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2011 Volkswagen Golf Review
Latest Golf defies new VW corporate mandate to make big cheap cars
By Mark Atkinson, Photography by Volkswagen, Dec. 02, 2010

Volkswagen has moved significantly away from its ‘people’s car’ roots. Except for the all-new 2011 Jetta, which has quite publicly been designed to cost both the company and the buyers less, Volkswagen continually offers high-quality interiors, German solidity, and luxury features not normally found on its competitors.

FAST FACTS

1. Like in the past, VW’s sixth-generation Golf is available as either a gasoline or diesel powered car with three or five doors.

2. Gas models get a 2.5L 5-cylidner with 170-hp, while the TDI diesel makes 145-hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque.

3. Fuel economy is rated at 23/30-mpg (city/hwy) for the gas model, and 30/42-mpg for the diesel.

4. While the Jetta goes down-market, the Golf continues VW’s historically high pricing strategy starting at $17,965 and rises to $19,685 for the 5-door. TDI models start at $22,810.

The compact Golf hatchback is no different. Now nearly twice as heavy as the original Rabbit of the ‘80s, the sixth-generation car brings even more luxury, refinement and style than ever. However, there are still plenty of carry-over parts from the last version, so consider the current Golf more of a significant facelift rather than a ground-up redesign – even if that’s what VW says it is.

SIXTH-GEN GOLF A SUBTLE REMAKE

It’s easy to spot the visual changes: the headlights, front fascia and grille mimic the style introduced on the Euro-only Scirocco coupe, while the rear gets more angular horizontal taillights and redesigned bumper. New wheels highlight every model, from 15-inch steelies with plastic covers up to 17-in alloys on more expensive trims.

Inside, the dash has been refined with subtle aluminum trim, a new three-spoke steering wheel and HVAC controls. The twin gauge pods follow the bright-white style of the CC, and they flank a driver information screen that’s legible and useful. The 2.5 comes with an eight-speaker sound system that’s better than average, but TDI’s get a touch-screen head unit with an in-dash six-CD changer, redundant audio controls on the steering wheel and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.

The cabin is spacious, but three-door models have the usual problem of stuffing passengers easily into the rear seat. Five-doors obviously address this situation, but are about $600 more expensive on average. Both models do offer a generous cargo area that’s expands easily with the 60/40 split folding rear seats.

GASOLINE OR DIESEL: YOUR CHOICE

All Golfs use engines familiar to the Volkswagen family: base cars use the 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces 170-hp and an equal amount of torque. In the three-door, that engine uses a five-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission, while five-doors only get the auto.

The real gem, if you can afford it, is the optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel. While it peaks at ‘only’ 145-hp, it is a true torque monster, with 236 ft-lbs available from 1800 rpm. Its standard six-speed manual transmission means it’s easier to keep the engine in its relatively small power curve, while Volkswagen’s excellent six-speed DSG twin-clutch sequential is optional for those who don’t like shifting for themselves.

The TDI is marginally slower than the 2.5 to highway speeds, but in-gear acceleration is remarkable. And the fuel savings are significant: 23/30 mpg (city/hwy) for the five easily trumped by the diesel’s 30/42. However, with the current cost of diesel compared to gasoline means the TDI will take longer to pay itself off given its higher price tag.

Three-door 2.5’s start at $17,965, while the equivalent TDI is $22,810, but the diesel does get more stuff to offset more than just the powerplant’s extra dough. Bring your calculator to the dealership before you sign anything.

The suspension still features MacPherson struts up front with a four-link independent setup in the rear, but the TDI’s gets retuned to offer a sportier feel standard. Both offer nimble responses thanks to variable-rate steering assist with a reasonably quick ratio, but the TDI definitely feels more like it needs the sport suspension because of its engine’s extra heft compared to the 2.5. The four-wheel disc brakes are solid with good pedal feel, and every Golf gets ABS with brake assist and brake-pressure distribution to ensure stops are made swiftly and securely.

Passenger safety is supplemented by six airbags (or optionally eight on five-doors), seatbelt pretensioners and redesigned front headrests along with traction and stability control.

THE VERDICT

Compared to its rivals, the Golf offers refinement and a sense of quality that’s hard to find in North American or Asian compacts. The Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra Touring both offer sporty drives, but suffer in fit and finish.

There are, however, definite competitors on the horizon that hope to challenge Volkswagen’s perceived quality. The new Ford Focus will reintroduce hatchbacks to its lineup when it debuts later this year, and since it’s a true ‘world’ car it won’t be the stripped-out penalty boxes people remember.

LOVE IT
  • Class-leading refinement
  • Potent engines
  • Nimble handling
LEAVE IT
  • Visual changes not dramatic enough
  • Five-door model starts near $20,000
  • Reliability woes?

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