2011 Volkswagen Golf Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 6, 2011

The 2011 Volkswagen Golf has an upscale feel that's a notch above competitors; the TDI diesel gets exceptional, hybrid-like fuel economy.

The Volkswagen Golf's distinctly German feel comes through its steering wheel and tires and through its sheetmetal. It's a premium-feeling hatchback that's unfortunately finding those attributes don't mean as much when faced with price-savvy new competitors like the Ford Focus, Kia Soul and Hyundai Elantra.

The Golf can't really be called sexy, but there are some classy details baked into its three- and five-door bodies--particularly around the rear door cuts. Stacked up against the dashing new Elantra, the Golf doesn't necessarily look dated, just conservative. The interior's solidly designed and built, more so than VW's own Jetta sedan that shares the Golf's backstory, even though it no longer shares a platform.

Performance means a choice between two relatively oddball powerplants. The five-cylinder's enough to get the Golf to speed easily enough, and its automatic transmission shifts sweetly--but the offbeat in-line five throbs with a lumpy sound and dull torque curve. The TDI diesel is much better for off-the-line feel, and fuel economy is spectacular--just like its paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission and its fine ride-and-handling blend.

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Front passenger space is ample, but the three-door's rear seats might seem a little cramped.

The IIHS calls the Golf a Top Safety Pick, and new features bring it closer to the ample standard equipment found in some Korean-made cars; Bluetooth is now available across the lineup, and a CD player is standard. Base prices are high, though, at almost $18,000 for the three-door, and $20,000 for the five-door--while the Hyundai Elantra starts below $16,000.

VW's counting on you to appreciate that Teutonic tightness--and if you do carve a corner or two on a daily basis, the Golf's better dynamics make it a must-drive. It's no longer the best in that class, with the arrival of the Focus--which makes your compact-car choice even tougher.

The turbocharged Volkswagen GTI is reviewed separately.

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.)


2011 Volkswagen Golf


It has a standout interior, but the 2011 Volkswagen Golf doesn't offer much sex appeal from the outside.

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.

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2011 Volkswagen Golf


Shop the Golf TDI for performance fun: yes, it's a diesel, but the sport tuning and dual-clutch transmission make the awesome fuel economy feel like a bonus.

The gas engine has more horsepower on paper, but the 2011 Volkswagen Golf's diesel engine gets our nod for superior all-around performance.

The Golf TDI burns fuel more efficiently and gets better suspension tuning to boot. It may have lower numbers, at 140 hp, but with its 236 lb-ft of torque, the TDI is just a touch slower to 60 mph than the five-cylinder Golf, while its superior torque gives it quicker launch feel. There's just a little diesel clatter and it adds to the distinctive driving experience, even. While it delivers 30/42 mpg, the TDI also puts down a competitive 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds. The diesel also comes with a choice of manual or dual-clutch gearbox; we think VW's paddle-shifted DSG box is one of the best transmissions you can buy, and here it has the same quick changes up or down through the diesel's narrower powerband.

The five-cylinder gas engine won't thrill users, but it's adequate. With 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, it's unexciting and flat in response to the throttle. The vague-feeling five-speed manual that comes with as standard equipment with the three-door Golf is better swapped out for VW's better six-speed automatic; the five-door only comes with the automatic. It's a bit quicker to 60 mph with this engine, about a half-second quicker, and fuel economy can be as high as 23/33 mpg, but the five-cylinder Golf just doesn't feel as engaging.

The Golf's handling, no matter which version you choose, is a strong point. Its electric power steering is well-sorted for good driving feel, and the ride is taut, not jarring. Diesels are set a bit more sporty, and it's not punishing at all. The front strut and independent rear suspension absorb big bumps with nary a crash or bang, and braking on the cars tested feels strong and controllable.

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2011 Volkswagen Golf

Comfort & Quality

Three-door models have somewhat skimpy backseat space, but the 2011 Volkswagen Gold has a well-built, well-trimmed interior.

A quality feel and comfortable seats in the 2011 Volkswagen Golf make up a little for less interior space than the squared-off shape suggests.

The Golf's front seats are nicely shaped for great support. The driver-side seat has plenty of adjustability, but the controls are located in three different places: the fore/aft adjuster sits out of sight at the right-front corner of the seat, the bottom cushion is raised and lowered with a lever on the left side of the cushion, and after all that, you'll have to grope for a big knob on the left rear corner of the seat bottom to change the backrest angle.

It's not quite as confusing in back. The rear seats have adjustable headrests and an armrest, and fold down nearly flat to expand access to the trunk. There's not quite as much rear-seat legroom in the three-door Golf as in the Honda Civic or the Kia Forte, a mild surprise given the Golf's boxy shape, and it can be a chore to clamber in the back. Headroom is quite good, though.

Volkswagen puts high-quality materials in the Golf's cabin. Visibility is good, too, but the base of the windshield is rather high, a result of European pedestrian collision standards.

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2011 Volkswagen Golf


A strong performer in IIHS tests, the 2011 Volkswagen Golf hasn't been tested by the Feds just yet.

The scores aren't all in, but the 2011 Volkswagen Golf shows every sign of being one of the safest compacts on the road.

The three- and five-door Golf has one set of ratings in hand. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the Golf is one of its Top Safety Pick winners, thanks to "good" scores in front, side and roof impact tests.

However, the revision of the ratings system by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) means that the agency must re-evaluate every car for new star ratings--and the Golf hasn't made the cut yet.

Along with its IIHS recognition, the Golf gets a good safety score here because of its extensive safety equipment. Standard features include six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and brake assist. Rear side airbags are an option in the four-door Golf, but it lacks parking sensors or a rearview camera, features that are becoming more common in the segment.

We'll revisit these ratings once the NHTSA issues its findings.

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2011 Volkswagen Golf


The base 2011 Volkswagen Golf won't seem austere; the TDI is positively plush, with Bluetooth and satellite radio.

The Volkswagen Golf has added more standard equipment over the years as it's grown out of its pure economy-car roots--and as it's watched the South Korean car companies set the pace for features.

For 2011, the Golf adds a a couple of new standard items, which are nearly the extent of the changes for the model year. All Golfs now come with standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; air conditioning; and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary jack. The Golf TDI diesel tops that list with more standard gear, including an LCD-screen music interface; Sirius Satellite Radio; a multifunction steering wheel; a six-disc CD changer; and Bluetooth.

Golf buyers of all kinds can order a sunroof, and Bluetooth is available on the base model. Heated seats are an option, too. The TDI model gets an upgrade option for a 300-watt Dynaudio Lite audio system that sounds crisp and clear, and worth the added premium over the base system. The truly big-ticket option on the Golf is a navigation system that includes a 30GB hard drive for music and maps, DVD playback, an SD card slot, and USB connectivity.

All 2011 model-year Volkswagens include a new three-year, 36,000-mile maintenance plan, a new value proposition that could tip the balance for buyers shopping a price point.

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2011 Volkswagen Golf

Fuel Economy

The TDI gives the 2011 Volkswagen Golf hybrid-like fuel economy, though the five-cylinder is just average.

The Volkswagen Golf lineup gets one of our highest ratings for fuel economy, even though there's not a hybrid in sight.

The Golf's turbodiesel four-cylinder does even better than some hybrids. According to the EPA, it delivers fuel economy of 30/42 mpg, whether you choose its six-speed dual-clutch automatic or a manual six-speed 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.)

With the standard five-cylinder, the Golf still passes the 30-mpg mark, though new compacts like the Hyundai Elantra are pushing 40 mpg. The Golf is rated by the EPA at 24/31 mpg with this engine and an automatic transmission; opting for the manual cuts city mileage down to 23 mpg, but boosts highway numbers to 33 mpg.

The Golf lineup includes a distinct GTI model with a turbocharged engine. It's covered separately, and rated separately.

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July 26, 2016
2011 Volkswagen Golf 4-Door HB Manual TDI

VW Dieselgatte

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I really liked the way the car drives. Seats excellent, lots of room with the backseats down. I average 43 mpg, city & hwy. On a trip to NC I averaged 47.5 mpg. Only normal maintenance done. Sadly VW sold us a... + More »
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