2011 Volkswagen Golf Expert Review:Autoblog
Outside of North America, the Golf has been Volkswagen's bread-and-butter model for more than three decades, making the diminutive hatch one of the best selling global vehicles since its mid-Seventies launch as the Beetle's successor. But in the States, it's a totally different story. Except for a few brief periods when fuel prices spiked, the Golf/Rabbit has always played second fiddle to the Jetta – little more than a Golf with a trunk.
While the sixth generation Golf has been on sale in Europe for nearly a year, U.S.-spec versions are beginning to trickle into retailers on this side of the Atlantic. But before you head down to your local V-Dub dealer to check out the newest Golf (and buy a Jetta instead), we made the trek to Germany to sample the latest iteration of VW's workhorse in and around its Wolfsburg birthplace. Is the new Golf finally enough to woo hatch-averse Americans out of their sedans and into something with an added helping of practicality? Follow the jump to find out our first impressions.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Heading into 2010, Volkswagen of America is killing off the Rabbit name for the second time in the hatch's history. The MkI was originally dubbed the Rabbit in North America because the corporate mothership felt U.S. buyers wouldn't understand the European "Golf" moniker. By the time the MkII arrived, VW switched over to the global nameplate, only to reverse course with the last generation MkV, reviving the cuddly name in an attempt to rekindle nostalgia and spur flagging sales. It didn't work, so the Golf is back... hopefully for good.
The MkVI isn't quite an "all-new" vehicle – it's more of a MkV.5, retaining the last generation's platform and at least half (two-thirds if you include the GTI) of the powertrain lineup. The most obvious revisions are on the outside, with none of the previous generation's bodywork carrying over to the MkVI. We're good with that, and Walter de Silva, Volkswagen Group's head of design, is understandably proud of his latest creation.
De Silva discussed VW's styling strategy going forward, emphasizing the automaker's decision not to go retro, but rather incorporating elements that show a connection to the past. One of those themes is a horizontal emphasis in the grille that hearkens back to the original, rectilinear Giugiaro-designed model. De Silva maintains that a Volkswagen should evoke simplicity, solidity and robustness, noting that, "the period of over-design is finished."
We asked Klaus Bischoff, head of design for the VW brand to elaborate, noting that the last generation model's vertical, chrome laden face that infiltrated most of VW's North American line-up, always came across as overwrought for a VW. While Bischoff wouldn't go that far, he did concede that it never fit with the intended image of the brand and was perhaps too similar to the grille found on VW's corporate cousin, Audi.
The resulting redesign has created one of the most attractive Golfs in the automaker's history, with the front fascia adopting a more subdued, Scirocco-inspired grille and headlamps, while the tail lights and rear bumper have been reworked to reflect VW's new softened aesthetic, conjuring up a bit of the MkI in the process. Along the flanks, the more pronounced character line and wheel arches give the hatch a more muscular look, yet it remains instantly recognizable as a Golf, just slightly evolved and more grown-up.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf is available in two variants for North America: The base model's 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine carries over, while the Golf TDI makes its triumphant return equipped with the same 2.0-liter oil-burner that debuted in the Jetta TDI last year. We had the opportunity to pilot both models while in Germany, although we spent more time at the helm of the TDI than the gas-powered five-cylinder, which proved to be yet another eye-opening experience.
When the Jetta TDI debuted last year, VW hid some of the diesel's price premium by equipping the sedan similar to the middle-level SE trim level of the gas models. The same strategy is being used with the Golf, although this time around the lineup is simpler, with only the base and TDI trims and no gas models priced above the diesel. As such, the TDI comes equipped with standard fog-lamps, while the 2.5-liter gas model makes due with blank plates, and the TDI rolls on attractive, ten-spoke 17-inch wheels, compared to the 15-inch steelies fitted to the standard Golf.
One of Volkswagen's hallmarks has been its thoughtful, well-crafted interior. Even the cheapest entry-level Golf is equipped with quality of materials, with fit and finish easily a cut above its class. Of course, when you consider the price premium the average V-Dub commands, it should be a nice place to spend time, and VW consistently delivers. Nearly all the materials inside the MkVI feel durable, soft and pleasurable to the touch, with visible seams kept to a bare minimum.
The design and layout of the new Golf's interior is a natural evolution of the previous model, but there's nothing wrong with that. Change for the sake of change doesn't necessarily make anything better, and with the Golf, the ergonomics are as superb as before, with nearly everything exactly where you expect it. The standard three-knob (fan speed, air location and temperature) climate control system anchors the center stack, with the entertainment system – available with a sat-nav setup – mounted above providing simple round dials for volume and tuning.
Here again, the gas and diesel models diverge with the oilburner offering a more upscale look and extra amenities to go with its more efficient engine. The gas Golfs get a basic AM/FM radio with a single disc CD player, while the pricier TDI gets a standard touch screen-based audio system with satellite radio and six-disc in-dash CD changer. Other features, like Bluetooth and a media device interface, are also bundled into the more expensive TDI, and for the directionally challenged looking for an integrated factory navigation system, the TDI is your only choice.
The front seats have basic adjustments for movement fore-aft, height, lumbar and back angle, while the driver enjoys a power adjuster for the seat back angle, while the passenger is relegated to the loved (by Germans, at least) rotary knob at the hinge. Both front seats have surprisingly ample side bolsters that help keep the driver planted directly in front of the steering wheel and all seats are swathed in cloth regardless of the powertrain choice.
Over two days, we drove a variety of U.S.-spec Golfs equipped with either the gas or diesel engines, and manual and Dual Sequential Gearbox (DSG) transmissions. For 2010, all Golfs get six forward ratios regardless of the shift mechanism, and those who opt for the petrol five-pot and DSG will have to pop the shift lever over to the right, then tap forward and back in order to manually select ratios, while TDI models with the DSG benefit from a set of steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
Saddled into a two-door DSG for our run to the track, we quickly realized that VW continues to improve the behavior of the dual clutch gearbox. Some earlier examples occasionally felt sluggish when launching from a stop, but the latest edition never failed to pull away as smoothly as any torque converter automatic regardless of fuel type.
Maneuvering through Wolfsburg, the behavior of the gearbox was absolutely seamless. Despite our preference for three-pedal cars, the sub-5,000 RPM red-line of the diesel actually makes the self-shifting box the perfect traveling companion. The narrow power band proved effortless thanks to ample torque from the diesel, making both smooth launches and lugging along in second or third gear a breeze. The addition of the paddles are welcome when you want to take control of the propulsion process, and compared to the very similar Audi A3 TDI we drove several months back, this new Golf's powertrain felt superior in all conditions. We can only hope that the production U.S.-spec A3 is as good when it arrives later this year.
Another area where the TDI differs from the base model is its suspension and tires. All Golf TDI models come standard with a sport suspension package and the aforementioned plus-one wheels, giving the Golf a slightly crisper feel than the base model. However, both models exhibit the solid composure that we've come to expect from German-bred vehicles, a fact clearly demonstrated when we passed large trucks on the autobahn at triple digit speeds and felt nary a shudder or wiggle in their wake. One might expect a suspension capable of keeping body motions in check on smooth German highways would come across as stiff when road quality deteriorates, but that's not the case with the Golf. When we encountered stretches of bumpy cobblestones in Dresden, even the sport suspension setup on the TDI proved to be well behaved and comfortable, which bodes well for some of the neglected roads the TDI will have to endure Stateside.
The Golf always tracked straight, even at speeds over 100 mph, aided by precise steering that made positioning a simple point and shoot affair. The steering provided adequate feedback when we had the chance to dive-bomb a few corners, a when the occasional delivery van became a rolling roadblock in the left lane, the Golf's brakes – while lacking in feel – were up to the task, easily reigning in the party from 115 to 60 MPH.
Since the diesel engine is the same unit that debuted last year in the Jetta, output remains unchanged at 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, although both the gas and diesel models receive a few calibration tweaks for 2010 that boost miles per gallon on DSG models. The base, gas-powered five-cylinder engine puts out an adequate, if not inspiring, 177 hp, but its rough revving characteristics and lackluster fuel economy pale in comparison to the available oilburner. With any luck, VW will replace the five-pot with one of the TSI (turbocharged and direct injected) engines currently available in Europe. VWoA CEO Stefan Jacoby won't provided a timeframe as to when these stellar mills will make it to the U.S. market, but with displacement downsizing becoming more common, it's not a matter of if, but when. In the meantime, the quiet, smooth running diesel is easily the preferred powerplant for the Golf. Delivering a 0-60 MPH time of 8.6 seconds and flat torque curve, it's more than adequate for the vast majority of drivers and delivers fuel economy that could make most hybrids blush.
Cruising along at a steady 100 MPH, the trip computer was reading about 31-32 MPG (U.S.) or 7.4-7.5 L/100 km. On the run from Wolfsburg to Dresden, we saw an average of 37 MPG (U.S.) in a combination of urban and autobahn driving, including several triple digit stretches, while the gasoline version was hard pressed to enter the upper 20-MPG range. The EPA has already rated the Golf TDI at 30 MPG around town, with the manual getting 41 MPG on the highway and the DSG coming in at 42 MPG.
Volkswagen faces two problems with marketing the Golf in the U.S. market. The first, as we already mentioned, is the long-time resistance to hatchbacks among American buyers. That may be changing as hatchbacks begin to shuffle off their low budget, utilitarian demeanor. The second problem is more intractable. While VW builds the Jetta in Mexico, the Golf continues to be sourced from Germany. With the U.S. dollar currently trading at around $1.50 to the Euro, it's difficult for VW, or any European automaker, to turn a profit on lower end cars like the Golf. That's why the three-door, gas-engined Golf starts at nearly $17,500 and its MSRP tends to skyrocket as the option boxes are ticked.
Volkswagen's new factory in Chatanooga, TN will help alleviate some of these issues in the mid-size market when it starts building a replacement for the Passat in mid-2011. According to VW of America CEO Stefan Jacoby, the site has sufficient space to double the initial size of the factory and produce up to 500,000 vehicles annually. VW also intends for Chatanooga products to have over 85 percent domestic content by value, and if demand warrants, VW could build the Golf in Tennesse at a more competitive cost.
For now, you'll have to swallow hard to step into a Golf over one of its market competitors. If you don't choke on the price, the new Golf has plenty to offer, especially when it comes to vehicle dynamics and utility. The base model isn't inexpensive, but it doesn't feel cheap. And for our money, we'd choose the excellent efficiency, increased amenities and superior suspension dynamics of the TDI -- until VW decides Stateside consumers are ready for one of its highly efficient 1.4-liter gas engines.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by the manufacturer.
New Car Test Drive
Quality, value and frugality.
Freshly redesigned, the Volkswagen Golf is enjoyable to drive, smooth and fuel efficient. The front seats are comfortable and the cabin is austere but roomy, functional and of better quality than pre-2010 models.
The Volkswagen Golf is a front-wheel-drive compact car that comes in two-door and four-door body styles. Both seat five. The Golf offers a choice of a 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine or a 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine. The diesel offers much better fuel efficiency but the purchase price is much higher.
The Golf was completely redesigned for 2010, making this the sixth generation. The 2011 Volkswagen Golf carries over unchanged except for some updated technology. The 2011 Golf offers voice-controlled Bluetooth and comes standard with a single-CD RCD310 stereo.
Though freshly redesigned, the Golf looks like it always has. Inside is an austere cabin with comfortable seats. The Golf is roomier than it looks, and the trunk is large for the class. Audio and air conditioning controls are simple and easy to use. Driver visibility is excellent.
We found the Golf cruises quietly and easily with either engine. Handling and ride quality are better than that of the competition, and the brakes work well and hold up without overheating to repeated hard use.
The 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that comes standard puts out a very usable 170 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. It offers a choice of Tiptronic 6-speed automatic or, on the 2-door, a 5-speed manual. This inline-5 gets an EPA-estimated 23/30 mpg with the 6-speed Tiptronic, or 22/30 mpg City/Highway with the manual. The manual offers better performance, able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, compared with an 8.1 second run for the automatic. It feels brisk from a standstill and responds readily to the gas pedal at highway speeds. The 5-speed manual gearbox is easy to shift, with a smooth, easy clutch pedal. The Tiptronic automatic shifts smoothly in automatic or manual mode.
The Volkswagen Golf TDI comes with a 2.0-liter diesel engine. TDI stands for turbocharged direct injection. The TDI model offers a choice of a 6 speed manual or a 6 speed dual clutch, automated manual, called the Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG. This alphabet soup of technology results in superb fuel economy: The TDI gets an EPA-estimated 30/41 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, 30/42 mpg with the DSG. The TDI turbodiesel engine produces 140 horsepower at 4000 rpm, and an impressive 236 pound-feet of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm. Note the diesel offers substantially more torque (236 foot-pounds) than does the gas engine (177), and the TDI delivers its peak torque at much lower rpm. Torque is that force that propels you from intersections and up hills. This suggests responsive performance around town from the TDI, the kind of driving most of us do most of the time, and that's exactly what we experienced. However, the gas engine propels the Golf off the line more quickly. The Golf TDI can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds (with either transmission), which is substantially slower performance than the 8.1 seconds offered by the standard Golf 2.5-liter gas model with automatic.
The 2011 Volkswagen Golf 2.5 liter 2 door ($17,995) comes with a 5-speed manual or the Tiptronic automatic ($19,095). The Golf comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning with pollen filter, eight-way adjustable front seats with two way lumbar, 60/40 split rear seat with a center armrest and trunk pass through, RCD 310 AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, cruise control, tilt and telescope steering wheel, power locks, power windows, power mirrors with heaters, steel wheels with wheel covers and all season 195/65R15 tires.
The 2011 Golf 4 door ($19,755) comes only with the Tiptronic automatic and is equipped with same as the 2-door. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Options include a power sunroof ($1,000), Cold Weather Package comprising heated front seats and windshield washer nozzles ($250), and Bluetooth connectivity ($300).
The Golf TDI 2 door ($23,225) and TDI 4 door ($23,885) come standard with the 6-speed manual but the DSG automated manual is available for both the TDI 2-door ($24,325) and 4-door ($24,985). Golf TDI models include leather trimmed steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake handle; a touch screen, eight speaker audio system with a 6CD in dash changer, iPod cable and six month SIRIUS satellite radio subscription; fog lights; sports suspension; and 225/45R17 high performance all season tires on alloy wheels. Options for the Golf TDI include bi-xenon headlights with the adaptive front-lighting system ($700), 300-watt Dynaudio Advance Sound system ($480), and a Navigation Package ($595) with the RNS315 system with touchscreen, memory card reader and Sirius Satellite Radio w three-month trial subscription.
Safety gear includes frontal airbags and front seat-mounted side impact airbags and side air curtain airbags and lower and upper child safety seat anchors. Active safety features comprise antilock brakes (which give drivers steering control during emergencies), electronic brake force distribution (which allocates braking where it can do the most good during panic stops) and brake assist (which primes the braking system when sensors indicate imminent brake application); electronic stability control (which attempts to keep the car heading where the driver intends during extreme maneuvers); and tire pressure monitors. Optional on four door models are rear seat side impact airbags ($355).
Redesigned for 2010, this is the sixth-generation Golf. Over the years, body proportions have remained stoically the same, making the Golf instantly recognizable.
The stylists did a good job of giving the C pillar (the body panel behind the rearmost side window) a consistent shape and proportion on the 2 door and 4 door, given the reality of both cars sharing the same wheelbase and being equal in overall length. A clearly defined character line tracks rearward from the top of the front fender blister all the way to the upper taillight element, giving the rear fenders a hint of a shoulder. Wheelwells encircle the tires leaving the barest of gaps, visually pulling the car down onto the pavement. Minimalist door handles are snug for hands wearing anything larger than medium size gloves. Gaps between body panels are pencil thin, which suggest high-quality construction.
Taillight housings mirror the ovoid shape of the headlights, boosting the rear fenders' shoulder look the aforementioned side body panel character line establishes. The wraparound rear window glass fills the top of the lift gate. An outsized, round VW logo parked in the middle between the taillights doubles as the lever for opening the liftgate.
The TDI is distinguished from the 2.5-liter gas model by an eponymous chrome logo beneath the right taillight, balancing the chrome GOLF logo both cars wear below the left taillight.
Inside, the Volkswagen Golf shows a Teutonic dedication to austere functionality. Brightwork is confined to touches on steering wheel spokes, around air registers, door handles and tasteful outlines on various knobs and the shifting gear. Textures give good touch. A contrasting silver ish strip separates top and bottom dash sections and dresses the uppermost element of the door trim panels. Completing the Bauhaus-ian theme is the cloth upholstery, to which the Golf offers no option.
The Golf feels roomier than it looks, and it is, actually, equaling or at least competitive with the other major players in its niche. This includes the Chevrolet Cobalt, which it betters everywhere, including trunk space by 1 cubic foot. About the same holds true for the Focus, while the Civic's trunk holds three fewer foot-square boxes. However, the Ford Focus offers a half inch more rear-seat legroom than the Golf. The Honda Civic coupe trails the Golf 2-door in rear-seat headroom by more than three inches, a huge difference.
The front seats are comfortable. Getting in and out of the car is easy, in spite of sporty seat bolstering. That bolstering is welcome when exploring the Golf's relatively high handling limits, as is the grippy cloth upholstery. The eight way adjustable driver's seat works well with the tilt and telescope steering wheel to allow all but the tallest and the most stout drivers a nearly perfect triangulation with steering wheel, pedals and shift lever. Even the front seat passenger gets eight way adjustability for the seat.
Air conditioning and sound system controls are comfortably basic in shape, size and duty. Knobs and buttons handle the essential operations.
Selections the navigation system's touch screen permits while the car is in motion appear in large, finger friendly, virtual buttons that require only a glance by the driver to identify their assigned duties and then can be manipulated in the driver's peripheral field of vision. Or better yet, the passenger can press them.
Outward visibility is excellent, unimpeded except for the large C-pillars (the rearmost roof supports).
For a car this size, and with these powertrains, the Golf excels, easily cruising for kilometer after kilometer with the speedometer needle solidly in the low three digits. Wind noise, even at those seriously elevated speeds, was well muted; the most remarkable road-sourced sound, in fact, was the hiss of rainwater on the interior of the wheelwells.
We found the Golf accelerates briskly with the standard 2.5-liter. Volkswagen claims a 0 60 mph time of 7.8 seconds for the 5 speed manual, 8.1 seconds for the 6 speed automatic. At highway speeds, the engine readily answered the gas pedal, even including at Autobahn rates until it ran out of steam around an indicated 122 mph (it's electronically limited to 125 mph). The manual transmission's five speeds are really all that's needed for everyday driving. Clutch engagement is smooth. Shift throws are comfortable, the linkage certain in its gear selection.
The Tiptronic delivers smooth transitions between gears whether left to its own or rowed by the driver.
Steering response is confident, if not markedly crisp. Handling in corners was mostly neutral, with understeer (where the car wants to go straight when the driver wants it to run) the dominant at the limit mode. The only shortfall in the ride will be a tendency, associated with all cars with a relative short wheelbase like the Golf, of the suspension to lope over pavement heaves common to the U.S.'s concrete roadways.
For people who've missed the opportunity to drive a car with a diesel engine operating with today's sophisticated technology, the TDI with its 2.0-liter diesel engine will be a pleasant surprise. It takes about a second longer to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, a significant difference. Performance is comparable with either the standard six speed manual or the optional 6 speed DSG transmission. On urban freeways, throttle response was quick and linear, with little hint of turbo lag and the engine pulling strongly well past legal U.S. speeds, thanks to the diesel's hefty torque curve, although not as lively as the 2.5 liter much beyond 110 mph. The manual has two or three more gears than the diesel needs, thanks to its hefty torque curve. The DSG, however, is more than merely an automated manual. With one or the other of its dual clutches always engaged, it almost instantaneous shifts as slick as, or even slicker than a full automatic, making full use of its six speeds to produce a seamless delivery of optimized power to the front tires. The TDI model's 17 inch wheels wear lower profile tires and deliver more certain turn in. While handling is basically neutral, understeer appears in the TDI at the limit, which again is a bit higher than the limit of the 2.5-liter model.
Given the different worlds for which the Golf and its competition have been designed, the latter don't always feel as confidant at the absolute extremes of their respective performance envelops. The Cobalt's suspension, for example, is less sophisticated and not as balanced; where the Golf's thumps over broken pavement, the Cobalt's thuds and sometimes clunks. The Civic's ride and handling is comparable, if not showing quite the same confidence when pushed as hard. The Focus has more body lean in hard cornering, in part due to the narrower track (the distance between the tires side to side), by as much as two inches.
The new Golf splits the difference in fuel economy. The TDI, no surprise, tops them all, by as much as 9 miles per gallon in EPA's city test, against the Civic, and 13 mpg in the highway estimate, also against the Civic. The Golf's 2.5 liter gas engine betters the Civic in the EPA City rating but trails the Cobalt and Focus in fuel economy.
The brakes work well. We used them repeatedly on Germany's Autobahn to drag the Golf down from triple-digit speeds to 60 mph with no drama. Pedal feel was solid throughout, as was the Golf's directional stability.
The Volkswagen Golf is enjoyable to drive. The standard Golf offers Volkswagen quality and refinement at Honda prices. The Golf TDI gets excellent fuel economy, but its diesel engine isn't cheap.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Wolfsburg, Germany; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
Volkswagen Golf 2.5L 2-Door ($17,995), w Tiptronic ($19,095); 2.5L 4-Door w Tiptronic ($19,755); Golf 2.0L TDI 2-Door ($22,810), w DSG ($23,910); 2.0L TDI 4-Door ($23,435), w DSG ($24,535).
Options As Tested
Navigation Package ($595) includes RNS315 system w touchscreen, memory card reader, Sirius Satellite Radio w 3-month trial subscription; 300-watt Dynaudio Advanced Sound ($480); rear seat side airbags ($355); cold weather package ($250).
Volkswagen Golf 4-Door 2.0L TDI DSG ($24,985).