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2017 Volkswagen Golf Overview
The Volkswagen Golf's well-received seventh generation debuted in 2014. As the compact hatchback awaits a mid-generation refresh in 2018, it essentially idles for 2017, receiving no new features or updates. However, to mark time, VW adds a new Wolfsburg Edition trim to the Golf's lineup, giving current buyers something new to look at in showrooms. Named after the German city in which VW is headquartered, the Wolfsburg Edition has a long history with the Golf, and it's one of several similar special editions--all with the same name--being added to the trim lineups of other VW vehicles this year, including the Tiguan and Touareg SUVs.
As in previous years, VW offers the Golf in both 2- and 4-door hatchback body styles and in S, SE, and SEL trim levels, with the most common being the S and SE 4-door hatchbacks. The Wolfsburg Edition slots into the lineup above the S trim and adds a number of upscale features to the standard package, including leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, push-button start, a sunroof, and forward-collision warning and blind-spot alert systems. Outside, it also gets automatic headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and 16-inch aluminum wheels, along with Wolfsburg Edition badging.
While the base Golf isn't VW's bestselling vehicle (that would be the Jetta), or even the bestselling Golf variant (that would be the Golf GTI), the Golf, like the Beetle, is often synonymous with VW, since both vehicles helped establish the automaker's reputation, although in different eras. The Golf traces its history back to the mid-1970s, when it was initially known as the Rabbit in the U.S. Since then, VW has continued to refine the Golf through subsequent generations, making improvements while maintaining the vehicle's appeal as an affordable family hatchback.
To get a general sense of the Golf's ongoing competence, versatility, and build quality, consider the fact that it has now made Car and Driver's 10 Best Cars list for 10 years in a row, including for the 2016 model year. That's certainly an impressive feat, and while the German automaker has taken its dings recently due to the diesel emissions scandal, which continues to plague the company and depress sales, the Golf chugs merrily along, a truly established world car with a long history, near-legendary status, and a large base of loyal fans who appreciate the car's European styling, mechanics, safety features, roominess, and overall feel. All those attributes carry over to 2017.
Ride and handling continue to be among the Golf's strongest features, according to owners and reviewers. The front-wheel-drive chassis, Servotronic rack-and-pinion steering, and well-tuned independent suspension deliver precise, agile handling, as well as a comfortable ride, although some reviewers note a certain amount of body lean in tight corners. Overall, however, the compact hatchback remains a fun and competent car to drive.
As in previous years, base power comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, which debuted with the seventh generation in 2014. It delivers a capable 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque and links to a standard 5-speed manual transmission on the S trim, with an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with the Tiptronic manual-shift feature and a Sport mode for more spirited driving. SE and SEL trims receive the automatic as standard equipment. On the base S trim, the engine posts decent fuel-economy numbers of 25 mpg city/37 highway/30 combined with the automatic. The numbers drop slightly, to 25/36/30, for the SE and SEL trims.
The turbocharged powerplant gives the Golf plenty of get-up-and-go. The engine provides good acceleration from a standstill and delivers a little extra pop at highway speeds, although some reviewers note turbo lag at times. The manual transmission needs updating in the next year or two, reviewers say, but the automatic generally performs well. Buyers seeking more powerful or more fuel-efficient powerplants can turn to other versions of the Golf, including the gas-powered, performance-oriented Golf R and Golf GTI, or the electric e-Golf. VW halted sales of the TDI diesel version of the Golf in 2015, due to the emissions issue, and continues to delay sales until new tests and certifications are completed.
Inside, the 5-passenger Golf gets high marks for its smart design and quality materials. Soft-touch surfaces, comfortable seats, good ergonomics, and attractive interior trim give the cabin an upscale feel, while the angled dash puts controls and tech features within easy reach of the driver. Both rows of seats offer plenty of headroom and legroom and, along with numerous storage spaces located throughout the cabin, help make the Golf feel larger than the compact car it is.
Cargo space is generous for the class, checking in at 22.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up and expanding to 52.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. By comparison, the Ford Focus hatchback offers up to 44.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seats down, while the Mazda Mazda3 hatchback offers up to 47 cubic feet. Only the Kia Soul offers more overall space than the Golf, at 61.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. The Golf's rear seats fold flat for additional versatility. Functional storage spaces include seatback pockets, a cooled glovebox, 6 cupholders, and a sliding tray under the driver's seat.
The base Golf S trim comes well-equipped with such standard features as 8-way partially power-adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an infotainment system with a touchscreen, satellite radio, a rear-view camera, an 8-speaker audio system, and VW's Car-Net connectivity system with smartphone app integration. The SE adds leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, push-button start, and a Fender premium audio system, while the SEL trim also includes dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, and front sports seats with leather tops and a 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat.
Outside, the Golf displays fairly simple lines, with an overall clean design and balanced proportions. Exterior features for the S trim include a narrow chrome grille, daytime running lights, and heated side mirrors, while the SE and SEL trims add a sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers with heated nozzles, foglights, and automatic headlights. The S rides on 15-inch wheels, while the SE upgrades to 17-inch wheels and the SEL gets 18-inch wheels.
The 2016 Golf was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which will no doubt carry over to the 2017 version. Safety features include antilock brakes, side-protection airbags, an automatic post-collision braking system, and electronic stability control with an electronic differential lock, which automatically sends extra torque to the front wheel with the most traction in the event of wheel slippage, in order to help improve road grip and torque.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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