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.
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.
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.
|Vehicle||2015 Toyota Corolla||Advantage||2015 Volkswagen Golf|
|Engine||1.8 L Four-Cylinder||-||1.8 L Turbocharged Four-Cylinder|
|Horsepower||132 HP||Golf||170 HP|
|Torque||128 lb-ft||Golf||199 lb-ft|
|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.
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.
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.