2015 Volkswagen Golf, Golf TDI: First Drive

GolfFirstDrive

Volkswagen has a problem. The idea of a premium compact hatchback isn't top of mind with consumers, and its venerable Golf needs to attract a new audience to help sales in the U.S.

2015 Volkswagen Golf Starts at $18,815

Thanks to a lower price and more of the standard equipment shoppers expect these days, the 2015 Golf has a chance to rebound in a big way. After driving manual and automatic versions of both the basic Golf, called the TSI, and the diesel-powered TDI, it seems driving fun is also in the mix.

2015 VW Golf First Drive
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TSI

The entry-level Golf is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 170 horsepower and 200 pounds-feet of torque; it zips around city streets like a good little runabout. Merging onto highways is effortless, and once up to highway speeds you're able to pass just as easily.

In terms of acceleration, it's a level of performance that few other base compacts can match, at least in the seat-of-the-pants factor. The six-speed automatic doesn't match the thrill factor of the five-speed manual transmission, but it is an option that doesn't dilute much of the fun factor.

That's also aided by whip-snap handling and communicative steering married to good brakes.

Where the Golf falters is in comfort and a lack of grip.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

The suspension isn't too firm but there isn't much travel, so when you hit large dips at high speeds there is a sense that you might be catching air "Dukes of Hazard" style, and I mean this in a completely unwanted way.

And even though there is the ability to take tight curves at speed even in the least powerful of the Golf dynamos, it doesn't mean the rubber can handle the requests. On a number of instances in my day with the Golf, the rear outside wheels would slip significantly enough to make me let up off the accelerator. There wasn't any sliding going on, but it was still not a pleasant experience.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

TDI

Moving into the TDI is really just a step up in power. Otherwise the TSI and TDI respond almost identically on the road. Both are quiet - although you can hear the diesel approaching you in a parking lot - handle relatively the same and their feature set is almost identical.

However, the diesel provides much more torque-infused oomph. Rated at 150 hp and 236 pounds-feet of torque, the TDI flies around town and up highway ramps significantly quicker than its gas counterpart.

It also features a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission (replacing the automatic) and a six-speed manual. As in the TSI, whichever transmission you choose will provide plenty of driving excitement and quick shifts. Both manuals have a light clutch and feathery shifter, although some other journalists called it "floppy." If you're a performance junkie it might not be what you're looking for. If you're a commuter it's probably preferred.

My only other issue with the Golf was seat comfort. S and SE models had seats with manual adjustments for height and fore and aft movement with a power recline. I didn't get an optimum position to drive with these seats, and they were otherwise uncomfortable with my back hurting after only a few short drives. The fully powered seats in the SELs I tested were both comfortable and allowed me to find a position that wasn't so awkward.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

There was ample room in the backseat for passengers, and I had plenty of knee room behind the driver's seat positioned for my 5-foot 10-inch frame.

The TSI is offered in two- and four-door versions while the TDI is only offered as a four-door. All the vehicles I tested were four-door models.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

The Golf Package

Volkswagen has finally fixed one of the issues that kept the old Golf from widespread appeal. The price is lower and it comes with more stuff standard. Now at $19,815 for the manual two-door TSI and $20,915 (prices include destination) for the automatic, you get standard alloy wheels, Bluetooth and iPod integration even equipped with Lightning port adapters. That is for the S model. A special Launch Edition starts at $1,000 less but will be limited in availability.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

Like the current Jetta, the new Golf will be made in Mexico, and that had some editors at Cars.com worried about quality. However, even the base TSI model called S seems upscale with soft padding on upper panels around the doors and dash; controls and buttons had a solid feel to them.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

VW has also upgraded its infotainment system, which will make its way to the other VWs in coming years. It's intuitive and easy to use although the clarity of the screen, especially on navigation-equipped models, could be better.

A robust Fender stereo is standard on SE trims and above while the base model is ... less robust. It could be the one feature that gets you to move up in class.

Cargo

It's sometimes easy to forget that the Golf is one of the longest-running hatchbacks in the industry, and it remains extremely practical. The cargo area is 16.5 cubic feet with the seats in place to the top of the seats and has 52.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. The seats fold down with a pull of a lever near the headrest in a 60/40-split configuration and lie flat without any other adjustments.

Final Score

The Golf will still cost more than similarly equipped hatches from Japanese, U.S. and Korean automakers, but it does offer a driving experience that sets it apart and an interior that is a step above.

We'll have more on the 2015 Golf in an upcoming review on Cars.com. 

Cars.com photos by David Thomas.

2015 VW Golf First Drive

Comments 

wain

These hatchbacks are so practical, the only one better is a station wagon. SUV is ok but too heavy. around here we'll always have a hatch.

M3

The only other 2-door hatch around is a Toyota Yaris. Hmm, tough choice.

Breckbuyer

VW's bigger problem is getting past its reliability reputation and poor dealership networks. They make desirable cars at reasonable prices - they are just too risky to own and buy.

Jamie H.

This is the most critical review I have heard about the mk7 golf. You are the first to complain about the seat comfort and suspension. It sounds to me that you didnt want to like this car from the get go.

tr6

No, if that were true they would have mentioned the clattering stinking air destroying diesel motor.

Jeremy

tr6 you obviously have zero experience with VW's 2009 and newer clean diesels.

Admittedly, my 2000 VW Jetta got to be a little loud over 200k miles, and even stinky (when the manual transmission started leaking).

However, my 2010 VW Golf TDI is so quiet you'd only know it was a diesel by the badge. I don't have any figures at hand about pollution, but I've ran it for short periods inside my closed garage without smelling a thing.

It may also be noteworthy that diesels (because of igniting their fuel by compression, rather than spark) burn their fuel more completely, and thereby produce less pollution.

tr6

I suggest you read the bloomberg news article from a couple weeks ago, which reports that leaders in europe are now second guessing their rush to put diesel cars on the road. Invisible soot, called fine particulates from diesel cars has reportedly made air quality in london worse than Beijing. They estimate that diesel pollution is killing nearly 4,000 people a year in london alone. Just google "europe diesel catastrophe" and read the story. Hopefully we won't repeat europe's diesel car blunder in the US.

pat forth

tr6, please do not limit your research regarding diesel engines to one article. The rebuttal to the article:

The claim that London’s air pollution is worse than Beijing’s seems to be based on one monitoring
location, Mary lebone Road, which has one of the highest, but not the highest, 2010 NOx and PM2.5
results in Europe. (European air pollution measurements for 2006-2008, here) Air pollution in London seems to be from transportation, the higher concentrations are found along roadways and the inner city
has higher pollution than the outer city . However, the pollution sources are attributed to heavier
vehicles (buses, trucks, etc) than lighter vehicles. A good deal of the PM emissions are attributed to
brake and tire wear. Emission trends are mixed, with some areas decreasing and some slightly
increasing or being about the same. The articles don’t address the age of vehicles or the mix of spark ignited and compression ignition in the car fleet. Also, no mention is made to the increasing stringent EU emission standards. Light vehicle diesel engines are (or weren’t) required to have the same emissions controls as spark ignited engines.

tr6

I appreciate your thoughtful approach, but the fact is when you increase the number of point sources for diesel emissions you exceed the carrying capacity of the local environment. That adds up to what is being called a catastrophe. It was an unintended consequence from an obsession to cut carbon emissions, the only benefit inherent in burning diesel. Instead of pursuing filthy diesel technology, the US could focus on fuel cell cars, powered by hydrogen generated from wind and solar sources. Europe messed up in jumping headlong into obsolete diesel tech, and it is imperative that the US confine its diesel usage to the trucks, heavy equipment and busses that benefit most from it, and show Europe how it should be done. Even VW will have a hard time selling the Golf TDI, when its own excellent 1.8 turbo gasoline motor offers much better acceleration, while nearly matching the mileage of the diesel. The fact is there is no need for diesel cars in the US when consumers can buy cars like the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco, which will easily deliver 38 mpg, using cheaper gasoline available everywhere. Diesel cars cost more to buy, maintain and repair, and the fuel is stinky, expensive and hard to find in many areas.

Admiral Picard

1. I hope the final US version doesn't have that stupid-looking brushed metal dash and console.

2. If VW was serious about reversing their poor image in the US they would up their warranty to 10yrs/100,000mi. Worked wonders for Hyundai, who long-suffered with an image problem in the US long after they were actually making very solid cars.

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