Still a perennial small car favourite
- Seattle, Washington
The Volkswagen Golf has become almost a uniform amongst Canadian small car shoppers striving to balance their desire for a frugal, yet practical daily driver with a competing craving for the good things in life. For many years the Golf delivered interior design and ride quality that felt a step or two above its affordable price point, especially as compared to its peers, and while many other compacts have now caught up to Volkswagen in these departments the 2017 edition of the hatchback is still a favourite.
Regardless of whether you choose the two-door or four-door version of the 2017 Volkswagen Golf, you end up with a respectable level of practicality that challenges some small SUVs in terms of cargo and passenger room. In fact, you're not going to do better than the 1,492 litres of storage available inside the Golf (with the rear row folded) when looking at any other compact hatch. That's backed up by legitimate seating for as many as four adults (with space to squeeze three kids across the back seat in a pinch), and an interior that accents its well-presented plastics with attractive cloth and a leather-like material the brand dubs 'V-Tex.' The Golf is right-sized for Canadians regardless of whether they are dawdling through rush hour traffic on clogged city arteries or packing the family in for a weekend on more rustic roads.
Even the base Golf manages to rise above appliance status.
It's also true that Volkswagen's entry-level offering also happens to be more interesting to drive than similarly-priced fare. Despite a complete lack of athletic pretensions, even the base Golf manages to rise above the appliance status that occasionally plagues affordable cars, delivering respectable handling combined with a suspension system that is relatively conversant through the steering wheel. It's not so much that that VW Golf encourages you to flog it through the corners, but rather that its quiet confidence imparts the sensation that you are piloting a well-engineered mile-eater that doesn't shy away from long-distance driving, something that can't necessarily be said about other entries in the segment focused more on cost than comfort.
This impression is further bolstered by the 1.8-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that comes standard with the car. Good for 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque when equipped with its optional 6-speed automatic transmission (and restricted to 184 lb-ft should you stick with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox), there's no lag from when the throttle is mashed to when the speedometer starts to climb. Most of the 4-cylinder's grunt is delivered relatively low in the rpm range, too, allowing the Golf to loaf around town as thought it were equipped with a much larger motor.
There appears to be no ready solution to the problems surrounding the TDI.
Fuel efficiency is decent for the hatchback - showing as 8.0 L/100 km in combined driving - but with the absence of the TDI turbodiesel model from showrooms due to last year's still-unsolved emissions woes, Volkswagen can no longer claim the Golf as a class-leading fuel-sipper. There appears to be no ready solution to the problems surrounding the TDI, which represented a huge proportion of Golf sales in the period leading up to its withdrawal from the market.
If you're more interested in dialling up turbo boost than ramping down your monthly fuel bill, then the GTI edition of the Volkswagen Golf is a good bet. Not only does the Golf GTI graduate to a 2.0-liter turbo four that can produce 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but in addition it features a significantly stiffer chassis that's designed to amplify the hatch's already-pleasing dynamics. The GTI also happens to be relatively affordable, as fun-to-drive compact cars go, and sacrifices almost none of the comfort and quiet that come with the standard version of the Volkswagen. Should the GTI prove too slow, there's also the Golf R, a 292 hp all-wheel drive rocket that significantly boosts performance (as well as the VW's purchase price). Like the GTI, it offers the choice between either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
There is certainly no shortage of competitors when shopping for a small hatchback - and in recent years, the battle between car companies for the attentions budget-conscious buyers has reached a fever pitch as automakers continue to load even affordable models with high tech goodies such as touchscreen infotainment systems (the Golf has two available measuring 5 and 6.3 inches, respectively), advanced safety equipment (like the forward collision warning with automatic braking, blind spot monitoring, and lane departure warning systems offered by Volkswagen), and increasingly thrifty engines. Even formerly staid vehicles like the Kia Rio are lining up alongside the Ford Focus, Mazda Mazda3, and the upcoming Honda Civic hatch to tempt first-time shoppers and deal-hunters alike. The 2017 Volkswagen Golf remains a compelling option in the compact segment, and while it may have lost the second half of its one-two punch with the elimination of the TDI model, the GTI and Golf R are still big-time draws for thrill-seekers that add further prestige to the Golf brand.
Photographs: Benjamin Hunting