The venerable Volkswagen Golf soldiers on relatively unchanged for 2012, because why mess with a success? This current generation Golf, known as the Mark VI, continues to sell well to those looking for solid, practical transportation, as well as those looking for the fuel-saving benefits of a diesel engine.
There are just two engines available: the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower, and a 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel with 140 horsepower. Both can be paired to a five-speed base manual, a slicker six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic transmission. The DSG dual-clutch automatic is exclusive to the TDI model, which combines fun and efficiency. All are available in either two-door or four-door guise, for that extra bit of practicality.
Of course, if you want speed, there's always the GTI -- which is sufficiently different from the standard Golf as to be its own model. The regular Golf isn't exactly a penalty box, and still manages to feel solid and handle sharply with a supple ride. Its interior is straightforward, but class-leading: materials are soft and well-assembled, and an impressive array of options includes a touch-screen navigation system, Bluetooth, and a Dynaudio premium sound system.
Bodystyles: Three-door and five-door hatchback
Transmissions: Five-speed manual, six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, six-speed twin-clutch automatic (DSG)
Engines: 2.5-liter inline-5, 2.0-liter inline-4 diesel
Models: 2.5 (2- and 4 door), TDI (2- and 4 door)
Volkswagen drops its nostalgia-tinged experiment of the Rabbit name, reverting to the familiarity of the Golf badge. It ekes out slightly more gas mileage through a host of subtle tweaks and refinements. For 2012, the entire range gets simplified into Convenience and Technology packages, which adds a center armrest, Bluetooth connectivity, bi-xenon headlights, and a Dynaudio premium sound system. A sunroof and navigation are also available on all models.
The Golf's Mark VI revamp brings new styling that is sleeker and less rounded than the previous Mark V. The front end features a new grille and cleaner appearance and the rear integrates a subtle roof spoiler. Those still familiar with the outgoing model, however, might find this current Golf too toned-down.
A sharp new center console sees its vents lined with thin chrome strips, for a bit of much-needed contrast inside the dark, drab cabin. Materials are high-quality for a vehicle in this class, and controls such as the touchscreen radio fall readily to hand. Standard equipment includes a tilting and telescoping steering wheel and an auxiliary input jack.
Performance & Handling
On the road, the Golf is comfortable and composed, offering ride quality that belies its entry-level price tag. While the TDI carries a hefty price increase over the standard Golf, the engine's 236 pound-feet of torque makes it a much more capable car on the highway and the back roads. It's also more fuel efficient than the 2.5-liter five-cylinder, which is often criticized for its lack of smoothness. The TDI and six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic make a formidable combination.
Front, side curtain and side thorax airbags are standard for the driver and front passenger, and side thorax airbags are optional for rear passengers. Traction and stability control are also standard equipment.
EPA Fuel Economy
2.5: 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway (manual); 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway (automatic)
TDI: 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway
- Upscale build quality
Excellent fuel economy with TDI
Lots of options
You Won't Like
- Entry-level 2.5L is weak
- High TDI entry price
The original is still the best
If You Like This Vehicle
- Ford Focus
- Hyundai Elantra