The Volkswagen Golf is all-new for 2010. The Rabbit is gone. Volkswagen is rejuvenating its price leader, not only with the restoration of the Golf name, but also with the return of a diesel engine that's more powerful and more responsive and available to buyers in all 50 states.
The all-new 2010 Volkswagen Golf comes in two-door and four-door body styles, and it's available with a highly efficient TDI diesel or a less-expensive gasoline engine.
There's a new transmission for the 2010 Golf, too. Available only on the diesel model, aka the TDI for turbocharged direct injection, this is a six speed, automated manual, aka the DSG for Direct Shift Gearbox. Utilizing a technology heretofore available only on pricier sporty sedans and high end sports cars, the DSG uses an automated twin clutch setup that engages and disengages gears without the driver having to operate a clutch pedal. Alternatively, much like the Tiptronic automatic that's optional on the 2.5-liter Golf, the DSG permits the driver manually to select the gears, which is pretty much the best of two worlds: the efficiency of a manual transmission but the convenience of an automatic.
Also new for the 2010 Golf is a restyled body, with a sportier grille, sleeker flanks and stylish rear fascia. The 2010 Volkswagen Golf comes in two body styles, a two door and a four door. Both seat five.
The standard 2.5-liter five-cylinder puts out a very usable 170 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 177 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard on the two-door model, and a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic is standard on the four-door. The 2.5-liter gets an EPA-estimated 22/30 mpg City/Highway, or 23/30 mpg with the six-speed Tiptronic. The manual offers better performance, able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, compared with an 8.1 second run for the automatic.
The 2.0-liter TDI diesel produces 140 horsepower at 4000 rpm, and an impressive 236 pound-feet of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm. Note the diesel offers substantially more torque than the gas engine and that this is available at much lower rpm. Torque is that force that propels you from intersections and up hills. This translates to responsive performance around town from the TDI, doing the kind of driving most of us do most of the time. The TDI comes standard with a six speed manual, optional with a six speed, dual clutch, automated manual, called the Direct Shift Gearbox, or DSG. The TDI gets an EPA-estimated 30/41 mpg City/Highway (30/42 with the DSG) and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds.
Changes for 2010 inside are minor but in keeping with the marque's commitment to function tempered by form. The only upholstery is cloth, but there are three sound systems, the premium system integrated into a touch-screen navigation system.
All these changes, major and subtle, package well into a cleanly refreshed, fuel efficient, Autobahn-validated, reborn Golf that's better than what has come before while faithful to its heritage.
A VW Golf is a VW Rabbit is a VW Golf. Save for rounding off once squared fenders and roof lines and tweaking the grille styling and the brake light arrangement, Volkswagen has shown remarkable, some might argue unremarkable, fealty to the model's styling cues though all of its six generations. Body proportions, for instance, have remained stoically the same, which, while perhaps boring, isn't necessarily bad, as it ensures a continuum of recognition for the marque's price leader. Still, a little inspiration here and there might not terminally damage the Golf's legacy.
Headlights are rounder than the car's previous iteration, the 2008 Rabbit, and bookend a wider, thinner, two bar grille sans any separating sheetmetal. The grille is blacked out, where the predecessor's was painted body color. Likewise, the lower air intake spans the width of the car, with a fuller, richer looking bumper no longer demeaned by low ball black rubber protector strips scarring the corners of that earlier model's fascia.
Side body panels are more sculpted, with a sharply creased rocker panel outline across the lower portion. The stylists did a decent job of giving the C pillar (the body panel behind the rear most side window) a consistent shape and proportion on the 2 door and 4 door, given the reality of both cars sharing the same wheelbase (distance between front and rear tires) and being equal in overall length. A clearly defined character line tracks rearward from the top of the front fender blister all the way to the upper taillight element, giving the rear fenders a hint of a shoulder. Wheelwells encircle the tires leaving the barest of gaps, visually pulling the car down onto the pavement. Minimalist door handles are snug for hands wearing anything larger than medium size gloves. Gaps between body panels are pencil thin, which suggest high-quality construction.
The rear of the new 2010 Golf keeps the faith, avoiding anything new or striking in its styling. It is a hatchback, after all, and there's little in the way of excitement that can be done within that limitation. Taillight housings mirror the ovoid shape of the headlights, boosting the rear fenders' shoulder look the aforementioned side body panel character line establishes. The wrap around rear window glass fills the top of the lift gate. An outsized, round VW logo parked in the middle between the taillights doubles as the lever for opening the liftgate.
The TDI is distinguished from the 2.5-liter gas model by an eponymous chrome logo beneath the right taillight, balancing the chrome GOLF logo both cars wear below the left taillight. An indent in the rear bumper houses the license plate. A flat black extractor like panel minimizes the visual mass of the rear bumper.
Inside, the 2010 Golf shows a not surprising Teutonic dedication to an almost austere functionality. Brightwork is confined to touches on steering wheel spokes, around air registers, door handles and tasteful outlines on various knobs and the shifting gear. Textures give good touch. A contrasting silver ish strip separates top and bottom dash sections and dresses the uppermost element of the door trim panels. Completing the Bauhaus-ian theme is the cloth upholstery, to which the Golf offers no option.
The Golf feels roomier than it looks, and it is, actually, equaling or at least competitive with the other major players in its niche. This includes, interestingly, the Chevrolet Cobalt, a car generally perceived to be larger than the Golf, which it betters everywhere, including trunk space by a smidgen more than one 1 foot square cardboard box; about the same holds true for the Focus, while the Civic's trunk holds three fewer foot-square boxes. Other notable differences are that the Ford Focus offers more rear seat legroom than the Golf, by a tick more than a half inch, while the Honda Civic coupe trails the Golf coupe in rear seat headroom by more than three inches.
Front seats are comfortable and easy on the ingress and egress, despite their sport appellations. That latter, though, is welcome when exploring the Golf's relatively high handling limits, as is the grippy cloth upholstery. The eight way adjustable driver's seat works well with the tilt and telescope steering wheel to allow all but the tallest and the most stout drivers a nearly perfect triangulation with steering wheel, pedals and shift lever. Gravy, and much appreciated by the front seat passenger, is the eight way adjustability in that seat, too.
Air conditioning and sound system controls are comfortably basic in shape, size and duty. Knobs and buttons handle the essential operations. Selections the nav system's touch screen permits while the car is in motion appear in large, finger friendly, virtual buttons that require only a flash glance by the driver to identify their assigned duties and then can be manipulated in the driver's peripheral field of vision.
As for visibility generally, that aforementioned C-pillar is about the only negative. It's just thick enough to catch the driver's eye in those last fleeting moments before a quick lane change. Otherwise, the rear quarter vision is on par with visibility out front and out back, which is excellent for a car this size.
Driving a car where and how it was designed to be driven is ideal for exploring its capabilities, and its limits. In this instance, Germany's Autobahnen are both the proving ground and the everyday environment. And for a car this size, and with these powertrains, the Golf excels, easily cruising for kilometer after kilometer with the speedometer needle solidly in the low three digits. Wind noise, even at those seriously elevated speeds, was well muted; the most remarkable road-sourced sound, in fact, was the hiss of rainwater on the interior of the wheelwells.
Brakes are super critical in the Autobahn environment, too, given the propensity of the continent's version of a big rig or of a Trabant like subcompact to flick on the indicator lights and abruptly pull out into the fast lane. We found the brakes proved their worth, dragging the Golf down from triple-digit speeds to what felt like a snail's pace, 60 mph or so, time after time with zero drama. Pedal feel was solid throughout, as was the Golf's directional stability.
We found the Golf accelerates briskly with the standard 2.5-liter. Volkswagen claims a 0 60 mph time of 7.8 seconds for the five speed manual, 8.1 seconds for the six speed automatic. At highway speeds, the engine readily answered the gas pedal, even including at Autobahn rates until it ran out of steam around an indicated 122 mph (it's electronically limited to 125 mph). The manual transmission's five speeds are really all that's needed for everyday driving. Clutch engagement is smooth. Shift throws are comfortable, the linkage certain in its gear selection.
The Tiptronic delivers smooth transitions between gears whether left to its own or rowed by the driver.
Steering response is confident, if not markedly crisp. Handling in corners was mostly neutral, with understeer (where the car wants to go straight when the driver wants it to run) the dominant at the limit mode. The only shortfall in the ride will be a tendency, associated with all cars with a relative short wheelbase like the Golf, of the suspension to lope over pavement heaves common to the U.S.'s concrete roadways.
For people who've missed the opportunity to drive a car with a diesel engine operating with today's sophisticated technology, the TDI with its 2.0-liter diesel engine will be a pleasant surprise. It takes about a second longer to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, a significant difference. Performance is comparable with either the standard six speed manual or the optional six speed DSG transmission. On urban freeways, throttle response was quick and linear, with little hint of turbo lag and the engine pulling strongly well past legal U.S. speeds, thanks to the diesel's hefty torque curve, although not as lively as the 2.5 liter much beyond 110 mph. The manual has two or three more gears than the diesel needs, thanks to its hefty torque curve. The DSG, however, is more than merely an automated manual. With one or the other of its dual clutches always engaged, it almost instantaneous shifts as slick as, or even slicker than a full automatic, making full use of its six speeds to produce a seamless delivery of optimized power to the front tires. The TDI model's 17 inch wheels wear lower profile tires and deliver more certain turn in. While handling is basically neutral, understeer appears in the TDI at the limit, which again is a bit higher than the limit of the 2.5-liter model.
Given the different worlds for which the Golf and its competition have been designed, the latter don't always feel as confidant at the absolute extremes of their respective performance envelops. The Cobalt's suspension, for example, is less sophisticated and not as balanced; where the Golf's thumps over broken pavement, the Cobalt's thuds and sometimes clunks. The Civic's ride and handling is comparable, if not showing quite the same confidence when pushed as hard. The Focus has more body lean in hard cornering, in part due to the narrower track (the distance between the tires side to side), by as much as two inches.
The new Golf splits the difference in fuel economy. The TDI, no surprise, tops them all, by as much as 9 miles per gallon in EPA's city test, against the Civic, and 13 mpg in the highway estimate, also against the Civic. The 2.5 liter gas engine also betters the Civic in the city rating but trails the Cobalt and the Focus in both, by as much as three mpg in the city, against the Cobalt, and as much as seven mpg in the highway, also against the Cobalt.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf heralds the return of a diesel to the German carmaker's U.S. line. But this isn't the same oil burner the car came with during the troubled interim reign of its oddly named identical twin, the Rabbit. The only obvious telltale of this version is a well muted ticking from the more powerful, more responsive and fuel frugal sparkless engine. The new Golf is definitely a fun drive, especially the TDI, if not quite an exciting one; it's no sports car, but the Golf presses up against the entry bar for a sports sedan.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Wolfsburg, Dresden and Berlin, Germany.
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