Since the late Seventies, the VW Golf has been been a benchmark for fun-to-drive hatchbacks. Now there’s a new Golf, and it’s never offered so many choices to so many drivers—from hatch to wagon, diesel to EV, dual-clutches to automatics.
Of course, it has some stellar competition in the Ford Focus and the Mazda 3. Is the Golf good enough to dethrone those econocar handling champs?
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.
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 Golf’s front seats are far better than most other models in this price-conscious compact class—they’re very supportive. We’d choose the cloth over the rubbery leatherette upholstery.
Here in the backseat, legroom is on the slim side, but getting in and out is easy thanks to a roofline that doesn’t slash headroom.
The cargo area is 16.5 cubic feet behind the back seats—they fold down to expand the storage area to 52.7 cubic feet. It’s much more spacious than the Mazda 3 and Focus.
For performance, VW touches all the power bases. The Golf TSI gets a 1.8-liter turbocharged four rated at 170 horsepower. If you’re looking for fuel economy, skip right to our Golf TDI's 2.0-liter turbodiesel, rated at 150 horsepower.
Feeling sporty? You can step up to the Golf GTI with its 210-horsepower turbo four, or the 290-horsepower Golf R—but we’ll talk about those another time.
Both these gas- and diesel-powered Golfs are front-wheel drive. The gas edition comes with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic; the turbo diesel, with either a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic. We’re huge fans of the dual-clutch, and the automatic works perfectly well too. VW’s manuals are better these days, but save it for the GTI or Golf R.
Mileage varies from as high as 42 mpg highway in the Golf TDI to 37 miles per gallon highway with the Golf TSI.
Each Golf has distinctly different driving personalities. The TDI we have is a bit smoother than before, and with its monster levels of diesel torque, you don’t need to keep the revs up. It 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.
The new Golf hasn’t been crash-tested yet, but with the new advanced materials and construction we expect great things. Visibility has improved, and there are new safety tech options such as blind-spot monitors, auto-park assist, and lane-departure warnings.
Starting from about $18,000 the Golf comes moderately equipped with power features, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen interface with satellite radio. Our very nicely equipped TDI model has a sticker price of about $28,000 and has leatherette upholstery, Fender Premium Audio, and high-intensity headlights.
So what’s the bottom line with the 2015 Volkswagen Golf? It trades flashy looks for great people and cargo space—but it doesn’t give up at all on driving fun.