But that's something Volkswagen needs to change, if it's ever going to meet its goal of becoming the largest automaker in the world by 2018. The Golf, iconic in other countries and the world's fifth-best selling vehicle so far this year, doesn't even scratch the top 20 in the U.S. Like it or not, the U.S. is the world's most important car market for the time being. Automakers rake in the biggest profits here, and face the toughest critics.
After my test drive earlier this month in Sardinia, Italy, it appears VW has created a car even Americans can love even though it won't arrive in U.S. dealerships until 2014.
The Golf hasn't yet fully resonated with U.S. consumers because Americans are still a little wary of pint-sized cars, especially hatchbacks. Our top five vehicles include three ginormous pickup trucks, and even though we're becoming more fond of fuel-efficient vehicles, we're still looking for gas-sipping versions of the large sedans we know and love.
The Golf isn't any of those things. It's a small hatchback with fold-down rear seats. It slips into parking spots easily, without feeling like you're driving in a sardine can. It is small, but doesn't feel cheap or underpowered.
It is the kind of car Americans could, with a little self reflection, find really suits their needs.
The Golf has had a spotty history in the U.S. Introduced in the 70s as the VW Rabbit, meant to replace the VW Beetle. In the mid 1980s, VW changed the name to Golf to match up with the car's name globally. But then it change the name in 2006 back to Rabbit, and then became Golf again in 2010.
From the outside, the new version isn't much different from the most recent boxy iteration of the Golf. (And, if you're an automaker that wants to rule the world, it doesn't make sense to make monumental changes to the outside one of your best sellers.)
The 2013 version, the seventh generation of the Golf, may be its best iteration. It's when you get inside the Golf and drive it around that you'll fall in love. The seats are comfortable, and designed to keep the driver's spine in a neutral position to help achy backs. It feels well made and luxurious. Smaller cars can trick you into thinking you'll feel squeezed inside, but this car felt roomy yet light and athletic.
It wasn't until I spent four or five hours tooling around on twisty Sardinian roads that I decided I would be willing to try to make this fit my American life. The car reminded me of my college days, when I could fit my entire life inside the back of a hatchback to move home at the end of finals. I've progressed into bigger and bigger vehicles, but I'd be willing to give the Golf a shot. The three kids could probably fit just fine in the back, and the 60/40 fold flat seats make it infinitely versatile.
Plus the little luxury touches and high-end options like adaptive cruise control and parallel parking assist make it something I could drive without feeling like I was making too many compromises.
There are tons of technical details available for the European versions, but so far all we know is that there will be a gas and a diesel option for U.S. buyers. VW has said the car should get better fuel economy because the new Golf lost about 100 pounds, but the final U.S. model is more than a year away from arriving.
But one thing is for sure: If you're considering a car that is fun to drive and gets pretty solid fuel economy, don't write off the Golf because it's a hatchback. It's much easier to like than soccer, or even David Hasselhoff.
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