THESE are uncertain times; 2020 has been a rocky year, as we all know, filled with fears about an invisible virus no-one had heard of 12 months ago, lockdowns, economic trials, social distancing and a general sense of chaos and dislocation, writes William Scholes.
In days like this we need something solid and dependable; something reliable and consistent; what we need, expressed in car terms, is a Volkswagen Golf. It's the anti-Covid car.
There is an air of unfazed implacability about a Golf. It's reassurance on wheels.
Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper pre-dates the Golf's debut. It features a scene in which Allen's character - revived after having been cryogenically frozen for 200 years - stumbles upon a Volkswagen Beetle hidden in a cave.
"What is it?" asks a character played by Diane Keaton. "It's a 200 year old Volkswagen," says Allen, as he walks over to the Beetle.
Twisting the ignition key, the engine starts first time: "They really built these things, didn't they?"
If the film was to get a 21st century re-make, a Golf would be the obvious choice to stand in for the Beetle.
Volkswagen has been building the family hatchback for more than 45 years and 35 million examples, carefully evolving it over eight generations to set new standards and give customers what they want. It defines its class; no wonder it's perennially Europe's most popular new car.
The only other cars with such unbroken and carefully curated development are the Porsche 911 and Range Rover. To this select list you can add the Ford Transit, though it's obviously a van and not a passenger car. All are genuinely iconic, though.
In days like this we need something solid and dependable; something reliable and consistent; what we need, expressed in car terms, is a Volkswagen Golf. It's the anti-Covid car, reassurance on wheels
It's a testament to just how good the Golf is that the seventh generation car - which launched in 2012 - was arguably still the best in its class as it went off-sale, despite a slew of newer rivals.
The new eighth generation Golf is with us now in this Covid-interrupted year, once again moving the goalposts for where Ford, Peugeot, Renault, Mazda et al need to aim their shots for class honours.
In classic Golf fashion, at first glance the Mk 8 looks like a facelifted Mk 7. There's nothing radical about its neat, handsome exterior; Volkswagen knows that's not what its customers want.
Inside is a different story, however, and likely to take some Golf loyalists time to get used to.
The sensible layout of dials and switches that used to be a VW calling card has been swapped for a radically different interior approach.
The Golf has gone fully digital this time, banishing physical buttons where possible and putting an emphasis on the 10-inch touchscreen and digital dashboard set-up.
There's voice control, too... these systems are getting better all the time but a Northern Ireland accent still seems to cause them translation difficulties.
If you want to do something as mundane as change the temperature, you have to use a slightly awkward slider below the touchscreen. I'd prefer a knob, as I suspect most people would. It will be fascinating to see if this digital approach puts potential buyers off altogether.
Further new-tech includes 'Car2X' capability, a function which allows the Golf to communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure. This might be of limited use when only few cars are fitted with it, but this is tipped to be one of the 'next big things' as it becomes more common; in theory, it allows your Golf to alert you to an accident or bad weather miles ahead, as that information is bounced from car to car or roadside 'furniture'.
Once the range is fully rolled out, there will be a dizzying choice of petrol and diesel engine, manual and automatic gearbox and trim combinations, estate as well as five-door hatchback bodywork and performance GTI, GTE, GTD and R models; variety is a long-standing Golf strength, another reason for its superiority in the family car market.
Though there are mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid Golfs, there won't be an electric version this time. That's the job of VW's new ID sub-brand.
The rapid rise of EVs, energised by models like the Golf-ish ID3, do raise the question of how long the Golf will be able to remain Europe's number one. It seems obvious that a chunk of dead-cert Golf customers will be wowed by the ID3...
No-one really needs anything more than a Golf. It's still the definitive family car, the continuity candidate we need at a time of uncertainty
For now, a pairing of 128bhp 1.5-litre petrol turbo engine and six-speed manual gearbox is expected to be the most popular Golf combination.
It's a good balance for the Golf. It's refined - you can barely hear the engine at low revs, wind noise is all but absent - while cylinder deactivation technology is just one of the touches that go into making the car more efficient.
It's no ball of fire - but there are plenty of other Golf variants if that's your thing - but it is an exemplary all-rounder.
The ride is comfortable and supple, the chassis able to entertain a little when a more enthusiastic driver demands, and the whole car is shot through with that sort of well-judged excellence that has been a Golf hallmark for decades.
There's generous passenger space, though some rivals have even larger back seats and boots (the Golf's has a 380-litre volume), should that especially matter to you.
Standard equipment is strong and includes LED headlights and keyless start, a 'digital cockpit' dashboard plus that 10-inch infotainment screen and a host of 'connected' services.
There are now 'Life' and 'Style' trim levels, as well as the R-Line, GTI, GTD, GTE and R grades familiar from the last car. Prices start at £23,300.
Electric cars might be the coming thing, but this eighth generation Golf shows that Europe's favourite car isn't going to go down without a fight.
The competition is fierce - a Mazda 3 or Ford Focus should also be on your checklist if you're considering a Golf, while there are a bunch of SUV alternatives swimming in the waters the family hatchback once had to itself.
Despite all that, it's hard to conclude that anyone really needs anything more than a Golf. It's still the definitive family car, the continuity candidate we need at a time of uncertainty.