THE word icon is used an awful lot these days and very often with little or no justification – but in this case I think it is well deserved.

The VW Golf changed the car market forever when it was first introduced in the mid-1970s replacing the venerable rear engine, air cooled Beetle.

Front wheel drive and with a hatchback the Golf was ground-breaking and went straight to the top of the sales charts for family cars.

It has remained the benchmark motor for hatchbacks for 46 years, constantly upgraded and developed until we get to 2020 and the Golf 8, our latest test car.

Still good value at £23,900 our entry level Golf Life 1.5 TSi 130ps 6-speed manual came with a couple of extras including one I could certainly live without… a dazzling Lime Yellow metallic paint job (£625) and one I would say was worth the extra cash – a great sat nav/infotainment system on the 10” central touchscreen (£1,600).

For the eighth generation a lot of dashboard switches are replaced by that central touchscreen system, which is linked to a digital dashboard similar to VW’s Audi stablemates that can change at the flick of a switch to various different displays.

You can switch between the more important menus via small shortcut ‘buttons’ underneath the screen and the setup is fairly easy to navigate – although it did take me a while to turn the AC fan down. The digital instruments are clear and provide useful additional warning and prompts without overloading the driver.

Another plus is adaptive cruise control and wireless phone connectivity and charging which are both standard fit, even at the lower trim level of our test car.

Other standard features include: keyless start, heated door mirrors with puddle lights plus exterior door handle lighting, electronic parking brake with hill hold, all round parking sensors and rear camera, auto lights and wipers, stop-start fuel saving technology and a whole raft of the safety features we have come to expect from VW.

Another clever trick the Golf can perform is shutting down two of its 4 cylinders when not required to give great mpg figures – up to 61.5. It is amazing just how seamless this is – in the old days you knew when your car was not firing on all cylinders but the only sign here is a message on that digital dashboard.

On a 250-mile round trip to a new car launch in Warwickshire I actually managed to better VW’s claimed mpg with the car showing an overall figure for the journey of around 66 which, from a 129bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged, non-hybrid petrol hatchback is impressive.

Possible VW’s aerodynamic body style revisions for the 8 contribute to this achievement. The car’s still recognisably a Golf from the side but at the back and front things are more cutting edge.

Engine wise petrol options range from a 108bhp 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder turbo, though several 1.5-litre TSI four-cylinder turbos and 2.0-litre TDI diesels with 113 and 148bhp. VW has added 48-volt mild-hybrid technology although for now only on the higher spec 148bhp eTSi. VW say a 241bhp Golf GTE along with GTi, GTD and R models are to follow.

So will this latest Golf reclaim the top dog slot for VW in both UK and global sales? Well despite all the new stuff it sticks to what has always been the reason so many people drive a Golf – it does everything well in an understated way and should be a very easy car to live with.

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By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth