2017 Volkswagen Golf Review

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The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 28, 2017

Buying tip

Compact SUV buyers would do well to consider a SportWagen instead. It's just as useful, has available all-wheel drive, and can be more fuel efficient.

There's a Golf for nearly every taste and need—Golf, Golf GTI, Golf SportWagen— and don't forget about the EV eGolf, which is very balanced and fun to drive.

The 2017 Volkswagen Golf is a bar set for other compact cars in its class. It now spans a model line that includes two- and four-door hatchbacks, sporty hatchbacks, and a wagon with available all-wheel drive, which is new for this year.

We give the new Golf a score of 6.5. Pedestrian styling and features are offset by its excellent safety record, very good performance in all trim levels, and a smartly laid-out interior with lots of cargo space. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

New for 2017 is the Golf Alltrack, essentially a Golf SportWagen with a slightly taller suspension and standard all-wheel drive. 

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Styling and performance

The Golf's demeanor is more serious than its entry price would suggest: It's more mature than many entry-level cars, a little more conservative too. The exterior has been recently updated, but many outside of VW devotees or current owners might be hard pressed to spot many differences.

Inside, the Golf is the same. Base models are awash in a sea of hard surfaces—albeit fairly high-quality materials—to the touch. The layout is driver focused, although very simple. Higher trims, including the Golf GTI and Alltrack, improve the materials and color schemes, but the basic layout stays the same.

Under the hoods of the the Golf, Golf GTI, Golf R, Golf SportWagen, and Golf Alltrack are two turbocharged inline-4 engines, albeit in different tunes. The base engine in the Golf and Golf SportWagen is a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. Any lag from the turbo is imperceptible and it's best matched to VW's 6-speed automatic, although a long-throw 5-speed manual is available in certain trims.

Stepping up to the Golf GTI adds 40 hp (or 50 hp in higher trims) by way of a 2.0-liter turbo-4 and swaps the transmissions to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic setup. The manual is better here is better than the 5-speed—and we are all about saving the manuals—but the dual-clutch automatic here is our pick. It's crisp and precise, and should be the pick for autocrossers looking for the best lap times, but also for practicality and day-to-day driving. As a more finely focused performance car, it can work surprisingly well for daily commuters.

The Golf R is the most potent of all, its 2.0-liter turbo-4 is rated at 292 hp and adds a Haldex all-wheel-drive system for improved performance. Golf R and Golf GTI models can add adjustable dampers that help fine-tune response, but serious drivers may still ask for more.

Quality, safety, and features

The Golf is still right in the middle of the compact class, with an overall length of 167.5 inches. Its front seats set the pace for the class, while in back it's a bit tight (although getting in and out is easy thanks to the roofline). There's all the cargo convenience you might expect, too, with 16.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, under the parcel shelf, or 22.8 cubic feet from the cargo floor to the roof.

VW points out that the Sportwagen has more cargo space than some small crossover utility vehicles: 30.4 cubic feet with the rear seat in place, or a capacious 66.5 cubic seat once you pull the quick-release latches to fold down the seat back.

The Golf has some of the best safety scores for its class, including a Top Safety Pick+ nod by the IIHS. When equipped with Volkswagen's set of advanced safety features, it's one of the safest compact cars on the road today.

With a starting price of around $19,000, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf offers a good set of features in its class, including touchscreen audio, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. From that, it's quite the lineup, though—extending to well above $30,000 for a well-equipped Golf GTI and reaching for $40,000 in the high-performance, all-wheel-drive Golf R.

Volkswagen has made some major improvements to its touchscreen systems over the past several years. Its good 5.0-inch base touchscreen can be improved to a larger 6.5-inch (or 8.0-inch for the e-Golf SEL) screens as well as upgraded telematic capability.

Despite the varying body styles and powertrains, most Golf models average around 29 mpg combined, which is fairly good for its class.

5

2017 Volkswagen Golf

Styling

The Volkswagen Golf is straight-laced and serious; far more conservative than most in its class.

The Golf is now two years removed from a full redesign, but most outside of VW enthusiast circles and current owners won't be able to spot the differences. It's a shape that's far more practical than sexy, for sure; but there are definitely things to warm up to inside.

We gave the Golf a 5 out of 10 on our scale, which is an average score for a new car, thanks to these upgrades. It may not set the world on fire from the outside or inside, but it is keeping pace with the compact pack. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The interior layout is straightforward and conservative compared to others in the class. The dash's center stack is canted toward the driver, and the dash overall is a little more gently sculpted and flowing than before. Just ahead of the driver is a hooded simple instrument cluster, with display screens (now 6.5-inch) in the middle of the dash. The traditional black dash and interior trim is offset in some models by available two-tone upholstery, but it's still very business-like.

The high-performance GTI hot hatch stands apart from other Golf models—slightly—if you can spot some of its key details, like the lowered sport suspension, twin chrome tailpipes, a rear diffuser, and special side skirts, which altogether give it a more assertive stance that tricks the eyes into thinking it's wider. LED taillights, red brake calipers, and 17-inch "Brooklyn" wheels also add to the look. Meanwhile, the Golf R gets special badging, quad exhaust outlets, and exclusive wheels.

Inside the GTI and Golf R you'll get a sport steering wheel, as well as a special shift knob and performance instrument cluster, plus sport seats—in a tartan pattern, a GTI classic. Other details include a black headliner, red ambient lighting, and stainless-steel for the pedals and foot support.

There's also a little more detailing in the small air inlet with horizontal bars, and the large round VW badge stretching between them, as well as in the rear lights; but otherwise the downward tuck of the profile is virtually the same.

The new all-wheel-drive Alltrack model sets itself apart from the model range with cladding for lower body pieces, unique bumpers, front fog lights and a unique honeycomb grille. It also sits a little over half an inch higher than the standard Golf SportWagen.

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2017 Volkswagen Golf

Performance

The Golf can be as powerful and as quick as you like, but base versions are practical and competent.

The 2017 Volkswagen Golf leaves behind the troubled 2.0-liter diesel engine, but still offers two versions of a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. Regardless of what you're looking for, the Volkswagen Golf is capable and can be very fun to drive.

We gave the Volkswagen Golf a 7 out of 10 on our scale for its good handling and braking in base models. Golf GTI and Golf R models add more power—and more fun, but we predict that many more cars will have the base 1.8-liter turbo-4 under the hood. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The base engine in the Golf TSI and Golf SportWagen is a 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injection inline-4 rated at 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque that doesn't delay its power delivery.

With the base TSI engine you get to choose between a standard 5-speed manual or available 6-speed automatic. With the manual, the shift action's long, and so is the clutch pedal's stroke, and the gears are tall, so we anticipate that the automatic will be the better option for most drivers, but we'd also bet nonetheless that VW sells more Golf manuals than any of its Korean or domestic competitors.

The Golf TSI balances comfort with sport, but it’s definitely not as flat through corners as the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. The Golf feels more at ease in daily driving than they do, with a far more absorbent ride and less abruptness in response to steering and throttle inputs. There's simply less body motion as well—a counter-intuitive observation given the presence of body lean—but the Golf simply soaks up inputs from heavy-handed drivers and makes them look better. Road noise is very well isolated, too. Both Golfs now have electric power steering, by the way, and VW does some of the best tuning of these systems in its price class.

Stepping up to the Golf GTI nets a 40 hp (or 50 hp) boost from a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 258 lb-ft of torque. It's hard to catch this engine flat-footed, and both the 6-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch gearboxes are fine choices. Acceleration to 60 mph takes around six seconds—very quick considering the practicality here—while a "progressive" steering system and a suspension that's tuned for performance make the GTI more satisfying to drive fast than the Golf.

Balanced handling a delight

We've spent considerable time in a Golf GTI recently and can report that this is one of the most well-balanced cars between fun and practicality. Shifts with the 6-speed automatic are crisp and well-timed, and we wouldn't penalize the pick for anyone who doesn't want to row their own. The 6-speed manual has a light takeup and decent throws, but it won't result in faster lap times. Despite propelling the two front wheels, understeer isn't a huge issue here, and most autocrossers will have fun whittling down laptimes.

The hot Golf R gets a big bump up to 292 hp from the 2.0-liter turbo-4, and there's also a more aggressive suspension tune as well as a number of other upgrades. But the most important performance upgrade may be the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, which employs a Haldex 5 center differential and brings an Audi-like lack of fluster to the driving experience. And with the multi-mode switch, you can order up Comfort, Normal, Race, or Individual modes affecting steering, powertrain, AWD, and ride.

The Golf R is a good match for the Subaru WRX STI. It grips and holds the road far more than our courage would allow, but driving the Golf R back-to-back with the GTI reminds us how good the GTI is and how much more the Golf R commands in base models. (It may not be worth it for drivers who aren't tracking their cars.)

As for the new Golf SportWagen, there's very little to add. It handles all but identically to the hatchback, and unless the large cargo bay is filled to the brim with stuff, you will easily forget that you're driving a wagon at all. It has the same powertrain options as the hatchback Golf, and new for 2017, adds an all-wheel-drive system as an option on the base Golf SportWagen S trim only.

That all-wheel drive system is standard on the Alltrack model, as well as an off-road mode that includes hill-descent control. Both Golf SportWagens and Golf Alltracks offer either a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual gearbox. 

For the most part, the Golf Alltrack drives just like the Golf SportWagen—which is to say that it is smooth and polished. Its suspension sits a little over half an inch higher off the ground than the standard SportWagen, which helps off roading, but only to a certain extent. Rivals like the Subaru Crosstrek and Subaru Outback deliver considerably more clearance for bounding up a dirt road. 

The e-Golf's EV drive system is covered separately.

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2017 Volkswagen Golf

Comfort & Quality

The 2017 Golf is one of the most refined compact cars on the road today.

The Volkswagen Golf is larger than it has been in previous years, with a larger footprint that helps the car make use of its available space.

It's one of the most refined cars in its class by using lightweight materials and a stiff body. The strength helps keep at bay harsh vibrations and the lighter chassis weight lets engineers stuff more sound deadening between the frame and the cabin.

Whether you're looking at the short Golf or the longer-wheelbase Golf Sportwagen, there is plenty of usable space.

We gave the Golf a 7 out of 10 on our rating thanks to it's good front seats and capacious cargo area in every model. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

But back to space, ride, and cargo, it's more spacious, and that upright design does pay off—whether you're looking at the standard (rather short) Golf or the longer SportWagen. By the numbers, the new Golf is about 2 inches longer, an inch lower, and a half-inch wider than the last-generation car—at 167.5 inches long, on a 103.8-inch wheelbase.

Front seats are some of the best in this price and size class; they're very supportive, and easily adjustable to fit a wide variety of bodies. We’d choose the cloth over the rubbery leatherette upholstery.

Versus the previous-generation Golf, there's an 8-percent gain in cargo space—16.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, under the parcel shelf, or 22.8 cubic feet from the cargo floor to the roof. And with the seats folded down, that grows to 52.7 cubic feet of storage space, easily enough to stow a bicycle.

In truly usable space, it translates to a less confining cabin than anything you'll find in a Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. It's also less drab than past Golfs, with much more metallic-painted trim on the dash to balance off the lower-grade carpeting lining door bins.

The new Golf SportWagen is better yet: Its load bay has 30.4 cubic feet of volume, and if you pull the easy quick-release latches to fold down the seat back, that expands to a voluminous 66.5 cubic feet. VW notes smugly that its compact wagon has more cargo room than some compact SUVs.

The Alltrack is largely identical inside to the SportWagen except that it offers brown leatherette upholstery as an option. 

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2017 Volkswagen Golf

Safety

The entire Golf range has earned near-perfect scores from the IIHS, and very good scores from federal testers.

Federal testers and the IIHS agree that the Golf range is among one of the safer cars on the road today.

We gave the Volkswagen Golf a 8 out of 10 on our scale thanks to its recent Top Safety Pick nod by the IIHS and nearly perfect scores from the feds. Only a few blemishes kept it from our top score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The IIHS has given the Golf and Golf SportWagen top "Good" scores in every crash test and an "Advanced" rating for its front-crash avoidance technology, when equipped with optional extras. Those extras are: standard on the Golf Wolfsburg Edition, and available on SE and SEL models; standard Golf GTI Autobahn models, and is available on Golf S and SE models; standard on Golf R with DCC and Navigation; and is available on Golf SportWagen and Alltrack models.

Federal testers gave the Golf five stars overall, with a four-star rating in front crash and rollover protection.

Also, we think that outward visibility has improved with the latest versions of the Golf, and with a well-rounded safety set of available features such as a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, auto-park assist, and lane-departure warning, the Golf offers a lot of security for the safety-conscious.

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2017 Volkswagen Golf

Features

Base Volkswagens aren't lavishly equipped, but a good infotainment system helps.

Volkswagen has gone great lengths to make the Golf relevant to buyers who are swayed by available tech and features, but the Golf's best features are still found in its dynamic handling and drivability.

Base models of the Golf, which are called TSI, may be hard to find on dealers' lots these days—only four-door S models will be stocked, the rest are order-only.

We gave the Golf a 5 out of 10 on our scale thanks to a good base infotainment setup, but little else. Compared to other compacts, the Golf has few customization options, and its base models can be fairly spartan. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

As base, the $19,000 Golf TSI gets 15-inch wheels, cloth interior, 5.0-inch touchscreen audio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

The most common Golf will be a four-door S model, which adds steering wheel-mounted controls and a rearview camera, starts at roughly $21,000. A panoramic sunroof is available on these models, and costs $1,550.

For 2017, Volkswagen has added a Wolfsburg Edition trim above S model that adds keyless ignition, heated faux-leather seats, 16-inch wheels, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, and special badging.

Four-door SE models add a premium Fender audio system, 6.5-inch infotainment system, 17-inch wheels, and telematics. A driver assistance package is available on SE models that adds forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and parking assistants. Bi-xenon headlights are available on SE-trimmed models.

SEL models top the range and sport dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch infotainment system, a 12-way power driver's seat, navigation, and 18-inch wheels.

Golf GTI models largely follow the same logic as Golf models, but for 2017, Volkswagen has simplified the lineup over prior years. The base GTI trim is the S model, which gets plaid cloth buckets instead of faux-leather. Sport, SE, and Autobahn (largely the same interior as the SEL trim) packages get as standard the "Performance Package" upgrade that boosts overall output from 210 horsepower to 220 hp. The Sport trim is new for 2017. The $800 adaptive damping system is available on SE models.

The Volkswagen Golf R equipment is essentially the same as the GTI inside, but it adds some key performance upgrades—including the stronger 292-hp engine, a stiffer suspension, and all-wheel drive. An important added feature on the Golf R is the dynamic chassis control, a sophisticated suspension system that can both eliminate road noise and harshness yet not detract from the driving experience. It's paired with navigation for an approximately $2,500 upgrade on the Golf R.

Golf SportWagen models follow roughly the same path as Golf models, except for a Limited Edition model between S and SE models that adds faux-leather, heated seats and keyless ignition. Alltrack models, equipped with all-wheel drive, sit at the top of the range and make available Volkswagen's suite of advanced safety features. Curiously, even Alltracks don't offer actual leather upholstery—instead, any Golf you find on a dealer lot will have cloth or leatherette. 

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2017 Volkswagen Golf

Fuel Economy

Regardless of body style or engine, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf is fairly fuel-efficient.

Volkswagen has two engines available in the Golf, both turbocharged inline-4s, that return very good fuel economy for the hatchback.

It's too early for the EPA to release official data, but last year the base, 1.8-liter turbo-4 in Golf and Golf SportWagen hatchbacks both returned about 29 mpg combined.

A Golf with a manual transmission is still the efficiency champ, it returns a 25 mpg city, 37 highway, 30 combined, according to the EPA. Golfs equipped with automatic transmissions are far more available and don't come with a significant penalty; they're rated at 25/36/29 mpg.

Last year, Volkswagen pulled its diesel-powered Golf after it admitted it cheated emissions testing and this year announced that it would buy back those cars—we're not likely to see that model in the U.S. anytime soon. The efficiency champ is the electric-only e-Golf, which we cover separately.

Wagon models with the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic are rated at 22/25/30 mpg. The manual transmission hasn't yet been rated by the EPA. 

GTI and Golf R models have a 2.0-liter turbo-4 and manage 25/33/28 mpg and 23/30/25 mpg respectively, when equipped with automatics.

Competitors such as the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus average around the same numbers as the Golf: about 32 mpg and 30 mpg combined respectively.

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Styling 5
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