A lot of people grimace at the thought of spending a lot of time in economy cars; after all, these pipsqueaks sure aren't Cadillacs. The Golf, though, pleasantly surprises with its comfort and competence. On the open road, it rides soft, yet avoids coming off as floaty. The steering is as precise as the handling, and the result is a car that has a very natural and organic feel when cornering. The whole package is cohesive, and also quite continental. The Germans did not try to dull down their trademark fastidiousness, even for VW's most affordable car.
Interestingly, the five speed manual and six-speed auto both use nearly the same gear ratio for their tallest cog: .66 for the stick-shift and .67 for the automatic. The manual also uses a taller final-drive ratio of 3.39, compared to the self-shifting unit's 3.87 rear end. This means that even though it is down a gear compared to the automatic, the gearing of the stick-shift will actually allow the engine to rev at lower engine speeds at a highway pace. For warriors of the interstate, this will make those long 65 mph slogs more comfortable.
So what then is the point of the automatic's additional sixth gear, if not to provide a steeper overdrive? Well, compared to the manual, Volkswagen uses different, shorter ratios for the automatic's lower cogs. This translates to faster off-the-line response and sharper reactions at around-town speeds compared to the manual. Ultimately, buyers may be better off with the five-speed if they do more highway driving than city driving, while the automatic should be snappier and more responsive around the local two-lanes.