2015 Volkswagen Golf Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 7, 2015

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI trade flashy looks for great interior and cargo space, especially in the SportWagen model—but they don't give up anything for driving fun.

The Volkswagen Golf was one of the first compact hatchbacks to rise above the 'economy car' label. And still today it stands as a class benchmark against the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus, which have nudged their way onto that particular stage, while Honda, Hyundai and Kia still take occasional swings at the Golf and its performance variant, the GTI.

While those other hatchbacks have gotten lighter and more lithe, the Golf has been putting on weight, going a little grey in recent years. That's stopped with the 2015 VW Golf -- a two- or four-door hatchback that turns back the clock to its best days. It's lighter but larger, more powerful but more fuel-efficient, more spacious but more nimble, too. And as of mid-year, VW has added a Golf SportWagen too--the newest generation of what we previously knew as the Jetta SportWagen, though it was a Golf wagon everywhere else.

If there's any compromise the Golf makes, it's in styling. The upright shape comes as little surprise, though the wheels have been pulled closer to the front, the pillars have been slimmed out, and the roofline's picked up a slight arch. There's a pronounced character line in the sheetmetal starting at the back of the front fender and running alongside the doors, but for the most part this is a design that favors curves and gentle sculpting over angles and sharp creases.

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Inside, the dash is canted more toward the driver, with the whole instrument panel carrying more of a gently sculpted, flowing look as a whole and a cockpit look up close to the driver, a la Audi. A mix of light and dark materials as well as sparing bright accents looks like it will help lift VW further up from the drab, dark interior themes of previous Golfs.

VW's ancient in-line five finally is history: the Golf TSI gets a 1.8-liter turbocharged four with 170 horsepower that nets up to 6 miles per gallon better than its predecessor, and up to 37 mpg highway with the manual gearbox. If you’re really looking for fuel economy, though, skip right to the Golf TDI's 2.0-liter turbodiesel, rated at 150 horsepower. In testing, we've already observed 47-49 mpg, and EPA estimated range up to 45 mpg highway.

The two Golfs have distinctly different driving feel. The TDI has a torsion-beam rear suspension, at least for this year, but still handles very well, with firm steering responses and a ride that strikes the right balance of comfort and sport. Much the same is true for the TSI, though it has a fully independent suspension that gives it a far more absorbent ride that most of its competitors. It also has some of the best electric power steering tuning, and road-noise isolation.

Volkswagen's sporty GTI is the most deliberate of the hot hatchbacks -- and yes, the least edgy and spontaneous-feeling -- in terms of appearance and driving personality. Yet this is no slight. What starts out with the basic packaging and shape of the frugal Golf ends up, in each iteration, as a more finely focused performance car, yet one that can also work just fine for daily commuters.

The GTI gets an upgrade to VW's 2.0 TFSI engine, now making 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque (at just 1,500 rpm). There's a choice between six-speed manual and six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) gearboxes, with acceleration to 62 mph in just 6.5 seconds for the standard versions. A 'progressive' steering system and a suspension that's tuned for performance make the GTI more satisfying to drive fast than the Golf -- although its heavy-handed stability-system electronics can get in the way for serious enthusiasts.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is still right in the middle of the compact class, with an overall length of 167.5 inches. That's 2.2 inches longer than the previous generation, and its wheelbase is 2.3 inches longer—creating more interior space and helping improve the crash structure. The front seats set the pace for the class, and VW claims more elbow room front and back, as well as an 8-percent gain in cargo space--16.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, under the parcel shelf, or 22.8 cubic feet from the cargo floor to the roof.

With the seats folded down, the Golf hatchback has 52.7 cubic feet of storage space, easily enough to stow a bicycle. Then there's the wagon, which Volkswagen points out has more cargo space than some small crossover utility vehicles: 30.4 cubic feet with the rear seat in place, or a capacious 66.5 cubic seat once you pull the quick-release latches to fold down the seat back.

On the safety front, the Golf already has earned the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award, though the NHTSA hasn't crash-tested it yet. All versions can be fitted with a rearview camera, though it doesn't become standard equipment until prices reach into the $25,000 range. Bluetooth is also standard, and the Golf offers forward-collision warnings.

Feature-wise, a new touch-screen infotainment system is included in all Golf models; lower-level models include a 5-inch touch screen, while upper trims get an 8-inch version with navigation. Twin USB ports and full iPod control are part of the base setup. Leatherette upholstery and panoramic roof options

For performance fans, the VW GTI is priced from $25,215. It's reviewed separately. The high-performance Golf R isn’t due until the first quarter of 2015. Other Golf variants in the planning include the all-electric e-Golf due in the fourth quarter of this year as well as the Golf SportWagen due in early 2015, with the latter coming in both TSI and TDI flavors.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

7

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Styling

There's nothing in the Golf lineup nearly as exciting as the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 hatchbacks.

The new Golf is lower, longer, and wider than before, but styling has hardly changed. There are some little signs of progress—but it’s more of a practical shape than a sexy one.

The lines of the new 2015 Golf will be familiar to anyone who's seen a Golf (also known in the U.S. at various points as the Rabbit) on the streets. With a clear design history dating all the way back to the first Golf in 1974, the newest iteration four decades later is larger but just as crisp. The lines of the 2015 Golf are tauter, though it shares the characteristic VW front end with the previous generation: oblong headlamps at the outermost corners, and a small air inlet with horizontal bars and a large round VW badge stretching between them. On the latest Golf, the fender tops are slightly lower than the hood, aiding smooth flow through the air.

Inside it’s all business, as usual. The center stack is canted towards the driver, and the dash is a little more gently sculpted and flowing. It’s not as drab as before, either, and it has some well placed bright accents. The hooded instrument cluster flanks a new 5.8-inch display screen--even on base models. The traditional black dash and interior trim is offset in some models by available two-tone upholstery.

You should, as with the last-generation GTI, have no problem telling the sporty, hot-hatch model apart from the other Golf models—even though there's still no mistaking that this is, in truth, a Golf. A lowered sport suspension, twin chrome tailpipes, a rear diffuser, and special side skirts altogether give it a more assertive stance that tricks the eyes into thinking it's wider, while red brake calipers, 17-inch 'Brooklyn' wheels, and LED taillights set the distinctive look. Initially it's only offered in a choice of three body colors: Tornado Red, Black, and Pure White.

Inside the GTI you'll get a sport steering wheel, as well as a special GTI shift knob and performance instrument cluster, plus sport seats with a 'Clark' tartan pattern, plus a black headliner and special red ambient lighting. Stainless-steel pedals and a foot support should altogether make it feel sportier and more driver-focused even when you're not moving quickly.

8

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Performance

GTI and Golf R aside, the new Golf has smart acceleration and relaxed but grippy handling.

For performance, VW touches all the power bases with its new Golf, with four-cylinder engines powered by gas or by diesel.

The Golf TSI gets a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Replacing VW's ancient in-line five was guaranteed to pay off in performance and fuel economy, but the TSI's turbocharging and direct injection nets it up to 6 miles per gallon in fuel-economy increases on the new Golf--up to 37 mpg highway, with the manual gearbox.

At the same time, it's altogether more pleasant to operate, whether you're rowing the standard five-speed manual or letting the six-speed automatic do all the work. The weirder, flatter exhaust note of the five's dissolved into a nicely muted whine, while power develops sooner and more briskly. The manual's geared tall, which can leave the Golf hunting for boost for a few moments between shifts through the middle gears. The shift action's long, and so is the clutch pedal's stroke, though it has only a short amount of uptake travel. The automatic will be the better option for most drivers, but we'd also bet nonetheless that VW sells more Golf manuals than any of its Korean or domestic competitors.

If you’re looking for fuel economy, skip right to the Golf TDI's 2.0-liter turbodiesel, rated at 150 horsepower and a thumping 236 lb-ft of torque. It revs more quickly than before, and it's so strong at low engine speeds, it pulls easily to some speeds in a higher gear that that would require a downshift or two in the gas-powered Golf. In testing, we've already observed 47-mpg fuel economy, far above the EPA-estimated 42 mpg highway rating.

Turbodiesels also come with the option of VW's excellent dual-clutch automatic, even though it doesn't offer paddle shifters in diesel trim. Not that you'd need them: power starts to taper off past 3500 rpm and though the sound is sweeter than before, the need to hang around in low gears is minimal.

Feeling sporty? You can step up to the Golf GTI with its 210-horsepower turbo four, or the upcoming 290-horsepower Golf R. 

Volkswagen's sporty GTI is the most deliberate of the hot hatchbacks -- and yes, the least edgy and spontaneous-feeling -- in terms of appearance and driving personality. Yet this is no slight. What starts out with the basic packaging and shape of the frugal Golf ends up, in each iteration, as a more finely focused performance car, yet one that can also work just fine for daily commuters.

The GTI gets an upgrade to VW's 2.0 TFSI engine, now making 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque (at just 1,500 rpm). There's a choice between six-speed manual and six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) gearboxes, with acceleration to 62 mph in just 6.5 seconds for the standard versions. A 'progressive' steering system and a suspension that's tuned for performance make the GTI more satisfying to drive fast than the Golf -- although its heavy-handed stability-system electronics can get in the way for serious enthusiasts.

For the first time, VW is offering a Performance Pack, which raises engine power by 10 hp and shaves a tenth of a second off that acceleration time. Performance Pack cars also get a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, as well as larger vented disc brakes front and rear (standard GTIs have solid rear discs).

Each Golf has distinctly different driving personalities, and despite the clone tone set outside, there are some pointed differences from TSI to TDI models. For this year, at least, the TDI hatchbacks will have a torsion-beam rear suspension, while Golf TSI hatchbacks have fully independent setups. Still, the TDI handles very well, with firm steering responses and a ride that strikes the right balance of comfort and sport.

The same’s true of the much quicker Golf TSI—it’s not as flat through corners as the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus, but it feels more at ease in daily driving than they do, with a far more absorbent ride and less abruptness in response to steering and throttle inputs. All Golfs now have the electronic limited-slip system that used to be exclusive to the GTI: it brakes an inside wheel to help tighten the cornering line. Both Golfs now have electric power steering, by the way, and VW does some of the best tuning of these systems in its price class. Road noise is very well isolated, too.

As for the new Golf SportWagen, there's very little to add. It handles all but identically to the hatchback, and unless the large cargo bay is filled to the brim with stuff, you will easily forget that you're driving a wagon at all. It has the same powertrain options as the hatchback Golf, and far more than half of those wagons will be ordered with the diesel engine--80 percent of the Jetta SportWagen models that preceded it were TDI, and of those, 60 percent were fitted with the manual gearbox.

Next year will bring a new and potentially very compelling wagon model, by the way: a Golf SportWagen Alltrack with higher ground clearance and all-wheel drive.

8

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Comfort & Quality

Excellent front seats and cargo space make up for the slimmer rear-seat leg room of the new Golf.

The newest VW Golf lineup takes on a bigger footprint, amplifying an upright body that already was more useful than many other compact hatchbacks.

By the numbers, the new Golf is 2 inches longer, 1 inch lower, a half-inch wider than the last-generation car--at 167.5 inches long, on a 103.8-inch wheelbase. Curb weight ranges from 2,900 to 3,100 pounds, down about 80 lb from last year's model.

VW claims more elbow room front and back, and an 8-percent gain in cargo space--16.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, under the parcel shelf, or 22.8 cubic feet from the cargo floor to the roof. With the seats folded down, the Golf has 52.7 cubic feet of storage space, easily enough to stow a bicycle. The new Golf SportWagen is better yet: Its load bay has 30.4 cubic feet of volume, and if you pull the easy quick-release latches to fold down the seat back, that expands to a voluminous 66.5 cubic feet. VW notes smugly that its compact wagon has more cargo room than some compact SUVs.

The spec-sheet space translates into a more airy, less confining cabin than anything you'll find in a Mazda 3 or Ford Focus, and it's less drab than past Golfs, with much more metallic-painted trim on the dash to balance off the lower-grade carpeting lining the door bins. VW has some of the better seats in this price and size class; they're very supportive, and easily adjustable to fit a wide variety of bodies, though the controls are the usual VW mishmash of levers, knobs, and some power controls. We’d choose the cloth over the rubbery leatherette upholstery.

In the backseat, legroom is on the slim side--it's definitely more limited than some rivals like the Dart--but getting in and out is easy thanks to a roofline that doesn’t slash headroom. Entry and exit is easy, thanks to a roofline that doesn't rob headroom for visual drama.

All Golfs use more soft-touch materials, and VW has added more storage inside the new Golf, with a sliding tray underneath the front seats (if they're manually adjusted), six cupholders, and a larger glovebox that includes a CD changer.

Quality perceptions in the Golf start with a stiff, quiet body, one of VW's first vehicles built on its new 'MQB' modular global platform. With more high-strength steel, this Golf has a tighter body that's a little lighter than before. The strength helps quell vibrations and saves weight that gets put to better use as sound deadening. In all, the new Golf is also one of the quietest, most refined small cars in its class.

8

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Safety

The Golf already has earned a Top Safety Pick+ award.

Both the 2015 Volkswagen Golf and the Golf-based GTI performance hatch are proof that small cars can deliver big on safety.

It's rare for brand-new vehicles to be crash-tested so soon, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has already given the 2015 Golf and 2015 Golf GTI its Top Safety Pick+ award for the 2014 calendar year. The award applies to models that have the Driver Assistance Package and its forward-collision warning system. However, the award doesn't carry over to the 2015 calendar year.

Huh? In 2015, the IIHS ups the ante again, and demands Top Safety Pick+ winners have forward-collision warning systems at an Advanced or Superior level, which translates into some degree of automatic braking. The Golf's system is currently rated Basic, which means it's now given a Top Safety Pick award.

In addition to forward collision warning, the Driver Assistance Package also adds front and rear Park Distance Control as a $695 option starting on the $22,095 2015 Volkswagen Golf S.

The Golf hasn’t been crash-tested yet by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but its IIHS scores are a good leading indicator. Visibility has improved, and there are new safety tech options such as blind-spot monitors, auto-park assist, and lane-departure warnings.

8

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Features

The Golf's infotainment system is better, but the screen is small; prices rise quickly, but that's state of the art for compact cars.

Starting from about $19,000 the 2015 Volkswagen Golf comes moderately equipped with power features, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen interface with satellite radio. But it's quite the lineup -- extending well above $30k for a well-equipped Golf GTI.

This year, the Golf starts its new generation with a special Launch Edition, priced at $18,815. A three-door Golf TSI equipped with a manual transmission, the Launch Edition comes with cloth seats, iPod integration, and air conditioning. A rearview camera is an option on all Golfs in which it isn't standard equipment.

The two-door Golf S starts at $19,815; adding an automatic raises the price $1,100, and the four-door automatic costs $21,515. Golf S models add alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, steering-wheel controls, and cruise control. A Sunroof package on four-door Golf S models adds a panoramic roof. Other options include LED lighting, forward-collision warning system, and rear parking sensors.

The $25,315 Golf SE only comes as a four-door with an automatic, and adds heated front seats; 17-inch wheels; automatic headlights; a rearview camera; and Fender audio. For $27,815, the Golf SEL adds to the SE spec a navigation system; automatic climate control; pushbutton start; a power driver seat; and ambient lighting.

The diesel-powered Golf TDI is priced from $22,815 for the three-door. It largely follows the same trim levels, except the TDI SE has a standard sunroof. The dual-clutch automatic is an $1,100 option.

VW's user interface has improved, and the touchscreen now has capacitive-touch control--meaning you can scroll and swipe and zoom with the touch of a finger. Still, it's a smaller screen unless navigation is ordered, and the colorful icons for audio stations aside, it can be more fussy to control.

The VW GTI is offered in two- and four-door versions and priced from $25,215. It includes air conditioning, cruise control, leather steering-wheel and shift-knob trim, LED fog lamps, power heated mirrors, heated washer nozzles, red brake calipers, cloth seating, heated front seats, and a touch-screen audio system with CD player, iPod integration, and VW Car-Net connected services. Then GTI SE models add a sunroof, keyless access, push-button start, a rearview camera system, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats, and Fender premium audio.

On GTI SE models, an Autobahn package brings navigation, a power driver's seat, and automatic climate control.

The Performance Package adds a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, larger brakes and special calipers, and a 10-hp boost in engine output. On top of that (a $1,495 option), you can add the $800 adaptive damping (DCC) system.

Separately, there's a Driver Assistance Package that, for $695, gets you front and rear Park Distance Control and Forward Collision Warning.

Other Golf variants in the planning include the all-electric e-Golf due in the fourth quarter of this year as well as the Golf SportWagen due in early 2015, with the latter coming in both TSI and TDI flavors.





8

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Fuel Economy

EPA ratings aren't yet in, but the high-efficiency TDI has been one of the more popular Golf models.

The 2015 VW Golf joins the ranks of the most efficient compact cars this year, and it's not only based on the strength of the turbodiesel TDI models.

The turbocharged, gas-powered four-cylinder Golf TSI hatchback earns 26 miles per gallon city, 37 miles per gallon highway, and 30 mpg combined. That puts it in a class with a range of compacts--aside from special high-economy models--including the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevy Cruze.

With the automatic transmission, the Golf TSI is rated at 26/36 mpg. With those numbers, it's up to 20 percent more efficient than the 2.5-liter in-line five it replaces. The longer, heavier SportWagen loses 1 mpg in its combined ratings compared to the hatchback, from 30 mpg to 29 mpg.

The turbodiesel has some stellar numbers -- 30 or 31 mpg in the city, and 43 to 45 mpg on the highway, by the official EPA estimated. But in a 275-mile drive, over hilly terrain, and not being particularly sparing on the power, we managed to average 49 mpg -- an indication that real-world mileage with the TDI is better than EPA ratings suggest. The next step in the compact class puts drivers into Prius range -- although not even the Prius would do as well in high-speed highway-driving conditions. The TDI wagon's combined rating is 35 mpg, regardless of transmission.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

Move over to the performance-oriented GTI and you lose a little mileage, but really not much; the GTI achieves EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, and either 33 or 34 mpg on the highway, depending on the transmission. Take it especially easy around town and you might even do better than the somewhat more stressed 1.8-liter in the Golf.

One interesting side note: There's no stop-start anywhere in the Golf lineup; that's a feature that Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi have brought over in their diesels, and it can yield some significant savings in suburban driving. One such system that worked very well, we found, in a recent drive of the Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec diesel, over which we averaged 41 mpg in mostly highway driving.

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July 26, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Golf 4-Door HB DSG TDI S

Dollar for Dollar best value I ever had. Period

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First DIESEL I ever owned. great MPG, city and road. Quiet compared to 30 years ago. 2nd Golf I have owned. The first I bought used. Great resale value on VW Golf cars. My 2015 is "peppy" with tons of torque... + More »
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June 28, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Golf 4-Door HB Automatic TSI S w/Sunroof

It is the best car I have ever had, a pleasure to drive, confortable, and my wife loves it!

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This is the second Golf we have, the first one was the fourth generation. It is one of the few cars that has the passenger seat adjustable in height and my wife loves that feature. Many cars have a lot of... + More »
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