- Built solidly
- Cabin feels rich and upscale
- Well-damped ride in most conditions
- Newly available diesel option
- Great visibility
- Frumpy styling
- Gas engine's fuel economy isn't great
- Less passenger and cargo room than expected
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf/TDI feels more upscale than its competitors, and the diesel's exceptional fuel economy is an unexpected bonus in the class.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf returns with some styling changes and a name change. For the last few years, Volkswagen experimented with the old Rabbit nameplate in the United States, but it's abandoned that badge with the new model, reverting to Golf for both the three-door and five-door hatchbacks. The compact Golf comes in either body style, and with a choice of four-cylinder gas and diesel engines. Manual and automatic gearboxes are offered, along with a dual-clutch transmission in the TDI diesel. The new Golf starts from $17,490 for the two-door, with the four-door starting at $19,190, and the TDI diesel beginning at $21,990. Its primary competition? The Honda Civic, Kia Forte and Kia Soul, Mazda3, and Ford Focus.Performance enthusiasts will instead want to check out the 2010 Volkswagen GTI, which pairs the Golf's hatchback body style with more satisfying hardware and extroverted cues. TheCarConnection.com reviews the 2010 VW GTI separately.
It's a bit difficult to tell the difference between this sixth-generation Golf and the car it replaces. There are plenty of small design variations, but the overall mechanical package and the general shape of the car remain unchanged. It is conservative and boxy-but not unappealing in its own German way. There's the traditional shape, a legacy of 30 years, but it's now crisper with some interesting creases on the hood, a new front end with a wider grille and halogen headlamps, and a small spoiler at the hatchback hinge. Diesel TDI Golf hatchbacks also get oval fog lamps and optional xenon headlamps. The overall look is a little wider, a little more balanced, and mostly evolutionary. The Golf's cabin bears more of a modern imprint, thanks to a new dash with even better textures and looks than the outgoing car.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf can be had with either a gas or diesel engine-and it's the diesel that gets TheCarConnection.com's nod. The five-cylinder gas engine is powerful enough for moderate use; it delivers 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, but its response is flat and unexciting. The gas-powered two-door offers a vague-feeling five-speed manual or a fine six-speed automatic; the four-door gas-powered Golf is only available with the automatic. It will accelerate to 60 mph in about 8 seconds and hit a top speed of 120 mph, plenty fast for average drivers, and fuel economy improves to mid-pack at 23/30 mpg with an automatic transmission. The clear winner here is the 2010 Golf TDI and its clean-burning diesel engine. It offers less on paper, at 140 hp, but with its 236 lb-ft of torque, it performs only a touch slower than the gas-powered Golf, with quicker in-city feel. The TDI's very muted diesel clatter sounds a bit more engaging, even, and it delivers 30/42 mpg and a 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds. The TDI is offered with either a manual or dual-clutch gearbox, and the winner is the latter transmission. The paddle-shifted DSG box is a delight, with quick changes up or down the diesel's admittedly shorter powerband. Handling is a strong point of any Golf; electric power steering has a well-sorted feel, and the Golf's ride is taut, not jarring. The front strut and independent rear suspension absorb big bumps with nary a crash or bang, and braking on the cars tested feels strong and controllable.
Comfortable seats and quality feel in the cabin make up for a little less interior room than the boxy shape implies. The Golf's front seats give great support, and the driver's seat helps you get comfortable with plenty of adjustability, but the controls are in three different locations: fore/aft at the right-front corner of the seat, a lever on the left side that raises and lowers the bottom cushion, and a big knob to change the backrest angle at the left rear of the seat. The rear seats have adjustable headrests and an armrest, and they fold down almost flat to give access to the cargo area. Rear-seat legroom can be an issue when tall drivers sit up front, and there's noticeably less knee room than in the Civic or the Kia Forte. Headroom is quite good, though. Throughout the cabin, the quality of the materials is high. The view out is good, but the base of the windshield is rather high, a result of European pedestrian collision standards.
Safety equipment is extensive in the 2010 Volkswagen Golf, but the new vehicle hasn't been officially crash-tested yet. However, it's very similar to the outgoing model, which earned four-star ratings for frontal impact and five-star ratings for side impact from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Unusually, the previous Rabbit model earned the Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), with all "good" scores. Standard features include six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and brake assist. Rear side airbags are an option in the four-door Golf.
With the latest edition, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf's features list has grown more competitive with the tech-happy entries from American and Korean automakers. Standard features include power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; power locks; and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary jack. The Golf TDI diesel adds on an LCD-screen music interface, a six-disc CD changer, and Sirius Satellite Radio, along with a multifunction steering wheel. A sunroof is optional across the board, as are Bluetooth connectivity and heated seats. The TDI model can be equipped with a 300-watt Dynaudio Lite audio system that sounds crisp and clear, and worth the added premium over the base system. Lastly, Volkswagen offers a navigation system on the new Golf; it has a 30GB hard drive for music and maps, DVD playback, an SD card slot, and USB connectivity.