Review: 2010 Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf is the best selling VW of all time. But looking at the streets and highways of America, a lot of people would question the truth of that statement, and for good reason-in 2009, Rabbit/Golf sales made up a miniscule 3.5% of all Volkswagen sales in the US. For whatever reason, the American buying public continues to struggle to fully embrace the hatchback. The proof is in the numbers: last year, the Jetta outsold the Rabbit/Golf by a margin of 14:1!

Which is a shame. During my week with the Golf, I became quite fond of the car. But then again, why wouldn’t I? The Golf-based GTI I reviewed in January was a revelation in four-wheel fun. With most of the automotive press giving all their attention to the GTI, a basic, but very important point seems to be lost: the GTI wouldn’t be a great car if the Golf itself wasn’t great.

This is the new Mark VI Golf, which is a little misleading. Mechanically, the Golf is carryover from last year’s Rabbit, but the sheetmetal and interior are new. VW wisely brought back the Golf name, after briefly dredging up the Rabbit name (not used here since 1984). Our test car, finished in Candy White, definitely showcased the Golf’s simple, clean design. This is a no-fuss car, but the integrated turn signals in the sideview mirrors was a nice touch.

The interior of the Golf is particularly impressive. America’s misconception of hatchbacks as “cheap transportation” would be shattered after sitting inside a Golf. For build quality, refinement, and use of rich looking and feeling materials, the Golf is in a class by itself, and no competitor comes close. On the center console, that isn’t plastic painted to look like metal-it’s metal. The seats were comfortable, and I was pleasantly surprised to see such sporty, well-bolstered seats in a “base” VW. Most controls are simple and intuitive, but the tiny, hard to read displays for the climate control knobs were a constant source of frustration. Also, a center armrest would have been appreciated on longer trips. Finally, the Golf offers no covered storage except the glovebox, a worry for iPods, phones, etc.

Motivation for our Golf comes from the familiar 2.5L inline five cylinder, which is good for 170hp. On four door gas-powered Golfs, a six-speed automatic is the only transmission available (a manual is available in the two-door). Even so, VW promises 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds, which was once considered sports car territory not too long ago. Under hard acceleration, the five cylinder pulls nicely, and sounds vaguely like the old Audi five’s of the past, but better. Braking and steering are at the top of the class. VW’s reputation as an involved, sporty car is fully represented in the Golf. Yet on the highway, the Golf is remarkably quiet. Driving in a steady rain at speed, the Golf exhibited the quiet and composure you would expect in a car costing twice as much. Dynamically, the Golf is very tough to beat, and impresses you the more you drive it.

VW elected to forgo trim levels with the Golf, and offers the car with two different engines instead. But it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Our gas-powered Golf came well equipped, with power windows, locks, mirrors, cruise control, trip computer, a decent stereo and electronic stability control. But the TDI (diesel) adds goodies like leather accents, sport suspension and a touchscreen stereo, which aren’t available on the gas car. Want xenon headlights, navigation and satellite radio? Sorry, TDI only. In a country where diesel fuel isn’t always just an exit away, I can easily see where prospective Golf shoppers desiring TDI-only features would cross it off their shopping list. Or just get a Jetta.

Finally, there is the matter of price. Our Golf, whose sole option was the Cold Weather Package, rang in at $20,165USD. At twenty grand, most buyers expect a leather wrapped steering wheel, and not puny 15″ steel wheels with hubcaps. For about the same money, you can buy a Mazda3 with similar power, 17″ alloys and other tidbits not included with the Golf. While the Golf is not cheap, there is no other car in its class that offers this level of quality, sport, and refinement. Viewed in this light, the Golf is actually quite a value, if not a bargain.

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