2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI First Test
Motor Trend had good things to say about the last Golf. In fact, we've had lots of good things to say about many Golfs. Volkswagen's popular hatchback has long been an MT favorite, and I'm happy to report Volkswagen hasn't screwed it up for the seventh generation. Not only has the automaker not screwed it up, but it's been made even better.
The first thing you'll notice about the 2015 Golf is that it looks more mature than the car it replaces. It's longer, lower, and wider, which is always a winning combination. It's got shorter overhangs and a longer hood, giving the hatchback a more purposeful stance. By comparison, it makes the old car look tall and a little awkward.
The 2015 Golf's interior is nicer, too. We praised the last car's interior for not bearing the scars of Volkswagen's relentless cost-cutting the way its Jetta sibling has, but the old car had far more in common with the Jetta than the new one does. The materials look and feel richer and of better quality. The design is a little more inspired. There's slightly more interior space, though you'll simply experience it as a more open and roomy cabin. The seats are comfortable and well-bolstered, holding you in place without digging into your thighs and sides.
Next, you'll likely notice this Golf offers more stuff. A new 5.8-inch touch screen is standard on all cars and can be equipped with navigation on higher models. The user interface is more intuitive than in older models, a major improvement in functionality. We're disappointed that we don't get the massive 8-inch screen in European-spec Golfs, and the color instrument cluster display with the fancy graphics is restricted to the GTI model. Instead, the 2015 Golf's gauges are a simple black-and-white affair, but it's useful and easy to read. If you've chosen to spec them, this Golf offers adaptive headlights, parking sensors, and a rearview camera that pops noisily out from under the badge on the hatch. There are also heated seats and automatic climate control to be had for a price.
Eventually, you'll stop gawking and poking things and decide to actually start the car. When you do, you'll find the inline five-cylinder grumble is gone, replaced by the mellow hum of the new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It's a peppy little engine, though you'll feel a bit of turbo lag at very low rpm. It's really only apparent when you're trying to leave a stop aggressively, or if you're lugging the engine in a high gear. With a few more revs on the clock, the motor pulls smoothly and strongly and makes plenty of power to scoot the car around with authority. It's even fairly quiet in the process.
Depending on your preference, you'll find either 2015 Golf transmission perfectly good but slightly compromised. The standard five-speed manual is geared for fuel economy, which is why VW has chosen this box over the performance-geared six-speed manual. The shifter is notchy, the throws are a bit long, and the gates are somewhat vague, but it gets the job done. It's certainly not as slick as the GTI's shifter. The pedals are likewise not designed for performance, and heel-toe downshifting is difficult. If you're a young driver seeking an inexpensive manual transmission car to drive like you stole it, that will bother you. For everyone else, it all works perfectly fine.
The optional six-speed automatic (standard on higher trims) is also pretty good, but shows a flaw or two. When in Drive and stopped, you can feel the torque converter engage and disengage as you creep forward, almost as if it's a dual-clutch gearbox. It tends to chatter slightly as a dual-clutch does when it's doing this. It also occasionally lets off the hard shift. The other 90 percent of the time, though, it's a perfectly compliant, smooth, and quick-shifting gearbox that eagerly responds to the paddle shifters if you use them. The enhanced throttle response of Sport mode is preferable in aggressive city traffic.
We clocked a Golf equipped with the automatic transmission at 7.8 seconds in the sprint to 60 mph and 15.9 seconds at 87.8 mph in the quarter mile, 0.4 second slower than a similarly powered Mazda3 to 60 mph, and 0.3 second in the quarter mile. On the other hand, it's 0.3 second quicker than the old Golf to 60 mph and 0.2 second quicker in the quarter mile. The Golf needed 118 feet to stop from 60 mph, a foot shorter than the Mazda and 13 feet shorter than the old Golf.
When the time comes to take a corner, you, as a driver, will be the most impressed. For a non-sport model, the 2015 Golf takes turns surprisingly well. The car feels confident and solid, exhibiting surprisingly little body roll. It isn't fazed by bumpy roads, even during cornering. The trade-off is a ride that's rather firm for the class, but more than tolerable. The standard low-rolling-resistance tires are good for fuel economy but quick to howl in protest when pushed. They'll hang on longer than they claim, but soon enough you'll get understeer. Performance rubber would make this car an impressive handler for the class. As it is, this car pulled 0.86 g (average) on our skidpad, same as the Mazda3 we're so fond of for its handling prowess.
Making all that happen requires tilling the steering wheel. As with the old Golf, the new car's electric power steering provides surprisingly natural weight in the steering wheel with no slop. Steering response is quick and linear, allowing you to point the car right where you want it without much concentration. There's no torque steer in the wheel, which is always appreciated. Brakes are similarly competent, offering a smooth, linear engagement as you depress the pedal.
If you've elected to go with the fuel-sipping diesel model, you'll see only slight differences in how the Golf drives. Though Golf TDI models use a simple torsion beam rear suspension instead of the gasoline car's multilink design, ride and handling feel about the same. Aside from the diesel gurgle emanating from under the hood, the biggest difference you'll notice is how much slower the diesel feels.
Despite an extra 10 horsepower over the old model and far more peak torque than in the new gasoline model, the new diesel is clearly tuned and geared for fuel economy. In Drive, throttle application feels like a mere suggestion until you get the pedal at least halfway down. Sport mode helps this, but the car still feels significantly slower than with the gasoline model. It's a somewhat disappointing change from the last-generation Golf TDI, which used its torque to feel quicker than it was.
Should fuel economy be your primary concern, though, you may just want to go with that diesel model. While Volkswagen estimates the gasoline-powered Golf should return 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, our RealMPG testing returned 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, or 27 mpg combined. To be clear, those aren’t terrible fuel economy numbers by any stretch, but they’re up to 10 percent off what Volkswagen has promised. We haven’t had the opportunity to test the diesel-powered Golf yet, but in the past, diesel engines have generally returned greater-than-advertised fuel economy in RealMPG testing.
If there's anything left to gripe about with the 2015 Volkswagen Golf, it's the pricing structure. There are few options, including the parking sensors and fancy headlights. The rest are bundled into the various trim levels, meaning if you want things such as navigation or the Fender premium stereo, you'll have to buy a more expensive model, and they get expensive quickly. Despite a base price of $18,815 for a manual-transmission, two-door Launch Edition and $21,515 for an automatic-transmission four-door Golf S (already higher than some competition), our loaded-up SEL tester started at $27,815 and came in as tested at $29,505, a lot of money for a compact hatch, but comparable to, say, an equally equipped Mazda3 hatch.
Small qualms aside, the new 2015 Golf is an impressively solid little hatch. It suffers none of the cheapening that afflicts the Jetta, and instead offers better features and a better driving experience than before. Buyers will actually feel the value in this car, and that bodes well for a brand hoping to sell more cars in America.
|2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$29,505|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.8L/170-hp/200-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3115 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||167.5 x 70.8 x 57.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 87.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.8 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||26/36/30 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130/94 kW-hr/100 mi (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, comb||0.65 lb/mi (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||August 2014|