2015 Toyota Corolla vs Volkswagen Golf

Which is the Better "People's Car?"

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.

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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.

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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.

38 Comments

mchan1 says:

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 🙁

pappy says:

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.

Tcrown says:

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.

Pappy says:

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 says:

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.