Since Giorgetto Guigiaro first penned the lines of the original iteration back in 1975, the Volkswagen Golf has been a perennial favorite with the compact crowd. It's practical, well-built, and boasts a certain athleticism for which it has consistently earned top marks.

Best Value

Of the two trims offered, the uplevel SE is the more sensible choice. It costs another $2,745 over the base S trim, but includes numerous additional features that buyers would be remiss to pass up.

The additional fripperies include an eight-inch touchscreen, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, and additional safety features such as rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors. Other than color, the only choice buyers have in outfitting their Golf is deciding whether to shift for themselves or not.

As most buyers prefer the ease and convenience of an automatic, we recommend checking the box for the $1,100 six-speed auto. Doing so also wrings 15 more lb-ft of torque from the engine, bringing the total to 199. Beyond the gearbox, there are no additional options available for the 2018 Golf.

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Golf SE
  • Engine: 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder
  • Output: 170 hp / 199 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive
  • MPG: 24 city / 33 hwy
  • Options: Automatic transmission ($1,100)
  • Base Price:$24,505 (includes $850 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$25,605

Performance

Volkswagen Golf

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.

Style

Evolution, rather than revolution, has been the guiding principle for the Volkswagen designers tasked with styling the Golf's sheetmetal. There is little here that is exciting, inspiring, or even distinct; Guigiaro would quickly recognize the seventh generation of his groundbreaking people mover.

Inside, the story of unpretentious practicality continues. The center stack is canted toward the driver, making it easier to use the infotainment system and climate control. Buttons and controls are logically placed; trying to lower the volume but accidentally shifting into neutral instead will never be an issue.

In the S, buyers will have cloth seats and a 6.5-inch touchscreen, while SE buyers get eight inches of screen real estate and leatherette upholstery. Both seating surfaces make for comfortable thrones while fiddling with either infotainment system. Though there's nothing wrong with the 6.5-inch version, the SE's eight-inch unit has a faster interface and is intuitive and easy to use.

Second-row legroom is adequate for adults on short journeys, while the Golf's two-box shape makes for a roomy cargo hold. If you need more space, Volkswagen also sells a longer Golf Sportwagen that promises even more practicality.

The Best and Worst Things

Practicality is the Golf's strong suit. The boxy, upright shape means that there is 23 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats, and 53 cubes when those seats are laid flat. Unfortunately, that same boxy shape makes for a design that might be a bit too anonymous, especially when considering that the Golf is a bit pricey compared to other competing hatches.

Right For?

Volkswagen Golf

Buyers who appreciate a fine-handling automobile but need more cargo space than a Miata or Mustang (and don't want to splurge on the related GTI) would do well with a Golf.

Wrong For?

Those with families or who haul a lot of passengers will want to look elsewhere. This is, after all, a compact car, and wrestling in a bulky car seat or putting three people abreast in the back will make for an unpleasant experience.

The Bottom Line

The Golf is a vehicle that has been continuously honing its mastery of the compact segment for over forty years. The result of that multi-decade pursuit of perfection shines through in the 2018 models, which are practical, efficient, and comfortable daily drivers that outhaul competitors and also outshine them on the road. In short, the current car has not only retained the ethos of the original, but has managed to tailor it for today's expectations – and that is why the Golf is still an excellent choice.