For more than 40 years, Volkswagen has never seen fit to revise the iconic Golf midway through its life cycle. It’s telling of how tight the segment is, then, when the latest 7th generation has been given a mid-life refresh to keep it ahead of the pack. Sharing the venerable MQB platform, the Golf is available in an array of body styles from SportWagen to Alltrack, an electrified eGolf, and even two performance variants in the GTI and R, but it’s the commuter four-door hatchback that gets our focus in this review. There’s a reason it’s referred to as the benchmark.
Inside the VW Golf, there are soft touch plastics aplenty – and those that aren’t, are satin finished and generally out of reach. Distinctly European in its design and execution, ergonomics are impressive with all buttons and switchgear orientated close to the driver, but not out of reach of the front passenger who may also operate some functions. As part of the mid-life refresh, a new 6.5-inch touch screen infotainment system is standard, with functionality that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Despite being relatively compact, there’s sufficient space front and rear for a family of 5 to be sufficiently comfortable, even on longer distance trips. Rear head and leg room is impressive, though the low rear seat may have taller passengers feeling slightly uncomfortable with their knees raised a bit too high. Cargo space is an impressive at 22.8 cubic feet, and the 60/40 split rear seats can fold to increase that to 52.7 cu ft.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Volkswagen knows this all too well, and as such they didn’t interfere too much with the Golf’s best attribute – the drive. The suspension is among the best in class; supple enough to iron out ruts and potholes, yet firm enough to provide good contact with the road and a tied together feel. The MQB platform is inherently sterile, which makes for an easy drive for commuters, but enthusiasts will find emotion beyond eight tenths and an enjoyable ride with pleasing dynamics and reliable tendencies beyond the limit. It’s not quite at Ford Focus levels of driver involvement, but it’s still very good.
The electronic power assisted steering is smooth and direct, with ample weighting and good levels of feel. Tight maneuvering is easy, visibility is exceptional, and noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels are at a minimum – a truly premium offering from VW.
After Volkswagen’s diesel transgressions, it’s no surprise the only engine on offer is a 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline 4 cylinder. The 1.8TSI unit develops 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, and drives the front wheels. A 5-speed manual gearbox is the standard transmission, but lacks the solid shift feel of the Ford Focus.
The optional 6-speed dual clutch DSG transmission is the best choice, though. Smooth when needed and responsive in traffic the DSG makes the most of a smooth, wide torque band and solid power delivery from the engine. Combined EPA consumption estimates for the DSG are 29mpg.
Volkswagen has pared back the Golf range to just two trim lines, narrowing the price difference between them too. The base Golf S still comes well equipped, with leather appointments on the steering wheel, a rear-view camera, and a 6.5-inch touch screen. The Wolfsburg Edition adds heated leatherette seats, a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, keyless access and an array of safety features. Some of those include blind spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking, earning the Golf Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS and a 5/5 star rating from the NHTSA.
There’s a reason the VW Golf has stood the test of time and consistently been the benchmark for hatchbacks in this segment. It combines a premium design, quality materials, a superb ride, and impressive packaging to create a premium product at a less than premium price. Long live the king.