VW Golf 2010 - Love It and Hate It

October 23, 2009
I love VW cars, I hate VW cars. I think that is the way it has always been. In particular the new 2010 Golf -- I either love it or I recoil when I see it.

Why? It's not what you'd think it is.

It isn't the design of the new Golf. It is well proportioned and structured from an exterior design point of view. It remains a Golf from 100 yards away. And it's nice to look at. Walter Da Silva is for all intents and purposes one of the best designers out there, from his Seat days to his VW and Audi cars, and I am sure he had some influence on the Golf before it went out the door. It's really well balanced, especially the 4-door hatch.

It certainly isn't the interior either. VW for the last 3 generations has made an interior you'd want to make a home in. The furniture and furnishings are way nicer than my home and much better in terms of construction. We're not talking Ikea-cheap like my house, we are talking mass-produced excellence. It's a place where you want to spend quality time. The fit & finish are superb not to mention the layout, the feel of the switchgear, and just as importantly, those wonderful VW seats. If I had those at work, I'd actually be productive and not a drain on the company.

So it's the engines, right? Wrong again, honey. The direct injection 2.0L turbo in the GTI - that thing is 4 cylinders of automotive sweetness. It revs, it's torquey, it's smoother than a recently waxed swimmer's scalp. It's part of what makes the Golf so great. So is the TDI version. Diesels have come a long way and when I drove the last generation TDI in Germany, I was mucho impressed. At a cold startup, they are a bit sand-paper rough, I admit. But when they are warm, they are smooth, torquier than a German bureaucrat's highly twisted shorts, and the fuel economy is unreal. I won't comment on the highly mediocre 5-cylinder motor we North Americans are saddled with. Slow, pokey and thirsty. And this is the base engine for us on this side of the pond. Shame really. VW could do better here. A twin-charger would be nice.

OK, so it's the handling? Strike 4, bass mouth. They handle very nicely, even in base form and they ride well too. Makes you feel like you have a real grown car. And there is an amazing amount of space inside for real adults.

So what's not to like? 3 very important things: reliability, customer service and pricing.

I can't tell you how many people I know over the past 20 years who have horror stories about their Golfs. Electrical problems are a given. And in today's highly wired cars, this doesn't bode well. I know people who had window problems, alarm issues and if you read the German car mags like I do, these finely tuned VWs constantly have teething pains. I know so many people who said to me, "when it's not in the shop, I love it!" Well, that isn't good enough for me. Reliability is how the Japanese destroyed their competition and it's why VW is mid-pack in most Consumer Reports surveys.

Customer Service also isn't a VW strong suit. A recent auto motor und sport test on VW service when performing basic maintenance was disastrous. Again the anecdotal evidence I have heard from friends, family members and what I have read makes me think twice whether the prestige of owning a VW is worth the hassle.

And lastly, price. Have you seen what they charge for one of these things, especially when you load it up? That MSRP looks like someone from the Obama budget team added up the numbers. Regardless of the exquisite engineering and visible quality, it's hard to justify the price. Yes, many of these are made in Germany so the euro/dollar exchange rate makes it hard to price them properly. And the VW plant being built in the USA won't solve all the pricing issues. Fact is, the Golf's pricing almost makes it an aspirational vehicle, and if you're looking to social climb via your car, you'd probably aspire to something with 4 intersecting rings on the grill, like an Audi A3.

So, I am left with a love-hate situation. The new 2010 Golf is great from so many perspectives, hence the 'love aspect', but it's the whole package that I want, hence I remain highly ambivalent and dare I say, I hate that VW can't deliver on such a great automotive proposition.

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