Class: Compact Car
Miles driven: 345
Fuel used: 11.3 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 31.2 mpg
Driving mix: 55% city, 45% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 25/34/29 (city/highway/combined)
|CG Report Card|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Room and Comfort||B|
|Power and Performance||C+|
|Fit and Finish||B|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
Base price: $20,910 (not including $850 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: None
Price as tested: $21,760
The great: Build quality, control layout, dollar value
The good: Passenger and cargo space; smooth-shifting manual transmission
The not so good: Rear-corner visibility, engine needs fairly high rpm for decent acceleration
Here is one Golf lesson that has nothing to do with stance or backswing: Even in its simplest form, Volkswagen’s compact hatchback is a pleasing and handy car.
The core Golf lineup is pared down to just two trim levels for 2018: the S with a starting price of $20,910, and the SE that lists for $23,655. (The limited-availability electric e-Golf and the performance-oriented GTI and R models are continued, but at considerably higher prices.) Consumer Guide® got to sample an S uncluttered by so much as a single option.
If you must have a sunroof, satellite radio, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, push-button starting, and various safety monitors, then you’ll want the “country club” Golf SE. If you don’t mind sitting on cloth seats, turning a key to start, and driving defensively, then you won’t flinch at inhabiting the “public course” S.
The fundamental starting points for both of these 4-door front-wheel-drive hatches are a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, fully independent suspension with front MacPherson struts and 4-link rear geometry, and 4-wheel disc brakes. Standard functional features include variable-assist electromechanical power steering, 15-inch alloy wheels (16 on SE), rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic halogen headlights, LED taillights, heated power-adjusted side mirrors with integral turn signals, and an adjustable cargo floor. Essential interior appointments and conveniences consist of a manual climate system with pollen filter, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and gearshift knob, tilt/telescoping steering column, 6-way partial power-adjustable front seats, adjustable console armrest, and twin illuminated visor vanity mirrors. Tech and connectivity items run to an AM/FM radio with a 6.5-inch color touchscreen (8-inch screen with HD radio and CD player in SE), multifunction trip computer, Bluetooth audio streaming for compatible devices, VW Car-Net app interface, a USB port, and three 12-volt power outlets.
The direct-injection twin-camshaft engine is carried over at 170 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm—though torque output rises to 199 lb-ft in cars equipped with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Most folks will shell out the $1100 asked for the autobox, but then they’ll miss out on the fun of rowing through a 5-speed gearbox that’s a simple joy to use. The shifter slips smoothly from gate to gate without a stumble, and the light and easily modulated clutch makes any 3-pedal driver an Astaire of the road. The engine, however, is a little less spirit lifting. It keeps up just fine when cruising the highway, but it takes a patient and steady foot on the throttle and a run through the gears to reach that point. A moderate amount of downshifting helps to keep the Golf S happy around town.
At least the engine isn’t particularly noisy—or thirsty. This driver posted 30.26 mpg from a test turn of 192.4 miles, 51 percent of which was covered in city-type driving. That actually exceeds the EPA’s combined-mileage estimate of 29 mpg. (The agency’s respective city- and highway-use projections are 25 and 34 mpg.) Steering is fairly direct and weighted for light, nimble operation. Body lean and “plowing” are kept in check to a good degree in cornering. Braking is quick and clean. Meanwhile, ride remains nicely composed, even when the pavement sometimes isn’t.
Four adult passengers enjoy plenty of headroom regardless of where they sit. Six-footers will find enough legroom to be comfortable in back—but probably only if the driver and/or front passenger are a little shorter than they are. Over-the-shoulder driver vision to the rear corners suffers because of wide roof pillars, though the view elsewhere—including straight back—is quite clear.
The Titan Black cloth seats in the test car offered good support and comfort, and were attractively patterned with a perforated look. The tops of the front doors are lightly padded, like some of the dash, but rear doors have grained plastic in this area. Armrests and door centers have soft-to-the-touch surfaces, and, curiously, storage pockets in all four doors have “mouse-fur” lining that belies the budget-model role of the Golf S. Other storage spaces include a decently sized glove box, small console box (with the USB and a power point inside), pouches on the backs of the front seats, and dual cup holders in the console and pull-down center armrest in the back seat.
Volkswagen infotainment systems tend to be easy to understand and use, none more so than the S’s very basic unit sans bells and whistles. Three-dial climate controls make quick work of selecting settings for temperature and fan speed, and cut down on the number of push buttons needed for system functions.
Cargo space behind the rear seat is wide and flat-floored (though it can be set at two levels, with the floor dropped to handle taller items). The area is about as big as in some small crossovers. Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, dropping almost flat. The wider right-side portion of the seat contains the pull-down center armrest, which fronts a pass-through hatch for long, narrow items.
To attain its low price, the Golf S clearly skimps on the number of features it includes, but it doesn’t stint on build quality or solidity. If your needs are simple but your standards are high, this is one Golf to play around with.
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