With the all new Volkswagen Golf ready to hit the market later this year, Canadians have been watching our friends in Europe enjoy what is possibly the best version of this legendary hatchback. In the meantime, the seventh-generation marches on for one more year in a market that is slowly losing buyers to hopped up hatches that now call themselves crossovers. We decided to take one last ride in the 2021 Volkswagen Golf Highline.
Buyers looking for an entry point into the German car market simply can’t go wrong with the Golf. As one of the best selling cars worldwide, it has a reputation as a reliable everyday car that won’t breaking the bank. The entry point for a 2021 Golf is a reasonable $22,995, up $425 from last year’s model. Move up to the Highline trim for a starting price of $26,395. Adding an eight-speed automatic transmission adds $1,400, bringing the total for a loaded Golf to $27,795.
With a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder as the only available engine, the Golf seems underpowered from the numbers. What does give the Golf proper cojones is the 184 lb-ft. fo torque available down low in the rev range. The Golf accelerates without a fuss in the world – being too aggressive with the right foot will get the front tires to light up. There’s also ample power at highway speeds, unlike naturally aspirated compact rivals like the Toyota Corolla that run out of breath.
The eight-speed automatic is perfectly matched to this powertrain, getting that power to the wheels effortlessly. Naturally, enthusiasts will gravitate to the standard manual gearbox. The Golf handles well, on par for the segment but is nothing special. Ride quality however is an area in which this little Volkswagen excels. Major bumps and potholes are absorbed by the suspension with little fuss. The chassis is German solid and gives the Golf a more sophisticated feel that is lacking in Korean and Japanese counterparts.
At this price point, the interior quality and materials normally take a back seat, but not in the Golf. The level of quality materials is excellent and up to a higher standard than most other compact entries. Soft touches can be found everywhere, unlike the Hyundai Elantra which is a sea of hard plastics. Even the harder plastics don’t feel like it’s a downgrade at this price point. However, the strip of blanked out buttons alongside the shifter remind drivers of what could have been.
All controls are easily accessible and easy to use. The stereo controls retain two physical knobs for tuning and volume control, which is apparently not something we can take for granted these days. The HVAC adjustment dials are large enough to use even while wearing gloves and the steering wheel controls are placed perfectly. The flat bottom steering wheel and quality of leather material used is a nice touch at this price level and within this segment.
A small update is that wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fare. Our Highline trim also gets an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, panoramic sunroof, upgraded 17-inch wheels and leatherette seating surfaces. The Golf has more than enough space inside for four adults, and even six-footers won’t be complaining about head and leg-room. There’s plenty of room for large-sized cargo behind the rear seats, and the seats naturally fold down for increased cargo space.
The exterior design is clean and German corporate. The lines are clean and lack anything that really excites, but it’s an extremely handsome look and the seventh-generation Golf has aged exceptionally well, though the upcoming model does add some much needed flare. The halogen headlights on this top trim remind buyers that this is still an entry level car for European driving and struggle to provide lighting in poor weather conditions. Other entries in this class now offer LED lighting as standard issue.
Even though the diesel is long gone from the North American market, the Golf still rewards buyers with excellent fuel economy, especially from this fantastic 1.4-liter engine. Volkswagen Canada rates the current Golf at 8.2L/100km in the city and 6.3L/100km on the highway. Our tester wasn’t even broken in yet, and we observed a decent 7.2L/100km in combined driving. We expect owners to get mileage surpassing the ratings without any issues.
In keeping with current trends, the Golf Highline includes a suite of safety features as standard equipment. This includes lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and Front Assist with Pedestrian Monitoring. Yes, this suite isn’t quite as comprehensive as Toyota or Honda’s suites, but that will be rectified on the new model.
Those looking for a compact hatchback have some great options to consider such as the Mazda3, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The 2021 Volkswagen Golf Highline puts up a valiant effort even though it trails behind in standard safety features and technology. Buyers should consider the Golf if they are looking for a well-built, reliable and fuel efficient hatchback with some German flair, and considering the new one is just around the corner, incentives on the outgoing one will be generous.