2018 Golf New Car Test Drive
The Volkswagen Golf, redesigned for 2015, offers multiple personalities, whether the traditional hatch in two-door or four-door versions, the sporty GTI, the Golf R, the electric e-Golf, the all-wheel-drive Golf SportWagen, and the Golf Alltrack wagon. There's also a four-door sedan, but that's called a Jetta.
Much of what makes the Golf so good is the sweetest powertrain of its kind in the business. Its 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder makes 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, mated to a seamless six-speed automatic. (The base S model comes with a five-speed manual, and its engine makes less torque.) The Alltrack and all-wheel-drive SportWagen take either a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Most of the changes for 2018 are in the packaging, the mixing of available equipment for each model, and it can be hard to follow. One thing you can see is new LED taillamps, and new infotainment available; one thing you can feel is 10 more horsepower in the front-wheel-drive GTI. Last year that 10 hp was available as an option called the Performance Package, but for 2018 GTI is already packaged with that performance. It comes with a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic manual that's precise and crisp, the best in the business. VW invented the dual clutch, years ago, and hasn't lost the lead. They call it the DSG, for direct shift gearbox. Mechanically and internally, it's a manual transmission; but to the driver it's a super-sharp automatic.
Then there is the one and only Golf R, using the beefy Haldex all-wheel drive system to plant on the pavement a heady 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but for 2018 a new seven-speed dual-clutch is available. The Golf R is rival to the Ford Focus RS and Subaru WRX STI.
The Golf S gets an EPA estimate of 25/36 City/Highway, or 29 Combined miles per gallon. Wagons with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic get the same 29 mpg. The GTI gets just a bit less, while the Golf R with its horsepower drops down to 22/31 mpg.
Last year the Golf was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, when equipped with advanced safety features.
The Golf hatchback comes as S, SE, and SEL; the GTI as S, SE, and Autobahn; and then there's the Golf R, the SportWagen and Alltrack.
Standard equipment on the Golf S includes power windows and locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, power-reclining front seats, a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, and 16-inch steel wheels. Golf SE adds an 8.0-inch screen, leatherette upholstery, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Golf SEL adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, and ambient cabin lighting.
Golf SportWagen comes with VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive available in a package including 16-inch alloy wheels and heated seats. Golf Alltrack adds leatherette upholstery, and on the full-tile Alltrack SEL there's a Fender sound system and 18-inch alloy wheels, along with the extra half-inch of ground clearance.
Golf GTI S is equipped like the regular Golf. The GTI SE adds LED headlamps, 8.0-inch infotainment screen, a blind spot monitor, and automatic emergency braking. The GTI Autobahn has leather, moonroof, and active dampers.
The Golf R has Volkswagen's Digital Cockpit, a high-resolution LCD screen that replaces conventional gauges. It's a system that came from Audi where it's been praised. Like the GTI, the adaptive suspension with active dampers is optional.
Available safety features include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, park distance control, and automatic headlamps.