The compact segment remains strong for some automakers, while others have all but given up in favour of crossovers. Volkswagen is a brand we automatically associate with the compact car, with the Golf having seen immense popularity with Canadians over the past decades. This year, VW has discontinued the Golf’s 1.8L turbo-four in favour of smaller displacement and less power. We jumped behind the wheel of a fully loaded 2019 Volkswagen Golf Execline to see just how this powertrain update fits into the little VW’s personality.
In my eyes, the Golf has always been a slightly more sophisticated compact than the Japanese bestsellers, the Corolla and Civic (reviewed here). In recent years the new Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra have caught up and in many ways, surpassed the Honda and Toyota, upping the compact game significantly. The Golf is actually priced right in line with the others, and now is offered to Canadians in five-door form only, losing the three-door in favour of the one that most people buy. It’s still a handsome looker, and our Execline tester appeared anonymous but still premium.
We first saw the 1.4L TSI motor on the Jetta a few years ago, and we observed an average of 5.6L/100km with one over a 1,500km road trip in the heart of a Canadian winter. What we really appreciate here is that despite being low on overall output (147 horsepower at 5,000RPM), the Golf’s torque number is strong at 184 lb-ft. at just 1,400RPM. As such, the hatchback pulls with surprising authority, merging onto the highway with adequacy and general competence. It doesn’t feel quite as slow as the horsepower number would suggest.
The Golf feels more refined than its competition too, with less overall road noise than the new Corolla Hatchback (reviewed here). It’s smooth in operation too, with the eight-speed Tiptronic automatic changing gears silently. A sport mode for the transmission holds gears longer and keeps the engine in the power band for those quick maneuvers, but most buyers won’t find themselves using it all that much. The Golf’s suspension is on the firmer side, which contributes to tighter handling overall but also much harsher ride quality on city streets.
Out on the highway, the Golf hums along calmly and provides the driver and passengers with better long distance comfort than the vast majority of its competition. The 1.4L engine is geared towards efficiency too, rated at 8.2L/100km city and 6.3L/100km highway. With our results from the Jetta, we expected to achieve these numbers without issue, but our highway testing couldn’t return any better than 7.4L/100km highway, and a combined 7.9L/100km over a 500km overall test. Thankfully, the 50L fuel tank will gladly accept 87-octane regular fuel, despite the turbocharging.
The Golf’s interior is a decent place to spend time, though it does feel a bit dated compared to other players in the class that are more modern, such as the Mazda3 (reviewed here). In typical German form, everything is to-the-point and with minimal frills. The gauge cluster is well marked and clear, but the information screen in the center is extremely aged and in dire need of a replacement. A digital cluster can be had on some models, but should really be standard fare across the board. The seats are pretty comfortable and there is ample legroom and headroom for front and rear passengers. The cargo area can hold 493L, and with the rear seats folded down, this space grows to 1,521L.
Infotainment on the Golf Execline is through an eight-inch touchscreen that features Volkswagen’s App-Connect system. Along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, it features screen mirroring and a native VW setup that’s decently easy to use. It features a real volume knob and tuner knob, which we apparently can no longer take for granted. The dual-zone climate control is easy to use, and the heated seats warm up quickly, but one clear omission is the lack of a heated steering wheel – especially for the Canadian market.
Pricing for the Golf starts at $22,500 for the base Comfortline, with a six-speed manual transmission. This still comes equipped with App-Connect with smartphone integration, a touchscreen, 15” alloy wheels, rain sensing wipers, and more. To get an automatic, you must spend $23,900. The Highline at $25,600 adds keyless access, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control and leatherette seats. Our top-trim Execline starts at $31,420 with the automatic and offers LED headlights, power driver’s seat, leather seats, and a Fender audio system.
Interestingly, the Golf offers a manual transmission across the board, so it’s great to see this available on the Execline model despite the low take rate. The only additional package that can be optioned on this trim level is a $1,750 Driver Assistance Plus package. This adds autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, Park Assist, Park Distance Control, blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beam control. With competing automakers offering this suite as standard at much lower prices, we expect Volkswagen to follow suit fairly soon.
With other compacts focusing on style and foregoing practicality as a result, it’s the all-business look of the Golf that makes it stand out in our eyes. In short, the lack of wings, spoilers, and frilly bits add to the appeal of this VW. The 2019 Volkswagen Golf overall is a great package, but we would recommend opting for a Highline trim model, as the Execline gets too close for comfort to the spirited GTI (reviewed here) in price.