|Positives: A sheer pleasure to drive, excellent handling and steering, handsome design has aged well, just the right amount of tech, more space than you thought.
|Negatives: Some plasticky interior bits, small control knobs for audio and climate.
|Bottom Line: We're sad to see VW take this away from our shores since the Golf is one of the best affordable cars around. It's also rock solid, well-designed and spacious for its size.
At first, we were alarmed at the 0.4-liter displacement drop, but then we got behind the wheel. In fact, the Golf feels more spritely, more refined, and defintely shifts better than before, at least in automatic transmission configuration.
Ride Quality: The SE gets bigger rims and sportier tires than the S, but ride quality is still very good. It just feels both comfortable and sporty at the same time.
Acceleration: Even though horsepower is down from 170 to 140, the transmission is much better, and the Golf will do 0 to 60 in about 7.7 seconds, a little bit faster than the more powerful Golf from 2018.
Braking: The Golf's brakes are strong, and the pedal feel is great. We had no problem bringing it to a stop quickly and smoothly.
Steering: Steering is crisp, and turn-in is very quick. It's a great setup that nevery disappoints. It's the kind of steering that makes an affordable car seriously fun.
Handling: Though there's some body roll, the Golf is balanced and very poised for a front-wheel drive car. It's a blast to drive this car hard.
The infotainment and tech in the Golf SE are just right for a car at this price level. Everything is pretty easy to use with less distraction than other, fancier-looking systems.
Infotainment System: The upsized 8-inch touchscreen is nice and no-nonsense, and it's proxmity sensor works well by popping the menu bar up as your hand approaches.
Controls: Controls in the Golf are on the small-ish side, but the rubber trim makes physical knobs easy to grip. It's easy to depress the infotainment menu buttons that flank the screen when you try to adjust audio due to insufficient spacing (and fat fingers).
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: It's not fancy, but it is attractive. The short front and rear overhangs keep it sporty looking. The SE gets fancier wheels than the base S, which is nice, and the car looks more upscale as a result.
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 SE cabin isn't what we'd call luxurious, nor is it cheap. It does a fine job of creating an environment that's just right for the segment and price point. The Golf is due for a redesign very soon, but we won't get that new vehicle. No doubt, the next interior will be a bit nicer.
Front Seats: The SE doesn't have leather, instead the VTex vinyl seats, which feel just fine. Since vinyl doesn't breathe, we would've like ventilated seats, which aren't even optional on the Golf SE.
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 well built, and we didn't experience any noise or vibration issues in the cabin. It's also fairly quiet at highway speeds.
Visibility: The good seating position and big glass make visibility very good out the front and sides. The thick C-pillar inhibits some rearward visibility, but it's not bad. The conservative styling keeps things more than manageable here.
Climate: The climate system works well, and the Golf provided ample cooling on a warm summer day.
Buyers can rest assured that the Golf is a safe car. It gets very good marks after crash testing, and the SE gets some solid accident avoidance technology the base S doesn't have.
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 gets the top 5-star crash safety rating.
Standard Tech: The SE gets Forward Collision Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Detection and Blind Spot Monitor w/ Rear Traffic Alert, as well as a rearview camera.
Optional Tech: Our tester came with the Driver Assistance Package that adds a number of great features including Adaptive Cruise Control.
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 52.7 cubes when the rear seat is folded flat. It' still not as voluminous as the Honda Fit, but owners won't be disappointed.
The Golf truly benefits in the efficiency department with the smaller engine and the new transmission. No doubt, we also did a little bit better with the automatic over the manual transmission.
Observed: 31.4 mpg
Distance Driven: 153 miles
The base audio system on the SE provides plenty of good sound, even though it's not a premium systeam. We'd like to feel a little bit more bass from the system, but overall we had few complaints.