|Positives: Great seats, practical interior space, willing engine, slick manual transmission, predictable and thrilling handling.|
|Negatives: Needs one more manual gear, some cheap interior bits.|
|Bottom Line: The base Golf is one of the best hatchbacks out there primarily because of the shocking amount of driving fun you get for so little money. It's also rock solid, well-designed and truly practical in terms of space and ergonomics.|
We can't get over how much we enjoyed driving this "stripper" Golf. How such an unassuming car could be so fun to drive is a surprise of the best kind. It has 30 fewer horses than the GTI, but it's still a hoot to drive.
Ride Quality: Thanks to the great chassis, solid suspension, and the tall tire sidewalls, the Golf not only feel planted but absorbs bumps like champ.
Acceleration: Slotting through the manual transmission is a pleasure, and acceleration with the turbo four is very good. 0-60 arrives in a more than respectable 7.3 seconds. The transmission could use one more gear for additional efficiency and extra grunt in the lower gears.
Braking: The Golf's brakes are strong, and the pedal feel is progressive with the right amount of resistance. Very German and very well done.
Steering: Steering is crisp, and turn-in is quick. The feeback is also quite good, combined with the right amount of steering effort.
Handling: Though there's some body roll present, everything is very predictable, and the Golf is easy to manage in turns. It's incredibly balanced and poised for a front-wheel drive car.
There's nothing fancy going on here, but the system works just fine. Everything's clear and easy to use with no overstyled aspects that confound the user experience.
Infotainment System: The 6.5-inch touchscreen is clear and easy to use, though it won't win any aesthetic awards. Response time is about average based on other systems we've used.
Controls: The climate control knobs could use more firm clicking, especially for the vent controls. We like the physical audio knobs, but they're a little small for our liking.
The Golf is one of those cars that just looks good no matter what, even in base trim. Though it lacks the dramatic flair of the Mazda3's curves, the body's creases are well done, giving the car a conservatively stylish look.
Front: The Golf's front fascia is clean and undramatic, which we like. That being said, the grille could be a bit larger. It's rather anonymous in a field of more exciting maws.
Rear: Similar to the front end, the rear is conservative but handsome. The two horizontal creases in the hatch door reduce the visual height nicely.
Profile: Clean styling is the order of the day again. The short front and rear overhangs keep it sporty looking. Even the basic aluminum alloy wheels look pretty good.
Cabin: It's a rather dark cabin with a lot of black and grey, but it's still very tasteful. Too much piano black plastic trim feels a bit cheap.
The Golf feels airy, and the base seats are pretty good. Overall, it's a comfortable cabin that should suit most buyers. Despite economy type materials, it escapes feeling cheap.
Front Seats: Our tester didn't have even the VTex vinyl seats, instead settling for grey cloth. The seats err on firmness but still feel supportive and comfortable.
Rear Seats: There's really only room for two average-sized adults in the outboard positions, but the back row is decent.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Golf is solidly built, and we didn't experience any noise or vibration issues in the cabin. Highway noise levels are fairly low, as well.
Visibility: Overall visibility is very good out the front and sides. The thick C-pillar inhibits some rearward visibility, though.
Climate: The climate system works well, and the Golf heated up really quickly in very cold weather.
Buyers can rest assured that the Golf is a safe car. It gets very good marks after crash testing, but in base form there's not a lot of accident avoidance tech.
IIHS Rating: It misses the Top Safety Pick score because of an "acceptable" rating in the passenger small front overlap crash. It attains "good" in all of the other crash test scores.
NHTSA Rating: The Golf nabs the top 5-star crash safety rating.
Standard Tech: The base car gets a great rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring, automatic post-collision braking system, and the Intelligent Crash Response System, which after a crash unlocks the doors, keeps the fuel in the gas tank, shuts off the high-voltage electroncis, cues the hazard lights, and turns on the interior lights for increased safety and to aid emergency responders.
Optional Tech: No Monroney sticker was provided with our tester.
The Golf has truly usable space. Weekend trips with gear in tow should be no problem, especially with the second row folded flat. The cabin could use more nooks and crannies for storage, but it's more than sufficient.
Storage Space: The retractable door cubby in the center stack is good but lacks depth for larger smartphones. The armrest has some depth, but it's a bit short for larger items.
Cargo Room: There's ample hatchback space in the Golf with 22.8 cubic feet behind the second row and a large 52.7 with the seats folded flat. It has more overall cargo space than the Mazda3 5-door but less than the Hyundai Elantra GT and the capacious Honda Fit.
The Golf is pretty good with efficiency, even when you drive it hard. Some of it can be attributed to the manual transmission.
Observed: 29.3 mpg
Distance Driven: 226 miles
Driving Factors: We drove in a near equal combination of street and highway driving.
The base audio system on the S trim model is actually pretty good. The sound system could use a bit more bass, but music and talk radio comes through clean and clear.