2021 Volkswagen Golf

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Robert Duffer Robert Duffer Senior Editor
March 1, 2021

Buying tip

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI remains one of the best affordable sports cars, but the expensive Autobahn trim leads us astray.

features & specs

1.4T TSI Automatic
1.4T TSI Manual
2.0T Automaticbahn DSG
29 city / 36 hwy
29 city / 39 hwy
24 city / 32 hwy

The 2021 VW Golf TSI compels shoppers for its overall value, but the GTI is a hole in one.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 Volkswagen Golf? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf hatchback takes its final spin before the redesigned eighth-generation model launches for 2022. When it returns, it’ll only come in five-door GTI and Golf R performance-oriented models, whereas for 2021 it can be had as a Golf TSI or Golf GTI. The Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza wagon and Toyota Corolla remain compelling hatchbacks.   

Is the 2021 Volkswagen Golf a good car?

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Yes, we like it, mostly for its roominess and how well it drives. Its outdated tech limits its upside, capping the GTI at a 6.7 out of 10. The base model and its basic engine would rate lower. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Volkswagen Golf?

In addition to the GTI, the base Golf is limited to one well-equipped trim for 2021 that now comes standard with 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, keyless start, synthetic leather seats, heated fronts, and a panoramic sunroof. 

The classic hatchback has aged well, especially the GTI and its 18-inch wheels and red trim flourishes. The nose dips low into a wide lower lip for an athletic stance with a swole rear end that’s ready to pounce. Plaid seats or synthetic leather aside, the interior is uninspired. 

A choice of turbo-4s distinguish the basic Golf TSI from the endearing Golf GTI. The 147-hp 1.4-liter on the TSI tops out pretty quickly, but the standard 6-speed manual and good steering and handling keep it fun. The GTI fuels better fantasies with its 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that’s a benchmark for the class, even though a 0-60 mph time of about six seconds may no longer impress. The specs don’t reflect the sum of its parts, but once you add up the steering, handling, and quickness, the GTI remains one of the most fun cars to drive at this price. 

The two-box shape lends itself to good headroom and enough comfortable space for four, though there are five seatbelts. Cargo volume is as good as many small crossovers. 

Good value and good features are par for the course on the 2021 Golf. Its standard automatic emergency braking supplements mostly good crash-test ratings. An outdated 6.5-inch touchscreen comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. 

How much does the 2021 Volkswagen Golf cost?

The 2021 Golf TSI costs $24,190, including destination, with the 6-speed manual, but the 8-speed automatic is only $800 more. The GTI starts at $29,690 with a manual, but climbs up to $38,000 with the top Autobahn trim. 

Where is the 2021 Volkswagen Golf made?

In VW’s home of Wolfsburg, Germany.


2021 Volkswagen Golf


The five-door Golf hatchback still looks good.

Is the 2021 Volkswagen Golf a good-looking car?

Volkswagen design errs on the conservative side, but the Golf hatchback’s exterior has aged better than its interior, despite the quirky plaid seats and golf-ball shifter on the GTI. The classic hatch still earns a point on our scale to a 6.

A low-rising hood, short overhangs, and a relatively compact wheelbase stretches between 16-inch wheels on the Golf TSI or aluminum-alloy 18s on the GTI. LED daytime running lights create a visual line that rings around the five doors to the LED taillights at the rear, and the lower grille spans the breadth of the face for a low, wide look. GTI adds all the badging, subtle red trim pieces, a mesh grille, an integrated rear spoiler, and dual exhaust pipes on its boxy rear end.

Inside, the wide, spartan dashboard leans into the driver, but the center stack feels a generation old because it is. The Golf’s analog cluster doesn’t feel out of date or place, but the overwhelming dark plastic all over the cabin can’t be offset by standard synthetic leather seats that are heated.

Review continues below


2021 Volkswagen Golf


The 2021 VW Golf GTI’s standard manual and direct steering put the turbo-4 power in the driver’s hands.

The composed ride of the front-wheel-drive hatchback earns it a point, while the punchier turbo-4 on the more popular GTI models earn it another point here for a 7.

How fast is the VW Golf?

For 2021, the Golf is offered in base TSI and uprated GTI versions. The 6-speed manual transmission standard on either model should be used in Driver’s Ed programs, with a clutch pedal neither too firm nor soft, and a shifter that unifies the gap between driver and machine. Be at one, grasshopper.

If teachable moments are no longer in style, like the manual, the Golf TSI can be had with an 8-speed automatic routing the 1.4-liter turbo-4’s 147 hp to the front wheels. It’s brisk off the line, hustling to 60 mph in the mid-seven second range, but it loses its punch at higher speeds. The front struts and multilink rear suspension combine with a low center of gravity for good handling but with a ride that is comfy enough for long hauls. 

VW’s progressive steering system is one of the best out there, especially at this price, getting more sensitive the more it’s turned for easier parallel parking moves, for example, then having more resistance on center to respond quickly and directly on turns. 

The variable-ratio on the GTI is even tighter overall for more precision, which is key for the GTI’s superlative 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4. It’s quick and everready, sprinting from 0-60 mph in about six seconds, and if you opted for the 7-speed dual clutch automatic for the ultimate combo of affordable precision, we would honor you. The GTI sits 0.6 inches lower than the Golf, and adds an electronically-controlled limited-slip front differential that redirects up to 100% of the torque to the front wheel with the most grip. It’s a Golf in name and shape only. 

Three drive modes affect steering feedback and throttle response, while the top Autobahn trim adds a Comfort mode that calms the adaptive dampers unique to that trim to their softest setting. The opposite is true in Sport mode, but at nearly $38,000 the Autobahn trim would encourage us to wait for the Golf R’s return next year.  

Is the VW Golf 4WD?

No, it’s front-wheel drive. 

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2021 Volkswagen Golf

Comfort & Quality

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf has as much space as some small crossovers.

The Volkswagen Golf hatchback has a small footprint but carries plenty of space. Able to hold nearly 23 cubic feet of stuff with the rear seats up, the Golf expands to 53.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down, which is better than many of the tall hatches we call small crossovers. That kind of roominess earns it a point, as do the comfy front seats and roomy rear seats. It’s an 8. 

Heated synthetic leather front seats with power adjustments come standard, while the GTI comes with throwback plaid cloth seats that never get old. The seats are supportive without being too narrow, and optional leather hides upgrade the sedate cabin. 

Even though the Honda Civic and Subaru Impreza wagon are roomier in back, rear passengers can stretch out to 35.6 inches of leg room and ample head room in the Golf. Fitting a fifth person in the middle seat means they shouldn’t have to chip in gas money.

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2021 Volkswagen Golf


The 2021 VW Golf avoids crashes as well as it withstands them.

How safe is the Volkswagen Golf?

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf comes with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and blind-spot monitors. That earns it a point on our scale, as does the NHTSA’s five-star crash-test rating. It’s a 7.

The IIHS rates the 2021 Golf at “Good” in five of its six crash tests, but only “Acceptable” in the front passenger-side overlap test. The NHTSA also gave it four stars for front and rollover protection. Those crash-test results are neither remarkable nor negligent.

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2021 Volkswagen Golf


The base Golf TSI and GTI come well-equipped and with a good warranty.

Offered in two models, the 2021 Volkswagen Golf has only one trim, TSI, while the GTI variant comes in three trims. The TSI and base GTI S come with heated front seats, leather-wrapped shifter, power front seats, keyless start, two USB ports, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The TSI gets a power sunroof, but the GTI S does not. That standard equipment earns it a point, as does its 4-year/50,000-mile warranty with two years or 20,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. It’s a 7.  

Which VW Golf should I buy?

The jump between the $24,190 Golf TSI and Golf GTI is a big one at $5,500, or more than 20%, so it comes down to the personal value of better performance. The GTI S has plaid cloth seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, but the standard features beyond the powertrain and performance upgrades remain relatively the same. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Volkswagen Golf?

At just below $38,000, the GTI Autobahn trim comes with 12-way power driver’s seat, leather seats and surfaces, Fender audio, adaptive cruise control, and a fourth driving mode.

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2021 Volkswagen Golf

Fuel Economy

Unlike other cars, the standard manual is more efficient in the 2021 VW Golf.

Is the 2021 Volkswagen Golf good on gas?

Yes, and the manual models fare best. The Golf TSI manual leads the pack with an EPA-rated 29 mpg city, 39 highway, 33 combined, but the 8-speed automatic gets 29/36/32 mpg. That would be a 6 on our scale. 

The more popular GTI with the larger turbo-4 serves as the basis for our rating of 5, however. With the manual, it gets 24/32/27 mpg combined, and the automatic rates at 23/30/26 mpg.

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MSRP based on 1.4T TSI Manual
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Styling 6
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 7
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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