The Volkswagen Golf has been a poster child for visual stability--that's one way of putting its reliance on a traditional two-box shape for most of the past two decades.
There's a bit of life in the three-door model, with a very subtle sculpting to the rear side windows, and it's been crisped up a bit in the design oven by VW's head of style, Walter d'Silva. The 2011 Golf still lacks the drama you'll find in a Hyundai Elantra or even a Kia Forte, not to mention the Soul hatchback--and there's a sleek, curvy new Ford Focus on the way, too.
In the Golf's favor are some really nicely executed, appealing details. A handful of interesting creases have shown up on the hood. The front end has a slightly wider grille and halogen headlamps. There's a small spoiler at the back, where the hatch hinges to the body. The Golf TDI is distinguished only by oval fog lamps and if you order them, xenon headlamps. In all, the Golf has grown a bit broader, a little more balanced, but remains evolutionary in looks.
We'll be happy if the cabin stays true to the tightly constructed, sober look it has now. There's more of a modern imprint in its simplified, better-detailed dash, in this year-old redesign, and better control interfaces--while the big round gauges remain front and center, in perfect view. The Golf hasn't gone where the 2011 Jetta sedan has gone: the hatchbacks have better textures and materials than the Mexican-built Jetta, which grew longer and cheaper in a pitch to woo more American buyers. Given the choice of cabins to sit in, we'd opt for the richer Golf environs than the spacious, hard, plasticky cockpit of the Jetta almost any time.