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Considering Volkswagen's long, unwavering reign over the compact hatchback market—sometimes calling it Rabbit, other times Golf, but all the while staying in the market through ups and downs—it's almost indisputably the benchmark for hatchbacks in the U.S. market.
Yet with each generation, the Golf has been getting a little heavier in weight, a little more 'mature' in driving feel.
Thankfully, we see Volkswagen making some serious moves to change that in the upcoming 2015 Golf, with a return to what matters to small-car shoppers: namely, a zippy driving experience, making the most of a little space, and not compromising on safety, style, or tech features.
One fact highlighting that turnaround: The new Golf will be lower, longer, and wider than the outgoing Golf, yet up to 220 pounds lighter.
From a design standpoint, there's nothing from the outside that's very surprising, with a silhouette, stance, and details that all stand out as an iteration of the Golf. Headlights are a bit narrower, and the C-pillar is thinner; also, from the side, the roofline looks a little more arched than before. And while there's a pronounced character line in the sheetmetal starting at the back of the front fender and running alongside the doors, for the most part this is a design that favors curves and gentle sculpting over angles and sharp creases.
Inside, it looks like the flat-bottom steering wheel of the current GTI might spread into more mainstream Golf models, and 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.
Expect U.S. Golf models to get the 1.8T TSI four—making about 158 horsepower and 185 pound-feet. VW's excellent 2.0-liter TDI diesel will return, as will the 2.0T in the GTI. The 1.8-liter, when taking the Golf's weight loss into account, will likely allow acceleration that's faster than the five-cylinder base engine in the outgoing 2013 and 2014 Golf—while returning much-improved gas mileage. The current Golf lags in fuel economy and gets 23 or 24 mpg in the city and 31 or 33 mpg on the highway; we expect nearly 40 mpg on the highway out of the new version.
The 2015 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.
Gains in interior space will be small but significant—including 0.6 inches more rear knee room and 1.2 inches more shoulder room, with more cargo capacity as well. For tall drivers, the front seats have been shifted back by nearly an inch, and (on European models) there's a new ergoActive seat with extended adjustments.
Volkswagen sums that the new model “offers more features, even better safety, and more performance than the outgoing vehicle, while breaking the cycle of being heavier than its predecessor. ”
To achieve that weight loss, Volkswagen achieved shed significant weight through greater use of high-strength steels (now about 80 percent, and 28 percent ultra-high-strength steel). The Golf is built on a new modular platform, and while that approach can sometimes lead to added heft, it's also taken a piece-by-piece approach with the new Golf, noting that even the seats, for instance, are 15 pounds lighter in the new version.
On the safety front, the Golf's advanced materials and construction will likely lead to improvements in crash-test performance, while the thinner rear pillar should provide better outward visibility for the driver. All models now include an electric parking brake and hill-hold function, and on European versions VW is offering Side Assist, Lane Assist, and Park Assist active-safety features, as well as a Pre Crash system, adaptive cruise control, and fatigue detection.
Feature-wise, a new touch-screen infotainment system is included in all Golf models; lower-level models include a five-inch touch screen, while upper trims get an eight-inch version with navigation. Twin USB ports and full iPod control are part of the base setup.
Look for the 2015 Volkswagen Golf to go on sale in the U.S. in early calendar year 2014.
- Improved fuel economy
- Stylish interior
- Better infotainment
- More space and comfort
- Exterior styling plays it safe