Entering its seventh generation, the Golf hatchback has been one of Volkswagen's most popular models for four decades. The Golf is offered as a two-door and a four-door hatchback and it can be ordered with either a gasoline-burning four-cylinder engine or an segment-exclusive turbodiesel mill.
Volkswagen caters to buyers who want a more engaging Golf by offering a 210-horsepower hot hatch dubbed Golf GTI and a range-topping model called Golf R that boasts 292 ponies. Additionally, family-friendly station wagon model dubbed Golf SportWagen joined the lineup for the latest model year.
It doesn't take a well-trained eye to notice the seventh-gen Golf doesn't look drastically different from the sixth-gen model it replaced. Volkswagen's bread-and-butter hatch gets a sharper front end and angular tail lamps but the overall silhouette and many design cues have undergone only evolutionary modifications.
The story is different under the skin, where the switch to Volkswagen's modular MQB platform has made the Golf more spacious inside and considerably lighter than the sixth-generation model.
The Golf offers an ergonomic interior built with quality materials. The car boasts a function-over-form dashboard with a center console that is slightly oriented towards the driver, an easy-to-read instrument cluster with four analog gauges housed in two separate pods and a three-spoke steering wheel. A thin-film transistor screen integrated into the instrument cluster provides step-by-step navigation directions and can be configured to display a host of vital information about the car and its surroundings.
Select Golfs come standard with a 5.8-inch touch screen that runs Volkswagen's Car-Net infotainment system. Car-Net integrates the hatchback's entertainment, navigation (if equipped) and climate control systems while offering crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. Car-Net also features remote vehicle access, speed and boundary alerts, and it can provide a vehicle health report upon request. The bulk of Car-Net's features can be accessed via a smartphone
The Golf offers 22.8 cubic feet of trunk space with five passengers on board. That figure goes up to 52.7 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat.
Under the Hood
Volkswagen offers the Golf with a 1.8-liter TSI four-cylinder gasoline-burning engine that generates 170 horsepower at 4,500 rpms and 200 lb-ft. of torque at just 2,650 rpms. Base models are equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, and select trim levels can be ordered with a six-speed automatic unit at an extra cost.
The TSI returns 25 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway when bolted to a manual transmission. Opting for the automatic lowers freeway mpg to 29.
Alternatively, Volkswagen offers a 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel four-cylinder that churns out 150 horsepower at 3,500 rpms and a healthy 236 lb-ft. of torque at 1,750 rpms. The TDI sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, but a dual-clutch DSG unit is available as an option.
The TDI returns 30 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway when linked to a manual transmission. Gas mileage checks in at 31 and 43 when the automatic is selected.
Trim Level Breakdown
The gas-burning Golf is offered in four trim levels: S, S with Sunroof, SE and SEL.
The Golf S packs Bluetooth connectivity, a 5.8-inch touch screen, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod integration, cloth seats, power windows, power locks, air conditioning, alloy wheels, Volkswagen's Car-Net infotainment system, V-Tex leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped shift knob, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel. Four-door S models benefit from power front seats.
Exclusively offered as a four-door, the Golf S with Sunroof adds a power panoramic sunroof. S with Sunroof buyers can also order their car with an optional Lighting Package that adds Bi-Xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.
The Golf SE gains bespoke 17-inch alloy wheels, a Cold Weather Package that includes heated front seats and heated washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front fog lights, a rear-view camera and a Fender-designed audio system. The SE is only offered as a four-door with an automatic transmission.
The range-topping Golf SEL features 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, keyless entry with push-button start, sport seats, a 12-way adjustable driver's seat, ambient lighting and LED reading lights.
The diesel-burning Golf TDI is offered in S, SE and SEL trim levels. The S model packs the same standard features as its gasoline-burning sibling but it is only offered with four doors. The SE model also mirrors the gas-burning SE with the exception of a standard sunroof and the SEL trim is identical to the TSI-powered SEL.
Highlights from the list of options include the aforementioned Lighting Package and a Driver Assistance Package that adds a Forward Collision Warning system as well as parking sensors on both ends.
All Golf models regardless of trim level come standard with six airbags, electronic stability control and an Automatic Post-Collision Braking system that applies the brakes after a collision in order to reduce kinetic energy and lower the risk of additional impacts.
Alternatives to the Golf in the highly-competitive compact segment include the Ford Focus hatchback, the Kia Forte, the Mazda Mazda3 and the all-wheel drive Subaru Impreza.
Well-equipped SE and SEL models also face competition from the enthusiast-focused Golf GTI.