totally clogged again.

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My piece on spare tyres and the increasing replacement of them by "inflation" kits prompted a number of people to contact me. I will return to the subject soon.

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I was probably entering the space of my colleagues, the ever-youthful Joe 'Boot' Kennedy and the beautifully compassionate Fiona O'Connell two week ago when I talked of foxes.

However, I beg for their indulgence again as I could not help but stir my inner Tiggy Winkle after hearing Yvonne McCann recently telling Oliver Callan - Ryan Tubridy's stand-in on Radio One - about her hedgehog rescue service and that this is the season of hoglets - yes, that's what they are called - being born. So often, we only see these wonderful creatures as squashed detritus on the road. Such a pity.

Sunday Independent