Completely redesigned for 2015, the Volkswagen Golf lineup has become one of the most expansive families of compact hatchbacks extant, with three- and five-door body styles and multiple sources of power. Bigger, lighter and more powerful, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf marks the beginning of the seventh generation of these compact, front-wheel-drive cars.
It adds up to a 2015 Golf line that's collected several honors, including the prestigious 2015 North American Car of the Year award.
Although hatchbacks aren't as popular as sedans in the U.S., Volkswagen sees the 2015 Golf lineup as the core of its brand worldwide, and as such, has spawned a number of variants and powertrains: The 2015 Golf lineup made its debut with the gasoline-powered Golf TSI and peppy Golf GTI models, in two- and four-door hatchback body styles. Also available is the four-door Golf TDI with efficient diesel power. These were followed by the all-electric e-Golf, the high-performance Golf R, and most recently the roomy 2015 Golf SportWagen.
All share the same architecture, VW's new front-wheel-drive MQB platform, although the SportWagen departs slightly from the hatchback formula with a more traditional station wagon body style.
All gasoline-powered 2015 Golf models use an updated version of VW's 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque in the standard model. And while other carmakers seem to be dropping manual transmissions, Volkswagen keeps its standard 5-speed manual as well as an optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated 26/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.
Whether in two- or four-door styles, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf is fun to drive, with a ride that's firm but still comfortable.
The diesel-powered 2015 Golf TDI uses an updated version of VW's turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed DSG automated manual transmission, a la the one available in the GTI and Golf R. The TDI is smooth and quiet, and achieves excellent fuel economy, as expected from a diesel: 31/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
Volkswagen dropped the starting price of the 2015 Golf TDI by more than $3,000 compared with the previous-generation 2014 model, but not without compromises. For one, the Golf TDI loses its sportier (and more expensive) multi-link rear suspension in favor of a less sophisticated torsion beam rear axle, which we found to be less composed on the road. On the plus side, the new packaging allows more luggage space than before, bringing total cargo capacity in line with other 2015 Golf models.
The 2015 Volkswagen GTI, the car that inspired the hot hatchback phenomenon in 1975, is better than ever with its 210-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged power plant, bigger brakes, sport-tuned suspension and precise steering. A new performance package adds 10 hp, plus even more agility and grip thanks to an electronically controlled electronic slip differential. Fuel economy slips a bit compared to the standard Golf, to 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg with the automatic.
Yet another variation on the same 2.0-liter turbo, the new 2015 Golf R version generates 292 hp and 280 lb.-ft., 36 hp and 37 lb.-ft. more than the previous model. It's EPA rated for 23/30 mpg City/Highway, an improvement of 3 miles per gallon over the previous-generation Golf R. Both of the turbocharged engines require Premium gasoline, whereas the standard Golf versions burn Regular gas.
Underneath all these models lies a new architecture, which is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of powertrains and body shapes from the ground-up, instead of forcing engineers to shoehorn in modifications that can take up space (including the battery pack in the electric e-Golf).
Inside, all 2015 Golf models get comfortable seats, a tasteful interior with thoughtfully placed controls, a new standard touchscreen and plenty of space for people and cargo. We found even the tallest drivers are comfortable in the back seat, with ample headroom and sufficient legroom. Cargo space measures 22.8 cubic feet, and the Golf's boxier shape allows stuff to be stacked nearly all the way to the roof.
Competitors to the 2015 Volkswagen Golf include hatchback versions of the Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Mazda3, and the Hyundai Elantra GT. Alternatives to the GTI include the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si. The only hatchback rival to the 2015 Golf R is its more expensive cousin, the Audi S3, though a hotter Ford Focus is due for the 2016 model year. Golf TDI models are in a class by themselves; those looking for diesel power would have to go to a four-door sedan like the Chevrolet Cruze diesel or step up to a more expensive luxury vehicle like the BMW 328d SportWagen.
Golf Launch Edition ($17,995) comes only in the 2-door body style with a 5-speed manual transmission. Standard features include manually operated air conditioning, cloth upholstery, power windows/door locks/outside mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, manually adjustable seats with lumbar, Bluetooth connectivity, touch screen display, audio system with CD player, satellite radio capability and iPod integration, rear wiper, split folding rear seats with center armrest and pass-through, dual exhaust tips and 15-inch steel wheels.
Golf S is available as a 2-door with a 5-speed manual transmission ($18,995) or with a 6-speed automatic ($20,095), or as a 4-door body style with automatic ($20,695). Standard features in addition to above include leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls, leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, cruise control and VW Car-Net connected features. Wheels are 15-inch alloys. Four-door Golf S models are available with a power sunroof.
Golf SE ($24,495) is available only as a 4-door model and comes with the 6-speed automatic transmission, heated front seats, Fender premium audio system, rain-sensing headlights, heated front washer nozzles, automatic headlights, front foglights and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Golf SEL ($26,995) comes exclusively in the 4-door style with the automatic transmission and adds automatic climate control, keyless entry, pushbutton start, sport comfort seats with 12-way power driver's seat, ambient lighting with LED interior reading lights and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Golf TDI models are available in the four-door body style only and are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. Golf TDI S models include all standard features found on Golf S, with a choice of either a 5-speed manual ($21,995) or a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission ($23,095).
Golf TDI SE models can be equipped with a 6-speed manual ($25,495) or DSG ($26,595) and add the Fender premium audio system, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front foglights, rearview camera, heated front washer nozzles a power sunroof and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Golf TDI SEL manual ($27,995) and DSG ($29,995) trims add automatic climate control, keyless entry, pushbutton start, sport comfort seats with 12-way power driver's seat, ambient lighting with LED interior reading lights and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Options include the Driver Assistance Package ($695), which adds front and rear parking sensors and forward collision warning.
GTI models are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that produces 210 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It's available in a 2-door body style with a 6-speed manual ($24,395) or 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual, or DSG ($24,995), or as a 4-door with the same manual ($25,495) or DSG ($26,095) gearboxes. Standard features on the GTI include manually operated air conditioning, cloth upholstery, manually adjustable seats with lumbar support (4-door models get partial power front seats), power windows/door locks/outside mirrors, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls, leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, ambient lighting with LED reading lights, adjustable driving modes, cruise control, touchscreen display, audio system with CD player, satellite radio capability and iPod interface, Bluetooth connectivity, VW Car-Net connected services, split-folding rear seats with center armrest and pass-through, a lowered sport suspension, dual chrome-look exhaust tips, rear spoiler, red brake calipers and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Golf GTI SE 2-door manual ($27,395), 2-door automatic ($28,495), 4-door manual ($27,995) and 4-door automatic ($29,095) add leather upholstery, keyless entry, pushbutton start, the Fender premium audio system, a power sunroof, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights. Four door models get partial power seats. Golf GTI Autobahn manual ($29,595) and automatic ($30,695) models add automatic climate control, a 12-way power driver's seat and navigation.
Options for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI include a Performance Package ($1,495), which bumps up horsepower by 10 hp for a total of 220 hp and adds larger brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential which electronically adjusts power to wheels while cornering for increased grip.
The e-Golf ($35,445) is propelled by an AC synchronous electric motor (115 hp, 199 lb-ft), mated to a single speed transmission. Its equipment includes all the features, standard and optional, available in the 2015 Golf, as well as 16-inch aluminum wheels, LED headlights, a first for the line, and low rolling resistance tires. Maximum range per charge is rated as 83 miles, according to VW, and the EPA's fuel efficiency equivalency is 126 miles city, 105 miles highway. Availability is limited, initially, to the 10 states subscribing to the zero emission sales mandate established by the California Air Resources Board.
Golf R ($36,595) includes a 292-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine, all-wheel drive, sports suspension, lower ride height, performance summer tires, DSG automated manual transmission, heated leather seats. A DCC option package includes a sophisticated adaptive damping system, bigger brakes, 19-inch wheels, more aggressive tires, and navigation, boosting the price to $39,090. VW plans to make a manual transmission available in mid-2015 as a 2016 model.
Safety equipment on all models includes dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side impact airbags, side air curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, electronic stability control and hill-hold assist.
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The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is both sophisticated and fun, with European road manners that make it pleasurable to drive around town and on the highway. Though all 2015 Golf models use four-cylinder engines, there is ample power for most driving needs.
Golf TSI models use an updated version of VW's 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. We found the Golf TSI with the automatic transmission delivered smooth acceleration and shifts were timely. There was a brief moment of hesitation at tip-in, followed by ample thrust, a common downside for many newer cars tuned to maximize fuel economy. In Sport mode, the transmission holds gears longer, providing plenty of thrust during a test drive through the hilly roads of Northern California. The ride is firmly sprung in Golf TSI models, but not uncomfortable. Rebound is smooth and quick when going over train tracks and potholes. Over rougher roads, its multi-link rear suspension helps keep everything in check. Fuel economy for Golf TSI is 26/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, according to EPA estimates.
Golf TDI models use a revised version of VW's turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. We found the Golf TDI exceptionally quiet on startup, and the clattering typical of its diesel engine was only obvious when driving at low-to-moderate speeds on demanding roads. With the 6-speed manual transmission, clutch engagement was smooth and shift throws were comfortable, but the cable shift linkage felt soft. The Golf TDI didn't seem tractable at very low speeds; in other words, we often needed to downshift to first gear at parking-lot speeds where in many cars second gear would suffice. We also felt caught between second and third gears at moderate speeds on winding uphill roads: the engine whirred along at the top of its limits in second, but failed to provide enough torque (oomph) in third. As a result, we found ourselves shifting back and forth around nearly every turn. If you like the driver engagement of a manual, this car will give you that and then some. If not, opt for the automatic with the TDI. To create more trunk space (and perhaps to cut costs), Golf TDI models no longer have the sportier and more expensive multi-link rear suspension found on other Golf models. Instead, Golf TDI models use a less sophisticated torsion-beam rear suspension. Driving around town, the difference was negligible, but we found the Golf TDI became unsettled and was much less composed around hard corners and on uneven, undulating surfaces than the other Golf models. While it may not deliver the best ride quality of the lineup, the Golf TDI excels in fuel economy, with 31/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
Golf's brakes work well on all the models we drove. On the previous-generation (pre-2015) Golf, we dug into the brake pedal repeatedly on Germany's Autobahn to slow down from triple-digit speeds. This time, though our drive was at much lower speeds, we felt just as confident. Pedal feel is solid, and braking feels stable.
Golf GTI is sporty yet refined, with its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 210 hp and a hearty 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Not only is the GTI more powerful than before, it's also about 80 pounds lighter, which makes the GTI feel plenty zippy around town and on the highway. Suspension in the GTI is firmer and feels flatter through the corners than the standard Golf, which makes it more comfortable for aggressive driving. An optional Performance Package for the GTI boosts output to 220 horsepower and adds bigger brakes and a new torque-sensing electronically controlled limited-slip differential. As its description suggests, the limited-slip differential improves stability and grip via electronic means, rather than mechanical. The variable assist electric steering in the GTI feels a little heavy at speed, which will satisfy those who equate high steering effort with sportiness. It's also quick, at 2.2 turns from lock to lock, and exceptionally accurate by the standard of these new electric steering systems. The exhaust note on the GTI is satisfying, and one can hear it adequately through the cabin, though it has quite a bit of competition in the form of road and tire noise. In fact, we found the GTI so noisy at highway speeds, we had to considerably raise our voices to converse. Fuel economy for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is rated at 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.
The e-Golf, as expected, is exceptionally quiet. And with a single-speed transmission there's no shifting. Aside from that, though, it has the same Euro feel, response, and firm ride quality as a standard Golf. There are three operating modes, Normal, Eco, and Eco+, which successively reduce power and limit top speed, from a maximum of 87 mph to 56 mph. Presumably, operating judiciously in Eco+ will yield the e-Golf's maximum range on a single charge: 83 miles. But we weren't able to spend enough time with the car to verify that.
Golf R is the family rocket. Thanks to all-wheel drive traction and the lightning upshifts delivered by the DSG paddles, VW claims the Golf R can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, but it felt quicker than that to us. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, and it's a good bet the Golf R will get to that velocity pretty quick. However, the real virtue here is dynamic. The Golf R ups the ante on the GTI's cornering limits, inspiring driver confidence in some very high speed curves, and the firmer suspension all but eliminates body roll, particularly with the optional DCC auto adjusting damping. Beyond that, the braking is formidable: never a hint of fade. We found we could brake as hard and as often as we liked. Volkswagen calls the Golf R the fastest car it has ever brought to the U.S. After a short afternoon with this compact rocket, we have no reason to doubt it.
Completely redesigned for 2015, the Volkswagen Golf is a versatile, fun-to-drive car available in a variety of body styles and powertrains. Golf TSI offers German refinement at Honda prices. Golf TDI achieves excellent fuel economy and has more cargo space than before, though ride quality is slightly compromised. Golf GTI is sporty yet refined, with increased power and less weight over its predecessor. Golf R adds even more power and agility. The e-Golf provides an answer for drivers who value the firm feel and response of a European car but want to bypass gas stations.
NewCarTestDrive.com senior correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report after her test drives of the Volkswagen Golf, TDI, GTI in San Francisco. NCTD founding editor Tony Swan added impressions of the Golf R and e-Golf based on drives in Southern California and Virginia, respectively.