VW Golf SE 1.4-litre TSi 122PS three-door six-speed manual.

Price: £19,200 (on the road).

Top speed: 126mph.

0-62mph: 9.3 seconds.

Fuel: 54.3mpg (combined figure).

CO2 emissions (g/km): 120.

Verdict: Exceptional all-rounder, refined, smooth power delivery, well- equipped, quiet, comfortable, classy interior.

VOLKSWAGEN’S seventh generation Golf is so refined and classy it deserves to be at the top of its crowded class.

This small hatch sector has seen some outstanding newcomers and updates of existing models but the new Golf with its wide breadth of abilities is a rather exceptional car and will take something special to knock it off its high perch.

The foundation of the Golf starts with the VW Group’s new modular matrix platform and the improvements it brings to the car really show even during a short drive.

And the more powerful cars in the range get an expensive multi-link rear axle set up which also improves handling and helps soak up bumps and potholes.

The hatch models are not cheap with prices starting at £16,495 for the 1.2-litre TSi three-door and rising to £26,500 for the 2.0-litre GTi five-door. But for such a great all-rounder with generous equipment levels it is probably worth every penny if, of course, your budget will run to it.

The Golf seats five and has a decent-size boot for the family luggage.

As one might expect from VW there is a good choice of petrol and diesel motors and the range specifications give an insight into how the gap between petrol and diesel is closing in terms of efficiency and performance.

Take the 1.4-litre TSi petrol which produces 122PS at 5,000rpm.The engine is very smooth, is quick off the mark with a 0-62mph time of 9.3 seconds, and returns a pleasing 54.3mpg as an everyday figure when mated to the easy-action six-speed manual gearbox. No surprise then that this models is a popular choice with many private buyers.

Its blend of performance with economy is preferred to the entry level 1.2-litre as it makes the most of the Golf’s talented chassis.

The 1.4-litre offers punch and refinement with the engine only really heard while the car is being driven close to its limits. Grip and composure are impressive, too, but even more noticeable is the quietness and smoothness of the ride, largely due to painstaking work in many areas to reduce noise intrusion. The main construction of the car has also played its part. The use of high-strength steel and a range of other weight-saving measures make the Golf’s construction stiffer yet up to 100kg lighter than the outgoing model.

The overall proportions of the car are slightly bigger with a longer wheelbase.

While the Golf’s styling is more evolution than revolution there are some changes with a lower bonnet with modern-looking and stylish creases.

The interior is classy. It has more metallic trim, lots of soft-touch plastics and simply oozes quality and refinement. The latest technology count has also risen despite prices remaining rather similar in some cases to the old model.

The centre console with its colour touchscreen-based interface, standard on all versions, is well arranged as is the multi-functional steering wheel. However, despite the sophistication you still have to turn the ignition key to start it.

But there is nothing wrong with that.

The excellent driving position, widely adjustable, together with the beautifully upholstered and supportive seating go a long way towards making the Golf such a superb drive.

The 1.4-litre comes with a stop/start system and other fuel-saving devices while the 1.4-litre with the 140PS engine has cylinder deactivation technology which senses when there is no need for all four and shuts down two of them to save fuel.