by Deiondre van der Merwe
With over two million sold in the United States since 2014, you could call the Volkswagen Golf a crowd favorite - rightly so, having been around since 1974. As the halo hatchback in the VW collection, the Golf certainly generates high expectations from consumers and, for the most part, Volkswagen delivers. The 2020 Golf won't see many new additions though and it's down to just one trim level with no additional packages. We suspect this is VW's plan to make way for, and shift focus onto, the Golf 8 that's due to arrive at the end of the year, even if the Mk 8 will only be arriving in GTI and R forms. While we absolutely can't wait to drive those, this is the last opportunity the US will have to buy a non-performance Golf, marking the end of an era for the German brand. For the Mk 7's final form, key attributes like a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-pot delivering 147 horsepower remain, but as an aging model and against competition like the Honda Civic, that might not be enough.
Given that this is the last year the Volkswagen will be releasing the Golf 7, the 2020 model has seen little change. We suspect they are holding back the good stuff for the Golf 8 GTI due later this year. Nevertheless, we see some subtle upgrades to the 2020 Golf in comparison to 2019, and some of those include a standard Wi-Fi hotspot and Car-Net telematics system, and a pruning of trim levels down to only one. New features include heated seats, leatherette upholstery and a panoramic sunroof for added convenience, as well as now standard-fitted 16-inch wheels.
1.4-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The Golf is a dependable and conservative hatch, and aside from the new addition of standard 16-inch alloy wheels and a panoramic sunroof, it remains unchanged from last year; it greets onlookers with LED daytime running lights, as well as LED taillights. The dinky 16-inch wheels are a bit of a letdown, keeping in mind that its primary rivals offer 18-inch wheels as standard on upper trims - and yes, in this case, size does matter. The Golf is sleek and elegant for the most part, but the small wheels give it a bit of a toy car feel.
Smaller than rivals, the Golf is a full 10.3 inches shorter than the Honda Civic Hatch with a length of 167.6 inches, though it is taller than the Civic at 58.2 inches and shares the same width as its chief rival at 70.8 inches. The Golf also has a shorter wheelbase than both the Honda and the Mazda 3 Hatch and comes in at a measurement of 103.8 inches. Smaller doesn't always mean lighter though, and the Golf manages to be slightly heftier than the Civic and has a curb weight of 2,963 lbs equipped with a manual transmission and 3,023 lbs equipped with the automatic.
Volkswagen makes do with a reduced color palette of five options for 2020, cutting Tornado Red and Night Blue from the range. This leaves Pure White and Deep Black Pearl as the two solid colors. The metallic range starts off with Tungsten Silver, continues through to Silk Blue, and ends off with Platinum Grey. You don't need to choose the brightest color for your Golf to turn heads. The most attractive hue to be donned by the Golf is Tungsten Silver metallic, accenting all of the chrome bits perfectly, offsetting the solid black sections nicely and channeling an elegant "less is more" look for the VW.
In 2019, the Golf swapped out the standard 1.8-liter turbo for a 1.4-liter turbo, and we had our doubts; but, it has since proven to be more than capable of lugging the hatchback around town without struggling, providing swift power delivery, and carrying over for the 2020 model year. The VW is quite lackadaisical in comparison to the Civic Hatch when it comes to getting from 0-60 miles per hour, though, and takes upwards of 7.6 seconds to reach the mark in comparison to the more powerful Honda's mid-six-second run. The only available drivetrain for the Golf is FWD and this knocks a few brownie points off of the hatchback, considering the Mazda 3 offers AWD in multiple trims across its range. A choice of a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic transmission is available for the sole model in the non-performance Golf range and, though the choice may not directly affect power outputs, the auto is smoother and more comfortable. The Golf has seen success in all its guises and the GTI and R are great options, too, if you want to get to 60 mph before the sun goes down.
In 2020, Volkswagen has made the Golf available with only one engine option: a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces a sufficient 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque; this feels a little lazy in comparison to the likes of the Civic Hatch, which provides 174 hp and a bit less torque than the VW at 162 lb-ft and the more powerful Mazda 3 that punches out 186 hp and 186 lb-ft from its bigger 2.5-liter engine.
The four-pot can be married to either the six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. Responses feel noticeably quicker in the manual-equipped hatch, and it's certainly the more enjoyable of the two, with smooth shifting and more control providing a more engaging driving experience. The eight-speed auto is a bit of a know-it-all and is prone to premature shifting, but it likely won't bother most of its target market - those looking for an appreciable drive will notice, however, you can switch over to manual shifting by flicking the gearshift up and down. The engine also starts to protest ever-so-slightly when one attempts a high-speed pass, and merging onto the highway isn't exactly effortless either, however getting it to start moving from a standstill is relatively effortless and it performs well in that regard.
The Volkswagen Golf is actually a pleasure to drive in the city or to the mall, and displays no noticeable faults, other than some wheezy behavior on the top end of things. Comfort is a priority for the VW hatch and minor bumps are dealt with accordingly, though bigger bumps might have the ability to unsettle the hatch slightly. Sharp steering, nippy acceleration, and an ultimately engaging drive are the main goals of the Golf, and it delivers on each one, particularly with the manual transmission.
It is relatively chuckable around corners, though you can't expect zero body roll from it. Steering is a little on the numb side and can feel light when you're going for a short drive, but it stiffens up rather impressively at higher speeds and combines terrifically with sharper braking capabilities. The FWD setup doesn't provide as much grip as we'd like, but it keeps its composure relatively well when the going gets tough. Still, with rivals offering better handling abilities and more exciting chassis, this does take the attention away from the VW.
Not one to disappoint, the Golf makes up for its lack of oomph at the top end with its thrifty approach to fuel economy, and efficiency is a strong point for the hatchback.
The 1.4-liter turbo has an EPA estimated 29/35/32 mpg city/highway/combined in the automatic. The manual Golf is slightly less fuel-efficient, with EPA estimates of 28/36/31 mpg. The automatic VW trumps the FWD Mazda 3 Hatch's EPA ratings of 26/35/30 mpg but falls slightly behind the Civic Hatch's 30/38/33 mpg.
The Golf Hatch has a fuel tank capacity of 13.2 gallons and we estimate that you can probably get about 422 miles of driving done on a full tank in the automatic.
This year's model welcomes the addition of a standard Wi-Fi hotspot to the impressively long list of standard features offered with it already, and the interior is a meritable point of the Golf. The manufacturer has also used large quantities of hard-touch plastic for the dashboard, which is slightly off-putting, especially when rivals are stepping up their game in terms of interior design and premium materials. However space and an ergonomic design are strong points, and even the hard touch plastic feels durable and well fitted. The design still looks good despite its age, although rivals have caught up and surpassed it in this regard.
A seating capacity of five is claimed by VW, but we wouldn't take that as a challenge. Attempting to fit three adults in the backseat will prove to be uncomfortable over longer journeys, even if all of them are jockeys; we'd recommend saving the middle seat for children. Legroom is provided for quite generously in front, though, and seating is comfortable enough thanks to multi-way manually-adjustable front seats with lumbar support, while heated seats come standard for chilly days. Ample headroom and legroom in the front seats ensures that the driver will enjoy adequate visibility and the Golf's large doors allow for hassle-free ingress and egress. In general, the hatch provides enough space to get by, but falls slightly behind certain rivals due to its smaller size.
The interior now offers V-Tex leatherette upholstery as standard, which is made available in either Titan Black or Beige, and there isn't much room for customization by way of interior color and material options. However, aside from the unfortunately cheap-looking hard plastic used for the dashboard, the rest of the interior is quite nice and a leather steering wheel is standard. Plenty of silver accents can be found throughout, though the gloss black bits might drive straight-laced buyers mad with their ability to attract fingerprints like magnets.
It becomes noticeable how much smaller the Golf really is when we toss it to the rivals and compare them side-by-side. The Golf has significantly less trunk space than the Honda with a capacity of 22.8 cubic feet with rear seats up and 53.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded all the way down. The Civic hatch's formidable trunk beats these measurements with 25.7 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up, but offers less cargo space than that of the Golf with its seats folded down with a measurement of just 46.2 feet of real estate to work with.
Two cupholders can be found up front and two cupholders in the back. Other small items can be stored in the center armrest. The Golf doesn't offer overly useful storage, but there is a large glovebox and door pockets with carpeting are situated throughout the Golf from front to back for additional storage.
Not stingy in the least when it comes to standard features, the Golf is decked out pretty generously. Standard features include a multifunction steering wheel wrapped in leather, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, keyless access, push-button start, manual climate control, manually adjustable front seats, heated front seats, and cruise control. There aren't any additional packages to choose from to spruce up the interior of the Golf, so if these features don't seem like they'll be enough for you, best you start looking elsewhere. Driver-assist tech also makes an appearance and the hatch includes forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, front assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Heated and power-adjustable side mirrors are also included as standard on the hatch.
Aside from offering full smartphone integration via standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the 2020 Golf isn't anything special in the infotainment department, and this is further emphasized by the fact that it didn't crack the nod for the addition of the digital cockpit. Rivals offer more additional packages to choose from to add to convenience. In terms of infotainment, the hatch offers a 6.5-inch touchscreen that utilizes a less resistant touchscreen that's more akin to the screens found on smartphones with HD radio and one USB-C input. A six-speaker sound system graces the VW as well as Bluetooth connectivity and Car-Net telematics system.
No 2020 Golf models have has suffered any recalls as yet, but the 2019 Golf was on the receiving end of three recalls relating to problematic front wheel bearings, potentially fracture-prone rear coils, and the key being removable without the vehicle being in Park. While recalls are certainly concerning, Volkswagen offers a basic warranty of four years or 50,000 miles as well as a two-year maintenance plan. To further assure purchasers, VW also offers a three year/36,000-mile roadside assistance available 24 hours a day.
The NHTSA awarded the 2020 Golf with a five-star overall safety rating, and in testing done by IIHS, it scored top marks of Good in five out of six categories. The 2020 Golf does come standard with a forward collision avoidance system that scored Superior results, according to the IIHS, too.
Standard safety features begin with dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags - six in total. Furthermore, a rearview camera, tire pressure monitor, automatic post-collision braking system, and intelligent crash response grace the Golf, as well as forward-collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with front assist, which detects pedestrians passing in front of the vehicle. The safety feature range is ended off with a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert.
The 2020 Golf is just as good as the 2019 Golf, and you know how much we liked that one.
It may put out modest power and be a little sluggish, but it still manages to be an engaging drive, especially when the manual is opted for. The interior falls behind rivals in the segment, but as we said before, Volkswagen's focus is now on the Golf 8.
The Golf serves its purpose, is comfortable to drive, and will serve buyers well as a daily car for the commute to and from work. But this is your last chance to by the Mk 7, as the Mk 8 isn't in the pipeline for the US. That may hold some allure for fans of the brand - that this could one day be considered a collector's item - but really, it's not enough to justify the fact that rivals have more tech, more safety, and more practicality on their side. The final iteration of the Golf is a fair effort, but the world has moved on, and so should you.
The 2020 VW Golf is now only available in one trim and the only differentiation shown in the Golf range is the availability of either a manual or automatic transmission. The manual Golf starts at an MSRP of $23,195 and opting for the automatic transmission will increase the price to $23,995. A destination fee of $920 is also applicable; all quoted prices exclude licensing, registration and relevant taxes.
The 2020 Volkswagen Golf comes in only one available trim and employs a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motor with either a manual or automatic transmission and regardless of transmission choice, all standard features stay the same. The 2020 Golf has LED daytime running lights and taillamps, as well as a tilt-and-slide sunroof and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The Golf TSI comes standard with a multifunction steering wheel, keyless access, push-button start, manual climate control, manually adjustable front seats, heated front seats and cruise control. Infotainment features include full smartphone integration via standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with HD radio and one USB-C input. A six-speaker sound system is factory fitted and allows for Bluetooth connectivity, and incorporates the Car-Net telematics system. Driver-assist tech includes forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, front assist, blind vspot monitoring, a rearview camera, and a rear traffic alert.
The 2020 Golf offers no additional packages, though you can purchase accessories directly from VW to spruce up the hatchback. For added convenience, you can purchase a rearview mirror with HomeLink that can be programmed to open garage doors, and Park Distance control can be added for $350. For a sportier exterior look, you can opt for polished metal exhaust tips at an extra cost of $110 and a $533 rear spoiler. Bike racks are also available for the more adventurous at an additional cost of $545.
With not many trims to choose from, the ultimate choice is between the manual and the automatic Golf. Personally, we'd opt for the manual Golf as it's just better to drive in terms of engagement and control and the auto tends to change gears too soon which limits the ability to have your own control of the car. You can also customize your golf by choosing an adventurous hue of paint for the hatch. A favorite of ours has to be Silk Blue, the metallic paint adds some extra sass to the VW and is available at no extra charge.
The Golf is $2,145 more expensive than the Civic's starting MSRP of $21,750 and there are quite a few differences between them. For starters, the Civic has better fuel efficiency with an EPA estimated 30/38/33 mpg from the FWD model meaning you get one extra gallon per mile in the Civic than you'd get in the Golf. Boasting more power than the Golf, the Civic has a power output of 174 hp, though the VW will give you some extra torque. The Civic also has a longer wheelbase and boasts more interior space, yet still manages to be a little lighter than the Golf. The Golf, however, is fitted with features not included in the Civic, namely Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot, although it misses out on the climate control and adaptive cruise control offered as standard by the Civic. The Civic's interior is more modern, it's got more trunk space, and those in the rear will enjoy the extra legroom. It's just a little better than the Golf, but in a lot of areas, and it adds up.
We're comparing market-leading hatchbacks the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda 3, (though the 3 is also available as a sedan model) and both are equipped with six-speed manual transmissions. Mazda makes it more difficult to get a manual, as the 3 Hatchback begins at $23,600 for an automatic-equipped model, but the manual is only available in its top premium trim, making it a not-so-inexpensive $27,500 proposition. The Mazda is also less fuel-efficient than the Golf, though the Japanese car produces significantly more power than its German counterpart and offers more space thanks to its bigger size. However, the Mazda is slightly more expensive than the Golf at a base level and considering the Golf has just one premium trim to choose from, and the base level Mazda is already more expensive than the technically top-of-the-range VW, it's looking slightly more grim for the Mazda.
In terms of fuel efficiency and a more frugal purchase price, the Golf wins. But if you want more power and a better interior, the Mazda is the winner.
Check out some informative Volkswagen Golf video reviews below.