If you didn't already know, we really love the Volkswagen Golf in all its forms: base car, GTI, SportWagen, and Alltrack. But we're losing most of them here in the States, and that's bad news for those who love great driving dynamics, handsome styling, and real-world practicality. Everyone's been waiting for the new Golf, and VW just unveiled photos of the 8th-generation car. For the uninitiated, the new car might look very similar to the old one, and it does. With some tweaks to the front and rear fascias, it looks more like a refresh than a full redesign... until you take a look inside.
The front end has new headlights that have two contours at the base and an LED eyebrow that extends into the fender area. The connecting upper grille is thinner, and the lower grille has a pair of fins on each side that match the body color, along with a connecting lower bar/fin just below. Of course, the big VW circular logo is front and center, as usual. The size is pretty much the same as the old car except for a slightly lower stance and a marginal overall length increase.
We don't like the back end quite as much because it looks a bit more squarish in the tailgate, not as elegant as the outgoing MKVII. The LED taillights are quite nice, but the outer edges of the base of the tailgate and the top of the bumper where they meet are too angular for our liking. What's worse are the tips of the fake exhausts. On the last Golf, they were real. These are just stupid.
The biggest changes are in the cabin of the new Golf where the most improvements occurred. We like the interior of the current Golf, but it really did need an overhaul because it was starting to look and feel dated. As much as we loved the analog gauges and the purist feel, the new interior is miles ahead in just about every way and takes us to the digital age.
The instrument cluster is now a color, digital TFT display, and you can even opt for an "Innovation" cockpit with more functionality and views. The look is noticeably different between the two generations and makes the Golf look positively upscale. There's a big infotainment screen where you can move tiles to customize settings, and digital sliders replace physical buttons. While that looks great, we have yet to see how they'll work. The new Golf also gets a nice head-up display, which we think will be optional on the Golf and standard on the GTI and R.
The cabin itself gets a more linear look to the dash, not unlike Mazda. The absence of some physical control knobs allows the center stack to be far less cluttered. The HVAC vents move from the top of the dash to the lower portion, and the center console now slots under the center stack, versus merging with it like the MKVII.
European versions get driver assistance systems that monitor alertness and respond accordingly. VW may actually get rid of the key and just use a smartphone app to lock, unlock, and start the car. There's also a "We Connect Plus" app that can operate certain functions of the new Golf while the driver is outside the vehicle. There will also be Amazon Alexa functionality.
Perhaps the most important aspect to us is the continuation of the six-speed manual transmission, something that sets the Golf apart from so many other mainstream automobiles these days. The fact that VW even took the time to modify the manual transmission to reduce friction means they're committed to it, at least for now. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional. Thank goodness there's no freakin' awful CVT in there.
There are quite a few engines to choose from: two 1.0-liter three-cylinder gas (TSI) engines (90 and 110 horsepower); two 1.5-liter four-cylinder (TSI) engines (130 and 150 hp) with cylinder deactivation and an optional 48-volt mild hybridization; two 2.0-liter clean diesel (TDI) engines (115 and 150 hp); a GTD TDI with 200 horsepower; a GTI with 240 hp; and the powerful R with 330 horses. There will also be two plug-in hybrids with 204 or 245 horses and a natural gas version (TGI). VW will also offer all-wheel drive.
While we know that the new Golf is GTI and Golf R have been confirmed for North America (we thought the R was a goner), we don't know if we'll get the regular Golf. According to VW, the 8th-gen Golf's arrival here is "still under consideration." We can only hope because the Golf truly is one of the best cars for the money, and it would be a cryin' shame to see it gone.