The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most important and iconic vehicles ever produced. Currently in its seventh generation, the compact hatchback has always been one of the most successful vehicles for the German brand and for the savvy buyer. It's affordable, comfortable, practical, and in keeping with the times. Or is it? While Europe and some other markets are already getting their first taste of the eighth-generation vehicle, we have to wait a bit longer. This means that rivals like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 are in better positions than ever to usurp the king of the segment. Can the aging Mk. 7 Golf with its 1.4-liter turbocharged four-pot making 147 horsepower still maintain its crown?
We originally thought that the 2020 Golf would be the last model we'd see in this guise, but it was not to be. As a result, the new VW Golf is carried over with no changes for the new year in the US. Even pricing remains the same, with the manual version starting at $23,195 and the auto adding 800 bucks to that figure. On the plus side, this will make the Mk. 8 Golf seem even more special when it finally arrives domestically.
1.4L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The ethos of the Golf reminds one of the Goldilocks story. Everything about the exterior is balanced, with nothing done in excess. This applies to the styling too, where we see fancy LED taillights and a power panoramic sunroof offset by modest 16-inch wheels. The front features automatic headlights with LED daytime running lights, as well as a light smattering of chrome. The rear also gets some chrome to make it look smarter, along with a subtle roof spoiler, but the dual exhaust outlets are fake.
The Golf's dimensions are not too different from those of its rivals, with its length measuring 167.6 inches and its wheelbase coming in at 103.6 inches. However, some rivals are notably bigger, with the Honda Civic spanning 177.9 inches from end to end. Still, the Golf is well proportioned, with its width measuring 70.8 inches and its height pegged at 58.2 inches. Curb weight starts at 2,963 pounds for the manual version and 3,023 lbs for the auto variant.
The good news for the Golf is that none of its four available paint colors will add any additional cost to its base price. However, your choices are rather demure, with Pure White, Deep Black Pearl, Platinum Gray Metallic, and Silk Blue Metallic. Our favorite finish for the 2020 model, Tungsten Silver, is no longer available, and more vibrant finishes like Tornado Red are reserved for the GTI at the moment. The Mazda 3 offers one of the best scarlet shades out there if you're dead set on a bright exterior appearance.
The Golf features just one engine variant in the USA for the 2021 model year with no other configurations on offer. It's a four-cylinder as usual, and the 1.4-liter motor is turbocharged to produce 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. In typical fashion for the segment, performance is delivered to the front wheels alone. The Mazda 3, on the other hand, offers all-wheel-drive. As standard, a six-speed manual keeps things entertaining while an eight-speed automatic is on offer for those who prefer to do a little less work on the daily commute. With such diminutive power figures from the small motor, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph is not something that will be easily achieved in under eight seconds, but the plucky little motor is not lethargic either, and you can easily get past slower traffic without too much fear. Top speed is not its strong suit either, and the lighter Honda Civic and more powerful Mazda 3 are better in this regard, but as a runabout, the Golf does its job just fine.
Volkswagen Golf models only have access to one engine option for 2021, namely a 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbo - but it's not a bad motor. It produces 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and although this is low compared to its Japanese competition, it's adequate for the average driver who wants a simple car. The engine is refined and responsive at lower speeds, although pushing its limits will cause a bit of complaint from the engine compartment, where you'll notice things getting noisier the more you abuse the little motor. Still, it feels nippy enough when accelerating from a dead stop. The Volkswagen Golf can overtake other cars on the freeway without too much trouble. The six-speed manual gearbox is also slick and enjoyable to shift, making the engine feel a little better. With the available eight-speed auto, things feel a little more relaxed, especially since the auto prefers to shift up early. Fortunately, if you find that sort of thing annoying, you can switch to a manual mode and change gears with the paddles behind the steering wheel. In this mode, you'll find that the gearbox is great, obeying your every command with instantaneous precision.
From the point of view of sporty, spirited driving, the regular Volkswagen Golf hatchback isn't nearly as good as its Japanese competitors. This is due to its prioritization of comfort, and for the masses, that's the correct direction to go in. That also doesn't mean that the Golf is a lazy, wallowing hatch. It's still got pretty sharp and accurate steering, decent brakes, and a suspension setup that doesn't exaggerate body roll. Its ability to absorb small and medium bumps with aplomb is part of what makes it an attractive option in the segment, although some mid-corner corrugations can make the ride a little less composed. Still, as a fun city car and a long-distance cruiser, the Golf won't offend anyone. There's also a remarkably low level of tire and wind noise when you're on the freeway, and it's these small details that distinguish the German way of doing a hatch as opposed to most Japanese alternatives.
According to the EPA's review of the VW Golf, 2021 models will achieve 29/39/33 mpg with the manual. Surprisingly, the automatic is thirstier, achieving mileage estimates of 29/36/32 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. With a 13.2-gallon gas tank, you can expect to achieve around 435 miles of range with the stick shift. How much of that is achievable in the real world will, of course, depend on how heavy your right foot is.
The Golf's interior is neither special nor disappointing. You'll find V-Tex faux leather and splashes of aluminum that look classy, while a multitude of hard plastics brings things down a little. Nevertheless, the design is still appealing, and the bucketed seats are both comfortable and supportive. There's also a decent amount of room, but those expecting the latest digital driver aids and the biggest infotainment display will be displeased with the 6.5-inch media screen and analog dials in the dash. Still, we must also point out that everything works together well. Again, this is a Goldilocks interior that is neither flashy nor barren.
As with most other vehicles for comparison in this category, the Golf will seat five individuals. The back seat is reasonable for adults, but on longer journeys, the middle seat can become frustratingly tight. Headroom is good though, and front legroom is excellent. In addition, getting in and out of the Golf is never a challenge, and the driver will find everything in easy reach. On top of that, the view out in all directions is good, so you don't necessarily have to rely on the blind-spot monitoring system. Both adults also get six-way partly power-adjustable seats, ensuring that finding a good driving position isn't a mission.
As standard, the Golf features a leatherette called V-Tex for the seats, with this finished in Titan Black. If you'd prefer something a little kinder to your backside in the summer, Beige is available. However, the contrasting tones when this color option is selected aren't all that attractive. For the rest of the cabin, a mix of hard plastics, real and false aluminum, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel finish things off. The overall look is restrained, if a little demure.
Part of the reason one would opt for a hatchback of this size is for its practicality. Fortunately, the Golf isn't too disappointing in this regard. However, you need to fold the rear seats for the cargo volume of the Golf to be really competitive, as the measurement with them in place is just 17.4 cubic feet. That's still enough for a medium suitcase and some carry-on cases, but it's not especially commodious. Fold the seats, and you get a much more useful figure of 53.7 cubic feet from hatch to front seats - more than rivals like Honda can offer.
In the cabin, a pair of cupholders are provided for each row, while large door pockets, a large glovebox, and center armrest storage make it easy to empty your pockets and stay comfy.
Another feather in the Golf's cap is its impressive list of standard features that comprise a pair of heated front seats with power adjustability, a panoramic sunroof, and keyless entry with push-button start. You also get rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, heated wing mirrors, automatic headlights with LED running lights, a rearview camera, and a few safety features too. These include forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and braking, and a post-collision braking system. However, if these specs aren't impressive enough for you, there isn't much you can add to the Golf besides some minor accessories.
The infotainment system of the Golf is controlled via a 6.5-inch central touchscreen display that boasts both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a standard Wi-Fi hotspot, and HD Radio. However, as well as the system works and as easy as it is to understand, some rivals offer both bigger screens and more features. The exception of SiriusXM satellite radio or the option of a high-end sound system may put some off, but once again, the Golf's system is neither too advanced for those among us who are not tech-savvy to understand, nor is it too cheap to make your favorite songs distort at any sort of lofty volume.
Thus far, no recalls have been issued for the 2021 Volkswagen Golf. The 2020 variant was also trouble-free, indicating that past reliability issues have been dealt with.
For your peace of mind, Volkswagen's warranty offering includes a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, three years or 36,000 miles of roadside assistance, and two years or 20,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance.
The Golf is an impressive vehicle when it comes to its crash rating, achieving an overall score of five stars from the NHTSA's safety review. Over at the IIHS, reviews of the Volkswagen Golf for 2021 have not been undertaken at all, but the identical 2020 model achieved mostly Good crashworthiness scores, although the small overlap front test on the passenger-side resulted in only an Acceptable rating.
As standard, the Golf comes with six airbags: frontal, side-impact, and curtain. In addition, you also get the obligatory rearview camera, the usual traction and stability control systems, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and braking, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, and automatic post-collision braking. No optional safety aids are offered, but the standard suite is pretty good.
The Volkswagen Golf is aging, but it is doing so gracefully. It's still an attractive, safe, comfortable car that does all you really need. The manual gearbox can make the car fun to drive and the diminutive engine under the hood - although not fire-spitting - is more than adequate for the task set for it. The Golf is also well-equipped as standard and is no less affordable than it was for the 2020 variant. Economy and safety ratings are good too, and the cabin is both spacious and ergonomic. However, that's not always enough. We really like this car, and it used to be above reproach. It is to its segment what the BMW 3 Series and Mazda MX-5 Miata are to theirs - the class-leader. Unfortunately, its rivals are more advanced and more in keeping with the times, and unless you care little for tech, other options are certainly worth a test drive - especially those originating from the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Volkswagen Golf's price is unchanged for the 2021 model year, with the manual base model asking for a price of $23,195 before the $920 destination charge. The automatic is just $800 dearer, with an MSRP of $23,995. The car comes fully loaded as standard, and you won't spend anything on upgrading the vehicle itself. However, some accessories like roof racks and all-weather mats may be worth considering if you plan to use this as a light adventure vehicle.
Just one spec of the Volkswagen Golf is offered for the 2021 model year in the US: the 1.4 TSI. As the name suggests, this is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-banger. It produces 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, all of which is sent to the front wheels via either a standard six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard exterior features include LED taillights, automatic headlights with LED DRLs, and 16-inch wheels. Inside, you are greeted by V-Tex faux leather, a genuine leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6.5-inch infotainment display with haptic feedback - much like on a smartphone. This system includes Apple and Android connectivity solutions, Bluetooth, and a USB-C port. Comfort features include a panoramic sunroof and a pair of heated front seats.
There aren't any packages available for the Golf per se. That said, you can spec an automatic gearbox for $800, a rearview mirror with Homelink for $285, rear sunshades for $270, or a polished license plate frame for just $39. Other options are best thought of as accessories, with things like roof racks, snowboard paraphernalia, or a roof box.
Since the 2021 Golf is only available in a single trim level and comes fully specced as standard, your choices are essentially limited to the type of transmission you like and some minor accessories. We recommend the manual as it saves you some cash and is more engaging to drive. It also makes the little lump under the hood feel a little bit more exciting. This is up to personal preference, though, and the automatic transmission option isn't inherently bad either. Additionally, we do recommend sticking with the black interior as the beige alternative looks very old-fashioned - something this car really doesn't need.