Despite its recent crises, VW continues to build high quality products.
Volkswagen was founded just over 80 years ago and its purpose is embedded in its very name: the people's car. One of its very first vehicles was the Beetle, a revolutionary design that enabled millions of poverty stricken Germans to take to the newly built autobahns. The unsavory connection to Adolf Hitler may be unfortunate but it was at his insistence that Ferdinand Porsche created the car that went on to sell over 21 million units and stayed in production largely unchanged for over 65 years.
Such a legacy is hard to match and yet Volkswagen has produced some very impressive vehicles since then that have been excellent people's cars too. A Volkswagen subsidiary was opened in the US in 1955 and despite some dips the VW brand has been strongly represented here ever since. Various acquisitions through the years means that the VW Group globally now owns brands as diverse as Seat, Skoda, Audi, Porsche, Bugatti and Lamborghini. Technology sharing and economies of scale has benefited both the base and top-range models making it possible to have a family runabout with a powerful turbocharged engine and a reliable supercar.
Volkswagen Golf Today we have a comprehensive list of Volkswagens to choose from and while the modern-day interpretation of the venerable Beetle may not be as massive a hit, the Golf range is arguably even more successful. And if we take all seven generations into account then the 27.5-million sold globally since 1974 is mighty impressive. The base Golf starts at $19,895, a not insubstantial amount but then again it does come with a long list of standard features. You get a punchy 170 horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged engine coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission and a set of 15-inch alloys.
The combined fuel economy rating of 29 mpg is just what you want from a small hatchback. A 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard too and incorporates Bluetooth audio streaming, rearview camera system and satellite radio functionality. Daytime running lights, partially power adjustable front seats, heated side mirrors and split folding rear seats add to the convenience and luxury features. A 6-speed automatic transmission is an available option as is sports suspension, larger alloys and a body styling kit. Suddenly that sticker price seems a lot more like a bargain and if you have a little more to spend and want some extra power then our next pick is just for you.
Golf GTI The Golf GTI is another evergreen model and is possibly one of the very best real-world sporty small cars on sale today. The base model costs $26,415, which is still eminently reasonable as you get a 220-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission and 18-inch alloys. Average fuel consumption drops by a single mpg compared to the less powerful Golf. The rival Ford Focus ST may offer a bit more power for similar money but it is not as polished inside and is heavier on fuel too.
Equipment levels are great too and even the base S model gets LED fog and taillights, heated front seats with 8-way power adjustment, climate control, ambient lighting and the same infotainment system as in the standard Golf. SE trim adds LED headlights, an 8-inch touchscreen and a blind spot monitor and the top Autobahn trim offers a premium audio system, navigation and even adaptive cruise control. For our money though, the base S trim covers all the important points and also offers a saving of nearly $10,000 over the top trim model.
Golf R Of course, some people will always crave more power and for them we have one last Golf to consider, the R. Cashing in on the current hot hatch craze, the range-topping Golf R adds a whole lot more horsepower and handling ability into the mix. The affordability aspect does become a bit blurred as you will have to shell out $39,375 for one but it does come packed with equipment. What most people will want to know however is that it cranks up the power levels to a very sporty 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque.
This is combined with an all-wheel drive system, adaptive chassis control and a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission to catapult you to 60 mph in under 5 seconds. That it is all achieved without compromising on its daily usability is remarkable and the claimed combined 25 mpg fuel economy rating is pretty impressive too. Competition is tough at this price point though and the Golf R has its work cut out to compete with the more powerful (and more expensive) 350-hp Ford Focus RS and the Honda Civic Type-R. It may not be the quickest in its class but the R is the most grown-up and refined offering of the lot.
Golf Alltrack The Golf Alltrack is a somewhat different prospect to the fire-breathing Golf R but it too offers its own combination of talents that mark it out as a great option for those needing to go off-road occasionally without wanting to switch to a large SUV. Starting at $25,850 you get the same engine as in the base Golf, namely the 170-hp 1.8-liter turbo but you also get the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, an off-road mode and a raised ride-height. There are three trim levels to choose from here, all are available solely in a practical wagon body style and the midrange SE should fit most people's needs.
Notable features include a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and a premium audio system. There aren't many rivals about that offer a similar set of skills, the Subaru Outback is one though and while it is more capable off-road, the Alltrack is quicker (when compared to the base Outback) and uses less fuel too.
Passat The Volkswagen Passat competes in a segment that is filled with great offerings like the Honda Accord, Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata. Despite this it remains a popular offering thanks in part to its German solidity combined with a distinctly American ride quality and comfortable and roomy cabin. The reason for this is that the Passat for sale in the US is custom made for our requirements, it is both larger and softer sprung than its European equivalents. Sure, you can pair it with the efficient little turbocharged 174-hp 2.0-liter engine but for some serious grunt it is the 280-hp 3.6-liter V6 that you will want.
It comes with a dual-clutch transmission too which further sharpens up the driving experience. There are a number of trim levels to pick from if you go for the smaller engine and the $26,295 SE model is particularly good value and compares well with similarly specced offerings from Honda and Kia. So why do we still recommend the expensive V6 model, a car that is available on in the top SEL Premium trim and costs $34,650? Well, the Passat's replacement will undoubtedly feature a downsized, less powerful engine and this smooth riding cruiser may well be the last of its kind.
You also get equipment usually reserved for more upmarket sedans such as a hands-free opening trunk, park assist, adaptive cruise control and heated and power adjustable leather seats.
Atlas The Volkswagen Touareg may be a great luxury SUV that shares a lot with its more expensive Porsche Cayenne cousin but it is the larger family-sized Atlas SUV that is better suited to our particular tastes. Good job then that it was designed specifically for the American market. Whereas the sporty and well-equipped Touareg costs anything from $49,495 to $60,195 depending on the trim, a base Atlas starts at a mere $30,750. The range of trims on offer is vast and you can choose from between a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged motor or a 276-hp 3.6-liter V6.
Even the highest trim offering which comes with the latest VW digital cockpit, adaptive cruise control and a panoramic sunroof still undercuts the Touareg at $48,740. In summary, the current VW range still offers the kind of value and family-friendly practicality that befits a manufacturer that started off with a mission to build the ultimate people's car. The addition of some spicy performance alternatives and the availability of modern safety and technology features has helped keep the brand relevant today.