The term “trickle-down effect” is often referenced when describing governmental ideologies, but it can be used to describe how the automotive industry evolves. Typically, the latest and greatest technologies find themselves in the flagship luxury cars, for the privileged to experiment with, but also for automakers to refine and mature the logic before it “trickles” down to the mass market. We are now seeing cars well under the $25,000 mark come with active safety features such as forward collision warning with braking, and adaptive radar cruise control. It’s great not only to see these cutting edge gadgets, but also the benefit to a much larger market is a really big deal.
Volkswagen is also seeing great success from the same trickle-down effect. The much-loved MQB platform sees duty in entry-level cars like the Golf, all the way up to massive family crossovers like the Atlas (reviewed here), to premium cars like the Audi S3 and TT. It’s an infinitely flexible platform (with a few fixed points that are common to every MQB-based car), and it’s easy to make the assumption that if the platform is good enough for the $72,900 Audi TT-RS (a fire-breathing 400hp sports car), it’ll be good enough for a lowly basic Golf. Volkswagen sent over a 5-door Golf Comfortline painted in a low-key Tungsten Silver Metallic for a week-long evaluation.
The VW Golf has gone its own way, since separating from the Jetta for the 2011 model year. And though the Golf has gotten bigger and bigger since the first-generation Mk1 variant, it has continued to stay relevant and ahead of the game by delivering the premium feel that Golf enthusiasts have come to love. As such, VW has been fairly cautious in styling the Golf, so that it remains recognizable. It is a fairly conservative design, but it is best described as clean, thanks to its simple and straight lines. It’s nowhere near as polarizing (read: over-styled) like the current Honda Civic is, and it lines up more with the Hyundai Elantra (reviewed here) on the attractiveness scale, in the compact car class.
The Golf does a good job flying under the radar, with a restrained use of chrome and other frills. It doesn’t feature items such as LED daytime running lights (at least at this trim level), and standard halogen reflector headlights are standard issue equipment. The Comfortline trim features 16-inch “Toronto” aluminum wheels fitted with 205-section tires. The Golf is a little unique in that it offers three different wheel diameters, as you go up the scale – the base model starts with 15-inch aluminum wheels (no plastic wheel covers, here), then 16-inches with the mid-range Comfortline, and then 17-inches with the Highline.
Inside, the Mk7 VW Golf does a good job not only looking premium, but actually feeling premium. Thanks to that MQB family lineage, the Golf benefits from a clean and functional interior layout, and top-notch build quality at this price level. Even this mid-range Comfortline model comes with premium-feeling simulated leather seating surfaces and a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, of which the front seats are heated. This particular tester came equipped with the tan “Shetland” colour scheme, and the $1,310 Convenience Package, which adds a large panoramic sunroof.
Up front and centre is a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment interface that integrates Android Auto and Apple Carplay, and below that is a single-zone automatic climate control. The matte brushed-effect simulated stainless steel surfaces are actually convincing and add to the premium feel of the interior. I’m a big fan of the Golf’s interior design, mostly for its clean and logical layout, but the only nitpick really comes from the inability to close the spring-loaded cover that houses the infotainment-linked USB port when you have your phone connected.
The practical side of the Golf is assured thanks to its hatchback design. With the rear seats up in their default position, you have access to about 578 cubic litres of space for your stuff. Once you fold the rear seats down flat, the space swells to approximately 1337 cubic litres. Honda’s new Civic Hatchback boasts a bit more space when the seats are up, however. If you need even more space, the Golf Sportwagen gives you all that, and more, in an honest-to-goodness station wagon body style.
Under the hood lives VW’s workhorse 1.8L TSI engine. Still built from an iron block (for better acoustic control), it utilizes direct injection and a single-scroll turbo to make practical power that’s tuned for everyday usage. It produces 170 horsepower from 4800-6200RPM, and 185 lb-ft. of torque from a useful 1,600-4,200RPM. It’s considered a workhorse engine for a reason: it doesn’t sound like anything special, and its power output won’t set the front tires on fire, but it quietly and confidently does the job. VW gives you the choice of a five-speed manual, or a six-speed conventional automatic (equipped here). Right off the bat, those who are turned off by the sound and feel of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) will feel more at home with the Golf. The hugely popular Honda Civic and the all-wheel drive Subaru Impreza come to mind, here.
The basic Golf isn’t the enthusiast’s choice, in the Volkswagen lineup. Long-time favourites like the GTI and the hot new Golf R are the winning critical acclaim just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean the standard Golf is lackluster in any way. The sportier models just benefit from more go-fast goodies grafted onto what is essentially the same chassis, such as horsepower, suspension, wheels and tires, and fancier transmissions. Going back to the MQB family lineage, the standard Golf benefits from the same basic bones, which translates to a rock solid structure, and a real feeling of quality and solidity that people have come to associate with German automobiles. As accurate as the steering is, it doesn’t transmit a ton of feel back into your hands – the Mazda 3 does a better job here.
One of the big benefits of VW’s new 1.8L TSI engine over the previous naturally-aspirated 2.5L five-cylinder mill is fuel efficiency. That old engine put down similar numbers, but was never known for being efficient. VW rates Golfs equipped with the automatic transmission at 9.4L/100km in the city, and 6.7L/100km on the highway. After a springtime week of mixed city and highway driving with the Golf, I managed to get to an indicated average of 8.0L/100km. The fuel tank will hold 50L of regular 87-octane fuel.
The flexibility of the MQB platform also extends to how it is priced. Being at the entry level, the base 3-door Golf Trendline with a five-speed manual transmission starts at $19,195. You still get aluminum wheels (albeit at 15-inches), Bluetooth connectivity, and a reverse camera, but you don’t get the premium Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. Jumping to the more-practical Trendline five-door ($21,245) gives you a heated and semi-powered front driver’s seat, as well as cruise control. The Comfortline five-door (there is no three-door option) starts at $23,945 with the manual transmission (add $1,400 for the six-speed automatic transmission). As equipped with the Convenience Package, this particular tester rings in at $26,655, before taxes, additional dealer fees, and incentives. A fully loaded Golf Highline starts at $28,995, but there are still option packages available, which can bump the price to over $30,000.
When comparing to the hot new Honda Civic Hatchback (reviewed here), this midrange Golf Comfortline fits somewhere in between the base Civic Hatchback LX and the Sport, though both will insist on giving you cloth seats to sit on, rather than the nice leatherette VW gives you. Hyundai’s handsome new Elantra also does a good job focusing on the value factor, but is currently only available in sedan format. A new five-door Elantra GT is coming, and we expect it to be a strong competitor to both the Golf and the Civic Hatchback.
The Volkswagen Golf has long positioned itself as the premium choice in the compact car class. This continues with the “Mark 7” Golf; it does a wonderful job blending its premium MQB roots with a high value package that delivers a genuinely better driving and ownership experience, in one of the most low-key options currently available. The Golf doesn’t try to be something that it isn’t, because it doesn’t need to – other members of the Volkswagen and Audi family happily take on the role of the compact luxury car, hot hatchback, sports car, or even the large three-row crossover. It’s this sort of honest transportation that flies under the radar that often surprises and impresses upon first impressions. When it comes to the VW Golf, that seems to have been its mission for a very long time.