Volkswagen’s compact hatchback, the Golf, is priced well above the baseline established by Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet and others in the economy-car business. Our latest test car, a 2018 Golf SE TSI, is priced in the mid- to high $20,000s, and even the base models come in around $20,000. A base Hyundai Elantra hatchback, well equipped with standard features, starts at about $17,000.
Those extra thousands for the VW don’t add much in the way of function or even form; the Golf’s look isn’t dramatically different from that of its predecessor models going back to the 1980s. But it’s not as if those dollars are wasted. The Golf’s personality is far more refined; it really doesn’t ride, perform or feel like an economy car. And it’s much more fun to drive than any of its major competitors, save the similarly priced Mazda3.
Our test car, modestly attired in dark blue, was a five-door, five-passenger hatchback powered by a 170-horsepower turbocharged inline Four. Its smooth-shifting, responsive 6-speed shiftable automatic gearbox and four-wheel independent suspension delivered crisp, predictable power and handling as we negotiated wet roads in Western Connecticut.
Our drivers had no trouble finding comfortable driving positions thanks to the height-adjustable seat, with a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Leg room was sufficient for a 6-foot driver. The leatherette seats were firm and supportive, and we were able to bounce right out of the car after driving more than an hour during an extended commute. There was no stiffness or discomfort.
The cabin has plenty of cubbyholes and enclosed cabinets, and there’s quite a bit of room around the spare tire to conceal valuable items under the rear deck. Materials, including the upholstery and plastic components, feel durable.
Knee and foot room for rear-seat passengers is tight if the front seats are levered all the way back, as was the case in our test car. Head room, however, is ample for tall passengers.
Standard features in SE trim included blind-spot monitors, heated front seats, satellite radio, cruise control and audio controls mounted on the steering hub, backup camera and heated exterior mirrors. Our test car also had an optional power sunroof.
One of the Golf’s strengths is its large cargo compartment. At 52.7 cubic feet maximum, it’s more spacious than those of the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus.
The Golf is available in several diverse flavors. The fuel-sipping diesel version is gone, but buyers can choose an all-electric e-Golf for about $30,000 and a high-performance, 292-horsepower Golf R for about $40,000. The e-Golf has a range of about 125 miles on a full charge.
The 2017 Golf, similar to 2018 models, was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2018 Volkswagen Golf SE TSI
Price: $26,500 (est.)
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged Four, 170 horsepower, 199 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 2,963 lb.
Suspension: four-wheel independent
Wheels: 16-inch alloy (optional)
Tires: 205/55R16 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 22.8 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 52.7 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.