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2015 Volkswagen Golf and Golf TDI First Drive

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf has been an icon for 40 years, we turn to key and drive into the next chapter.

What It Is
The VW Golf and Golf TDI are compact hatchbacks, available as 3-door or 5-door models.
Best Thing
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is fun to drive, and artfully combines style, utility, and efficiency.
Worst Thing
A 5.8-inch media screen is the best you can get, for now.
Snap Judgment
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf updates an icon, and delivers a fun, stylish, and accessibly priced ride.


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The 2015 Volkswagen Golf represents the seventh generation of the automaker's best selling model, one that originally took the throne from the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. Now four decades later, quite a lot has changed in design, technology, and automotive advancement, yet the essence of the VW Golf remains. While the new model has grown marginally in size, it's also managed to shed 79 pounds in the process. Volkswagen's new MQB architecture is responsible for much of the weight loss, and the addition of more high-strength, hot-formed steel being used in the frame leads to both a stronger and lighter vehicle.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is available as a three-door, or five-door hatchback, and regardless of which body you opt for, it'll be powered by a new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The 1.8T is rated at the same 170 horsepower as the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine it replaces, but gains as much as a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy over the previous engine. Power is transmitted via a six-speed manual transmission, a six-speed automatic, or six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Volkswagen also offers a 2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI turbocharged diesel engine, rated at 150 horsepower, a 10 horsepower bump over 2014 models. Like most diesel engines, the TDI also offers a significant boost in fuel economy; while Golf 1.8T gasoline-powered models are rated at 26 mpg city and 36-37 mpg highway, 2.0 TDI diesel models get an estimated 31/42 city/highway.

The Golf is offered in three trims, S, SE, and SEL. While a special, ultra-limited launch edition will be sold starting at $18,815, regular entry-level models will start at $19,815 and come equipped with 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, leather wrapping on the steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever, and leatherette seats. The entry-level S also comes with VW Car-Net connected services, cruise control, and can be optioned with a sunroof. The top-of-the-line six-speed DSG automatic transmission SEL model we drove was priced at $29,505, and featured 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, navigation, sport comfort seats, a 12-way power driver's seat, Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, Park Distance Control, Forward Collision Warning, and more.

With a few hours to sample the seventh-generation of the Golf, we hopped behind the wheel of both the gasoline and TDI models. So what exactly did we think of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf?

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Walkaround

Each generation of the Volkswagen Golf changed from one to the next, but each was unmistakably a Golf. The 2015 VW Golf remains true to the classic hatch aesthetic, and gently evolves the design. The headlights are modern, the grille narrower, and the car is longer and wider, about 2 inches and a half-inch, respectively. The models we drove featured attractive 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights. Volkswagen will also offer an R-line appearance package, which adds a body kit, giving the hatchback an even sportier appearance.

Sitting Down

Once inside, drivers will recognize the familiar instrument cluster and controls on the center stack, which are intuitive and easy to use. The aesthetic is streamlined and modern; unfortunately the Golf is debuting with a 5.8-inch media screen, the best you can get, for now. We've experience superior VW screens over in Europe, and hope they make their way onto U.S.-spec models soon. You can even get an attractive 7.0-inch system on the Mazda3.

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An attractive piano black surface covered the dash in the SEL model we tested, even making its way onto the e-brake. The seventh-gen Golf also has a lower overall height, but boasts about an inch in extra shoulder and elbow room. The automaker says the 2015 Golf also boasts more cargo room with the seats up than any midsize sedan. You can reconfigure the storage space, but much of that room comes with the available height the hatchback body allows for. If we were hauling, we'd still rather do it--given their cavernous trunks--in a Passat or Camry, but the Golf has plenty of usable room. If you've got long or awkward objects such as a snowboard, the seats fold easily to allow for additional room.

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Driving

We've always enjoyed the driving dynamics of the Volkswagen Golf, and the new 1.8T delivers power in a more linear way, while simultaneously boosting fuel efficiency. But the real treat was driving the 2.0-liter TDI model. It's 150 horses seem modest on paper, but the manual transmission model we drove hardly ever made it out of the second and third gears around town. Once you dip into that second gear, satisfying power comes on strong and in abundance. The suspension of the new Golf is greatly improved, absorbing road imperfections deftly while still feeling sporty. Importantly, the VW Golf also feels nimble and light on its feet.

Summary

The 2015 VW Golf marks 40 years of the iconic model, and it's clear from our short time with the newest generation, the Golf is moving ahead. The new model retains much of what we loved about the previous generation, and improves on it. We especially loved the manual transmission Golf TDI model we drove, which offers perhaps the best combination of efficiency and driving dynamics. Volkswagen says buyers cross-shop with the Mazda3--another excellent choice--and to a lesser extent the Subaru Impreza. But when it comes to the Golf, the storied model is in a segment of its own.

Basic Specs

1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine, six-speed manual or automatic transmission, six-speed dual-clutch automatic available, front-wheel drive, 170-hp, 150-hp TDI (diesel), starts $19,815, 26 mpg city/36-37 mpg hwy, 31 mpg city/42 mpg hwy

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