2015 Toyota Corolla vs Volkswagen Golf

Which is the Better "People's Car?"

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What we have here is the most sensible of Japanese compact cars up against an iconic hatchback from Germany. Well, a decade ago we wouldn’t fault you for thinking we’d gone off of our meds, but times have changed and so have these cars.

Although these two cars haven’t met in the middle, the gap is shrinking. Nevertheless, there does remain one giant chasm: vehicle sales. With just under 400,000 Toyota Corollas bought last year, it’s the best-selling compact car in America and outsold the Golf by nearly 10 to one. That raises an important question: should it have?

The mainstream Corolla and enthusiastic Golf might not seem to be likely competitors, but there is a method to our madness. Toyota is working hard to scrub the beige off of the Corolla and make it appear more youthful while the Golf is looking to find more buyers, period. Long regarded as one of the most enthusiastic compact cars to drive, the Golf is becoming as focused on passenger comfort and affordability as driving dynamics.

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Different, Yet Similar

The Corolla only comes as a sedan while the Golf is strictly a hatchback, but with the choice of two or four doors. Both cars can have power seats, smart key entry and a choice of engines, although the range of available engines is greater in the Golf. By the way, neither Volkswagen nor Toyota offers real leather at any trim level in these compacts. Your only choices are cloth or synthetic cowhide.

Easy and Predictable

The Toyota Corolla is one of easiest cars to drive in the compact segment, and has been that way since, well, forever. A choice of 1.8-liter four-cylinder engines making 132 HP or 140 HP are available paired to a CVT automatic or six-speed manual transmission. The four-speed auto is still technically available, but unless it’s a rental Corolla, chances of coming across one in the wild are unlikely.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Volkswagen Golf Review

With the base engine and CVT, the Corolla behaves well enough. It’s by no means the best compact car drivetrain, but not offensive either. A few minutes behind the wheel and its obvious the Corolla is designed for fuel efficiency and ease of use. Everything about the Corolla from the engine to the steering and chassis is designed for deliberate, smooth response.

2015-Toyota-Corolla-front-3q

Engaging and Refined

Volkswagen hasn’t quite mastered the predictable user experience the way Toyota has, but the company is close. Besides, the Golf makes up for it with a more engaging, premium feeling driving experience. Two turbocharged engines are offered, a 170 HP 1.8-liter gasoline unit and a 150 HP 2.0-liter diesel. Available with a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, the 1.8 turbo always feels powerful. With nearly 40 HP and just shy of 75 lb-ft more torque, the Golf is easily the faster car of this duo, even with a 100-150 lbs. weight disadvantage.

2015-vw-golf-front-profile

Volkswagen’s six-speed automatic works great in the Golf, even if there is a slight hesitation on initial acceleration. But it’s the rest of the car that really sets it apart. The steering, chassis and brakes all perform well together, delivering a fun drive experience while still remaining refined and comfortable. Volkswagen has been doing this for a long time and it shows.

With more power and weight, the gasoline powered Golf is obviously less fuel efficient than the Corolla. Officially rated at 25 MPG city and 36 MPG highway, the Golf comes up a bit short compared to the Corolla’s ratings of 29 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. During our real world testing, this gap remained true as the Corolla returned a 34.6 MPG average compared to the Golf’s 31 MPG observed average.

Compare Specs

2015 Toyota Corolla
vs
2015 Volkswagen Golf
Vehicle 2015 Toyota Corolla Advantage 2015 Volkswagen Golf
Engine 1.8 L Four-Cylinder - 1.8 L Turbocharged Four-Cylinder
Transmission CVT - six-speed automatic
Horsepower 132 HP Golf 170 HP
Torque 128 lb-ft Golf 199 lb-ft
Curb weight 2,865 Corolla 2,901
Rear seat legroom 41.4 inches Corolla 35.6 inches
Cargo volume 13 cubic feet Golf 22.8 cubic feet
Fuel economy (US) 29 MPG city, 38 MPG highway Corolla 25 MPG city, 36 MPG highway
Fuel economy (CDN) 7.7 L/100 km city, 5.6 L/100 km hwy Golf 7.5 L/100 km city, 5.2 L/100 km hwy
Observed fuel economy 34.6 MPG Corolla 31 MPG
Starting price (US) $17,775 Corolla $18,815
Starting price (CDN) $17,515 Corolla $20,600
Top trim price (US) $23,780 Corolla $32,005
Top trim price (CDN) $26,995 Corolla $36,195

Comfortable Ride vs Comfortable Interior

Besides the fuel economy penalty, all that sportiness in the Golf does come at the cost of ride comfort. The Golf doesn’t exactly have a rough ride, but broken pavement and expansion joints can cause it to get more unsettled than the Corolla, which has the ability to float over road imperfections and swallow up bumps with ease.

Inside, the tables turn. Front seat comfort in the Corolla is OK, but the bottom cushions are too short and the telescopic steering wheel doesn’t pull out far enough for all drivers. The Golf’s seats are more supportive and the driving position feels just right for drivers of various shapes and sizes.2015-Toyota-Corolla-rear-seats

Fit and finish in both cars are near the top of the segment, but we don’t like the Corolla’s flat dashboard design. Being cars for the masses, sightlines in the Corolla and Golf are both good in all directions.

Space vs Comfort

Toyota is quick to tell anyone who will listen about the Corolla’s cavernous rear seat, which offers over 41 inches of rear legroom. That number puts it ahead of a lot of mid-size sedans, never mind every other compact. But like the front seat, the second row cushion is short and adequate but only just.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Toyota Corolla Review

We expected the Golf to have a disappointing back seat, but it doesn’t. Legroom is obviously less generous than the Corolla’s and a bit tight, but headroom is much better as is seat comfort. The cushion is soft and the arm rests are placed at the right spots in the Golf. Both vehicles offer average at best cargo areas compared to their competitors, but with the Golf being a hatchback, it can carry more junk in the open trunk.

2015-vw-golf-vs-toyota-corolla-2

The Verdict: 2015 Toyota Corolla vs Volkswagen Golf

At this point you might be asking yourself, “So how does the Corolla sell so well?” Simply put, value. The Corolla starts at $17,775 after destination charges, which makes it much more affordable than the Golf and offers two-years of free service. Load up a Corolla with every option and it remains under $24,000. The Golf can eclipse $32,000, but in fairness, that is with the diesel engine and a host of options not available on the Corolla at any price point. Plus if you take it easy on the option list, feature for feature, the Golf only costs a few thousand dollars more than a Corolla.

Even with a new, modern look, the Corolla continues to do what it does best; offer worry-free driving in an affordable, efficient package. It remains one of the best cars out there for anyone who finds car ownership a necessity rather than a joy.

But the Golf is the better car all around, albeit with a price premium. It won’t sell in the same volume as the Corolla, but the new Golf offers better comfort, refinement and performance. Is that worth the extra cost? In our opinion, yes it certainly is.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    You left out the part about the Corolla being more reliable and cheaper to maintain and fix. Also, with that few extra thousand dollars you save over the Golf, you can buy a few years worth of gasoline. Those are pretty important details in any segment, but especially in this one.

  • Hubert Cumberdale

    Just a curious question: you compare MPG and give the Corolla the advantage. Then you compare L/100KMs and give the Golf the advantage. What’s that all about? Is that one comparing the TDI?

  • Hubert Cumberdale

    Also, that SEL you drove has real leather seating surfaces, not V-Tex leatherette.

  • Hubert Cumberdale

    Right you are, Mike. Here in Canada, the equivalent model to the SEL (Highline) sports real leather, while the SE equivalent (Comfortline) is V-Tex. The S model equivalent (Trendline) is cloth fabric.

  • Mike Schlee

    Yeah. We’re usually willing to pay for more features in small cars in Canada. That would be my guess in the discrepancies.

  • Mike Schlee

    Yeah, that was the issue. I’ll fix the Canadian fuel economy to reflect it.

  • Hubert Cumberdale

    Hi Mike – I’ve found the opposite. The best selling cars in Canada are the compacts – Like Corolla, Mazda3, and Civic. Whereas in the U.S., the mid-size sedans rule (Camcordimas). Additionally, Canadians appear to be more frugal in their buying habits overall. That’s not to say that Canadians in major centres don’t like leather-equipped cars, but base model cars appear to be more popular here than in the U.S. Perhaps there are more enthusiasts in the VWC product planning dept. 😛

  • Ilse4589@outlook.com

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  • craigcole

    I know which one I’d rather own: the Golf. For all of its efficiency and reliability I find the Corolla about as interesting as a slice of Wonder bread.

  • Billy Cypher

    If you’re leasing, certainly get the Volkswagen. But if you’re planning on keeping the car for a while, definitely the Corolla.

    I had a Volkswagen – great car to drive, not so great to own. Mine handled well and felt very upscale but the minor, seemingly unfixable mechanical issues and major electronic issues would keep me from ever buying one again.

  • SSXT

    And RESALE….I’m not up to speed on the Golf, but the Jetta is/was a popular car w/those “not” in the know (about reliability and upkeep of a VW). The Corolla is the one to own; rent (Lease) the VW ’til the warranty runs out.

  • Jerry Baustian

    I can’t speak for all generations of the Golf, or all engine choices. But most Volkswagen problems are due to mediocre service at dealerships. The good VW mechanics leave to work at independent shops or start their own shops. I tell people to find a good independent shop before the end of the warranty period.

    And there are some VW dealerships where one should never go unless accompanied by an attorney. To be on the safe side, have two attorneys.

    My own Golf, purchased new in 2003, now has 538,000 miles and I add about 1000 more every week. I like it so much, I bought another 2003, with fewer miles, so that I never have to be without one.

    From everything I’ve read, the 2015 is the best Golf ever. I’m just very fond of the one (now two) that I have now.

  • The Mann

    This sucks, Why are you comparing two cars with 10.000USD price gab, and a power diffrerants og nearly 50HP.. then a motor magasin have to compaire two cars, the cost Price has to match, else its NOT comapiring or VS as you articel call it… I like the Gulf better to.. but the compairng is NOT ok…

  • The Mann

    Perhaps the solution was a larger engine and more equipment for the Toyota.. to make the Price equal.

  • Mike Schlee

    Price difference as tested was roughly $2,000. The $10,000 gap occurs with a loaded up TDI Golf model which we didn’t have in this test.

  • Hubert Cumberdale

    Hi Mike – maybe I misunderstood your comment on the MPG vs L/100 KMs. Why does the Golf get the advantage? If car X is more fuel efficient, it would get the nod in both MPG and L/100 KMs … ?

  • Hubert Cumberdale

    Jerry – you should really check one out. They’re beautiful.

  • Quest

    Could not agree more! Those two cars should not be even compared by any standards, period. Nether cars is a sport ride and we should look at those only as a every day ride. Corolla does not have enough power, Golf is way overpriced. If you want a “cool” and sporty ride buy BMW3. For casual driving Corolla is engineered perfectly that’s why it sells so well. And one more thing I miss in this comparison, how come wasn’t even mentioned that each car uses different octane gasoline…???

  • 16vjohnny

    My toaster is really reliable, but I don’t like driving it.

  • 16vjohnny

    You agree the Golf handled better, was upscale and was a good car to drive, but you still favor the Toyota because of its “reliability”? Toyota makes great cars for people who look for nothing else but a transportation appliance. Toyota’s epic ability to make the dullest and most mind numbing cars this world has ever seen leaves much to be desired by many. I’m cheerfully willing to spend an extra 30 bucks on my oil changes, or the occasional visit to the shop to get a little bit of character in my car. Toyota owners don’t seem to get that life doesn’t revolve around loss aversion.

    And your comments about VW mechanical and electrical issues are relative. My experience with the car brand has been the complete opposite. Then again, I don’t use coupons on my oil changes and get great satisfaction learning about and maintaining my vehicles myself.

    Toyota isn’t infallible, according to JD Power, they still had 111 problems per 100 vehicles. Statistically, every Toyota owner will have issues to resulted in warranty claim. VW statistically has more issues, but you don’t see diesel or 200hp corollas either.

    Again, all this comparison has shown is that there are choices. I don’t think demographics are the same. People who look at the corolla probably wouldn’t consider a golf on fundamental taste differences. Its not about comparing a checklist of each car.

  • Billy Cypher

    The problem is (for me) that, as fun as the Volkswagen was to drive, the maintenance issues were such that my opinion of them is permanently tainted and I’d never buy one again.

    I owned a Corolla for several years and it was honestly the most boring car I ever owned. I’ve had cars that were unpleasant to drive; the Corolla was just boring. It had one minor maintenance issue that was fixed (once) under warranty and never happened again.

  • Billy Cypher

    The problem is (for me) that, as fun as the Volkswagen was to drive, the maintenance issues were such that my opinion of them is permanently tainted and I’d never buy one again.

    I owned a Corolla for several years and it was honestly the most boring car I ever owned. I’ve had cars that were unpleasant to drive; the Corolla was just boring. But I never had to worry about it like I did the VW.

  • Billy Cypher

    The problem is (for me) that, as fun as the Volkswagen was to drive, the maintenance issues were such that my opinion of them is permanently tainted and I’d never buy one again. Lease one maybe.

    I owned a 1998 Corolla for 10 years and it was honestly the most boring car I ever owned. I’ve had cars that were unpleasant to drive; the Corolla was just boring. But I never had to worry about it (or even think about it) and I’ll probably never get another one. The VW (a 2008 Rabbit) was fantastic for the first 8 months but after that there was always something wrong with it. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was always something – a lot more problems (some serious) in 2 years than 10 years in the yawner Toyota.

    So for me it comes down to a matter of how I want to spend my time. I don’t want to constantly have to take my car to the dealership if the repairs are under warranty. If a car isn’t under warranty I don’t really have the time (or tools or mechanical ability) to do repairs myself.

    While I haven’t driven either of the cars in this comparison, I’m willing to bet the Volkswagen is a better drive, I’d just never risk owning one again.

  • 16vjohnny

    It sounds like we agree on all the key points then. Toyota makes boring appliances and VW makes drivers cars that need more maintenance. I’ll take the latter every single time.

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  • James Mayfield

    Well, kind of close, but try again:

    “So how does the Corolla sell so well? Simply put, value.”

    In comparison with a VOLKSWAGEN?? Try this:

    “Simply put, RELIABILITY.”

    Tell you what, when any Volkswagen builds a 50-year record of top-of-the-industry reliability (Corolla is in that neighborhood now), perhaps a few Corolla shoppers might consider one. Until then, Volkswagen’s now-legendary unreliability keeps a vast segment of the car-buying population just driving past all Volkswagen dealerships without batting an eye.

    Truly, I saw three “dead on the shoulder of the freeway” vehicles on a little journey I took yesterday: Volkswagen, Volkswagen, Volkswagen. Gosh, how that seems to back up all of the unreliability reports I’ve been reading over the past few decades.

  • Shiratori90

    Most buyers don’t care about dynamics, so the corolla wins in terms of sales.

  • mchan1

    Used to own an older Corolla. Sold it after 3 years as I needed room and better performance. Otherwise, a solid car. At least things appeared to have been improved, except for the performance aspect. Then again, it is a Toyota.

    I had the 2015 VW Golf TSI SE Sport but only for less than 1 month. The problem was the driver’s seat.. Terrible seats for someone with past herniation issue with sciatica nerve issue which also caused butt numbness. Found out online at various forums and reviews that people had the SAME issues with the seats.

    Had to give up the car and took a small but still hurtful financial hit on the swap for a bigger car.

    Would’ve kept the Golf if it weren’t for the seats. The car still has minor Annoyances (like any other car) with how it’s built and how it’s equipped but still a fun car. Noise insulation was Excellent, the ride was outstanding with the suspension soaking up bumps and bearing hearing much engine or road/tire noise!

    The problems with the VW Golf:
    1. Cost – was slightly over $25k which was relatively pricey as the top line TSI SEL was closer to $30k!
    2. Driver’s seat sucked!
    a) Hardly any cushion resulting in a numb butt!
    b) Hurts worse if driver/owner has/had a medical condition of the spine/leg!
    – Have to ask other Tall drivers how they fit as some said they could fit (>6′ 4″)!
    – NOT when you have the seat back declined instead of more upright like I do! There’s NO way a taller person than myself, 6′ footer, can fit that car as I barely had 1″ under the head liner and 2″ under the sunroof, and again, sitting at a more Upright position!
    3. Questionable reliability as VW does NOT have a good history of it.
    – Many owners on online forums and reviews have said that when the warranty ended, they’d sell it KNOWING about the costly repairs/maintenance issues!
    ^ THAT is NOT reassuring to read about!

    But at least the NEW 2015 VW Golf seemed reliable but I’ve only had it for <1200 miles 🙁

  • Owain Glyndor

    You have no idea what you are talking about. In europe the golf out sells the corolla by 40 times and most of them get 400000km, without any problems. Not to mention they are superior in every other aspect as mentioned in this article. Why would you make up stories about seeing dead vw ‘s on your alleged little journey? Do you work for Toyota?

  • Tcrown

    Corolla is the best value on the planet, period. Legendary drivetrain, excellent design and top selling vehicle in history by a stratospheric margin. It also looks way better than the golf. If you buy a vw golf for performance, you’ve got a screw loose.

  • Matthew Hill

    the golf is terribly unreliable.. very common to see broken down. ive never seen a petrol golf pass 160,000km without engine failure, and never seen a diesel pass 200,000. the corolla is a far better car in almost every aspect.

  • critofur

    I’ve owned a Golf, and I own a Toyota Siena and had a Camry before that.

    The Golf was a 1999 model – it felt as top heavy as my 2014 Sienna does. Granted, I took corners a lot harder, and the brakes were awe inspiring. But I just didn’t like that “heavy feeling” when driving the old Golf. Perhaps the newer ones don’t feel so heavy when turning?

  • Pappy

    Had my Jetta TDI now for over 16 yrs. in Minnesota with now 205K miles, and with only a few minor problems like the heater blower and windshield wiper motor crank failing on me. The starter went out after 15 yrs of Minnesota winters with the car being outside most of the time. Including times when the temps fell to -17 F and with No.2 Diesel in the tank (summer fuel). It doesn’t start easily in that kind of weather, but if you know how and use the right procedure, it will and has started all the time except when the battery would get old and lose capacity. And of course regular wear and tear items like tires, break pads, battery, timing belt etc.had to be replaced like on any other car. The Diesel still runs great and doesn’t use any more oil now than when new which is very little. I can see it going to 300K easily. But most of all the 50 MPG fuel efficiency on the highway with much more power and torque for accelerating and passing than a hybrid has, .. and even many gas powered vehicles. It has saved me so much money over my previous gas powered SUV that it would pay for the car itself. I bought the car not knowing much about it because the seats were so much more comfortable and supportive for long trips, than the Japanese cars, and loved the quiet humm and smoothness of the diesel on the highway, It had great handling for its time and ride of a big sedan and of course the fuel savings. Also it is easy to see why the Germans offer the 12 year corrosion warranty on their cars that others don’t. Despite all of those salty winters, my cars’ under body and chassis has almost no rust even though the bottom engine cover was destroyed several yrs ago in deep snow and ice and when the car hit a deep hole caused by a piece of the shoulder pavement cracking off that couldn’t be seen because it was covered by deep snow. Of course I was the first one to find it. Tired of waiting for the drive train to wear out completely on this car before I buy a new one because it would probably be another 5 yrs or more and I want something more up to date. So when I hit 17 or 18 yrs with this car I’m going to trade it in on a newer Golf Sportwagen with a diesel and 6 speed manual, and with all the improvements and new gadgets. Can’t wait. But I sure did get my money’s worth . A Corolla even if it could last as long, would be a rust bucket by now after all those winters, and would have cost me much more in gas unless it was a hybrid, in which case I would now be feeling more like a criminal sentenced to 17 endless yrs. of boring driving.

  • Pappy

    I like the clean lines and ascetic unembellished beauty of the German cars. And a Corolla only sell so much because as the author says… it is cheap. But it is underpowered and you only see those cheap CVT transmissions on light powered vehicles because they fail or slip when too much power is applied to them. It is a car for people that don’t know of or enjoy a good driving car and only care about costs. If you ever saw a Corolla on the german autobahn it would be in the right lane and all the paint on the left side of the car would be blasted off from thousands of german cars blowing past it as if it was going backwards. If you ever saw one in the passing lane going as fast as it can to prevent getting rear ended or getting pulled over by the authorities for obstructing traffic, you will only see it for about 10 minutes max before the whole legendary? drive train blows up. Or the driver loses control in a tight curve at high speed because of second class handling characteristics and chassis dynamics. I’ll take the unreliable german engineered car as some people refer to it… that has a few minor mechanical inconveniences once in a while, but exceptional handling , and control accuracy at speed and that communicates well with the driver, so that they are a joy to drive, as well as the best engineered chassis and power trains in the world that are designed to cruise the autobahn all day long in comfort and high speed for many years. If you take a top end German car like a Porsche that was designed for the autobahn, and bring it to this country, it will last a lifetime. Even when you sit in a Golf , it is a much more refined interior, the seats are much more comfortable and supportive and adjustable than most low end Japanese or American cars.. so that any driver can get into a perfect drivers position. And the controls and switching so much better thought out. A few minor maintenance issues once in a great while are OK. The extra comfort and the extra enjoyment are well worth it. Even if a Corolla never had a single maintenance issue in its entire service life , it wouldn’t impress me much I wouldn’t want to spend any more time than necessary in the car anyway. It amazes me that people read these columns written by the experts who study these cars and drive them all their lives. . on race tracks and on bad country roads, taking these cars to their limits and then some. And then when the experts write something not necessarily unfavorable about a car but that is not quite as good as another car they are comparing it to, people get offended and start whining about how the experts don’t know anything but that they know it all. Then why do they bother reading their articles? I like most people don’t have the knowledge or racing experience or skill to take a car and test it to its absolute limits, nor do I have access to just about every car in production to test drive and compare it to. So I respect their expert evaluations and find them invaluable in shopping for a good car that is highly capable and fun to drive at the top end as well as practical for everyday use. For cruising around America at 60-70 mph, Toyota Corollas as well as most modern cars do an excellent and reliable job everyday. But the experts are not just testing these cars suitability as everyday drivers like for going to the store for a loaf of bread . They test them to the limits of their performance capability as well as for comfort and convenience and ergonomics. That’s what separates the better and best from the mediocre . But it is also a range of performance that most people never venture into nor know what they are missing, so to them a Corolla is just a great car as long as comfort and convenience is adequate, it is cheap , and nothing EVER goes wrong with it. And that is all well and good if that is all you look for in a car. But you can’t slam the experts who appreciate good performing well refined cars just because they find that the car you own isn’t quite as good in some regard as some other more expensive car. After all…that is usually the reason they are cheap. Most people in this country when it comes to cars are not very savvy… just cheap, and the Toyota people have known that for a long long time.

  • pappy

    Maybe you should try a good chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon and try again. I am 6 feet tall, can sit upright in my Jetta with a moon roof, as long as I have the seat bottom lowered correctly and I normally wear a hat. In fact when I was shopping for new cars, I chose the Jetta over the Japanese cars I test drove because of their more comfortable supportive seats as this author affirms, with perfect lumbar support. In fact sometimes when I get a sore back, I go sit in my car for a while and it feels better. No other seat does that. I had a couple of minor things break on my car early on but when I replaced them they never gave me another problem again and that was over 100,000 m ago. The parts must have been remanufactured. Anyway the car is more reliable now than when it was new. I also had tail lights and headlamps going out quite often but not anymore. Go figure. A car that gets more reliable with age.

  • pappy

    Toyotas are reliable until about 230K an then they totally fall apart. German cars including VW’s have a few problems when first new, but then go on forever. And they are so much more fun to drive. And comfortable.

  • Sir Alex

    Had a VW Golf 6 (1.6 tdi – 105 hp) after 3 years(45.000 km) rust started to appear, the DPF was broken, EGR was broken. And all these just a few months after the warranty ended ^_^ (obviously it costed me a few thousands euro). 2 years later (which is now – 13 of June 2016) I said bye bye to VW ( never wanna see one again in my hole life ) and bought a brand new Toyota Corolla with a 5k euro discount. All I’m interested in is reliability for now.

  • Sir Alex

    Volkswagen Group ain’t reliable since 2010. Especially now when they got into 2nd place at vehicles sold worldwide (with Toyota first). They are lowering prices to become 1st again and are giving up reliability for that. VW ain’t no more what it was in the past.