2017 Volkswagen Golf
In just a few weeks, Volkswagen will launch a face lifted version of its seventh-generation Golf—but the makeover will be so modest that you may not notice it at first glance. Big aesthetic changes or not, anyone in the market for a fun-to-drive economy car should still consider this one.
The base engine is a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-four, a relatively new iron-block unit that belongs to the EA888 engine family. It produces 170 horsepower at 4500 rpm and up to 199 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm and is mated to a five-speed manual or—as in the car we drove—a six-speed automatic. While this powertrain isn’t particularly quick, it is friendly to use, and with virtually no turbo lag, it’s responsive.
With an estimated zero-to-60-mph sprint of 7.5 seconds and top speed governed at 125 mph (we measured 126 mph on our mechanically identical 2015-model long-term test car), it doesn’t come close to the sportier GTI, which has 40 more horsepower and simply plays in another league dynamically. Unlike the GTI, the Golf emits a pleasantly subdued engine note, but it doesn’t sound truly sporty.
We like the automatic gearbox, a six-speed unit that changes ratios so quickly that you could be fooled into thinking that it’s the dual-clutch DSG transmission that’s paired with the newly available all-wheel-drive Golf SportWagen and Alltrackmodels. While it may be as good as automatics get, we’re partial to the slick five-speed manual that VW also offers.
The Golf TSI isn’t exceptionally quick, but it is utterly satisfying to drive—not surprising given that it has shed considerable weight compared with the preceding generation, which was discontinued after the 2014 model year. The new MQB platform that launched with the Golf’s overhaul for 2015 sports a strut-type front suspension and a multilink rear layout; it’s reassuringly firm, and the Golf is a willing partner even on challenging roads.
The electrically assisted power steering is nicely weighted and works with fantastic precision, and the standard XDS system—a function of the stability control that applies brake pressure on the inside front wheel in order to coax the car into corners—makes the Golf noticeably more agile with minimal understeer. This is a great car to toss around, and it feels a lot more planted than most of its competitors in the segment.
Its body structure is rigid and quiet, too, complementing the unobtrusive engine. Combine this with a cabin and trunk that are a lot more spacious than you’d think when looking at the outside, and this city-friendly hatchback actually makes a capable long-distance cruiser.
That said, the Golf is a bit frugal in some ways: It doesn’t come with a drive-mode selector, the parking brake is a conventional lever-operated unit, and the array of empty placeholder blanks on the center console reminds the owner that he has skimped on options. The new-for-2017 Wolfsburg Edition packs a bit more standard gear than the base Golf: For an extra $1700, its seats are heated and upholstered in leather-like vinyl rather than cloth, there’s a proximity key and push-button start, 16-inch aluminum wheels replace 15-inchers, and it gets a power sunroof. Moreover, some of the latest driver aids are present, including forward-collision warning, emergency-braking assist, and the truly useful blind-spot-detection system.
The Golf’s cabin is impeccably built, and the attention that has gone into every detail is simply impressive. The switches are backlit, the faux-aluminum trim on the console looks and feels real, and the graphics of the infotainment system fit perfectly into the design theme of the interior and instrumentation—a rare thing in this class.
If your idea of premium is a box full of bells and whistles, then the Golf may not be for you, even though it still packs a lot of stuff for its modest entry price of $20,715. But if premium means a precise and upscale driving experience and more than a taste of Audi-like handling and workmanship, then this small hatch remains the most premium offering in its segment.
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