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Give the venerable Golf another look

The VW Golf GTI Autobahn and the Sportwagen TSI have style, tech and heritage

Jeff Rundles //November 30, 2016//

Give the venerable Golf another look

The VW Golf GTI Autobahn and the Sportwagen TSI have style, tech and heritage

Jeff Rundles //November 30, 2016//








I recently drove two Volkswagens, both Golf models, and the experiences left me feeling that I should give a shout-out to VW.

I know, VW has had its troubles in the last couple of years, what with the diesel-engine-emissions scandal that is costing the company dearly, and I certainly won’t excuse that behavior. But the bottom line is that the venerable German automaker makes very fine vehicles, quite unlike the various clones of the Japanese, Koreans and even the Americans who have just decided that building or copying a Toyota is what the public wants. VW offers real distinction, in comfortable packages, and even a little sporty pizzazz, in cars that have evolved over the years but taken few leaps forward. Why mess with quality?

The Golf, in its various iterations, is a smallish family car, first introduced in 1974, and it has become, over the now 42 years of production, my favorite kind of vehicle: venerable. The Germans, and to some extent the Japanese, do this all the time: They make a great car – The Audi A4, the BMW 3 series, the Mercedes E Class, the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry – they make it right the first time, improve on it gradually, but keep it in place.

Today’s buyer of these vehicles would recognize the earliest versions, and that’s what makes them venerable: While they keep up with the times in styling and technology, they maintain the heritage. I like that very much. The Golf not only fits the profile, it just might be the definition of it. The latest versions represent the 7th generation of the line (launched in 2012), and in spite of the diesel flap, VW should be proud of this vehicle.

Just to give you an idea, I have a friend who is quite well-to-do financially, and over the years he drives cars like the 7 Series BMW, Range Rovers, Mercedes AMGs; the expensive, showy stuff. But he bought a Golf for his kids and while they were studying overseas he drove it around and said he really enjoyed it and probably would get one for himself and his town car. That’s high praise since he could probably buy four Golfs for the price of his primary vehicle. 

The Golf GTI is sporty – my college-aged son and his friends are all over it. The one they sent me was bright red, arrest-me-red, and it just looks as though it is going 90 mph when it’s parked. It has these bright red brake calipers that show through the rims – and while they are great brakes, very responsive, they just look cool. And it is quick: the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, putting out some 210 horsepower (with premium gasoline, the sticker notes), is very responsive if you want to punch it.

They call it The Original German Hot Hatch, and it is, indeed, hot, if you want it to be. The six-speed shifter is smooth, the clutch is easy, and zipping around on the city streets and highways is not only a breeze, but so much fun. And everywhere I went people – particularly young people – commented on cool the car is; I got many thumbs-up signals. But for all of that it is still rated 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway which is very economical.

But my notes indicate that this old man found the car simple, simple, simple. It is very easy to drive, it handles very well (no leaning on tight turns), and while it is jammed with all of the modern technology and hookups, VW here has done it in a way that is not distractive. The onus here is on the driving, where it should be. A lot of people think of this car in terms of performance – and it does perform – but at its heart it is simply a VW Golf, and it is a very nice, nicely made, simple and easy-to-operate car.

One of the (sorta) cool things was that it came with a switch that let you select “normal,” “sport,” or “individual” driving modes. In “Individual” you can set the sport steering and sport engine, but to be honest I could hardly tell the difference – it did sound a little throatier in the sport engine mode. The car comes with a sport suspension anyway, so it needs no adjustment – it has 18” wheels, so coupled with the suspension this car is very, very stable.  

So this Golf GTI has pretty much all of the bells and whistles – all the apps, Bluetooth, a great Fender Premium Audio system accessible through the 8.5” touchscreen, beautiful and GTI badged leather seating, a power sunroof – and everything I mentioned is standard on this model for a base price of $30,135. Add in the destination charge and the bottom line is $30,955. That’s a good price for this sporty vehicle.

Ah, but the Golf Sportwagen TSI S is another matter. It has pretty much the same equipment as the GTI in terms of technology and all that. The difference is it sports 15” wheels, and standard anti-lock brakes (still excellent), and the engine here is the 1.8-liter four-banger (rated at 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway), featuring 170 hp. It is still relatively zippy – especially with the 6-speed manual transmission – and very fun to drive. And, yes, it is a sport wagon, so it has plenty of rear room not afforded in the hatchback models.

I loved driving this car. It handles very well, is quite quiet, very comfortable and roomy, has cushy cloth seat coverings, a smaller 6.5” touchscreen, a very nice sound system (with satellite radio, natch), Bluetooth, and all of the app hookups.

The best thing is, once again, how easy and simple, simple, simple this car is to drive – not to mention fun. The size is perfect for running around town, it is easy to park in tight spaces, and it performed surprisingly well on the highway. A great choice in a vehicle.

Check that: the best thing is the price. This is a well-equipped, fun, versatile, even handsome and distinctive vehicle, and the base price is a mere $21,625; $22,445 bottom line with destination charges. Trust me: there are very few, if any, vehicles on the road at this price that can match the quality and fun.

About the only thing missing is all-wheel-drive. But not to worry: VW unveiled the Golf AllTrack wagon last year, and it carries a base price of $26,950. It must have some suspension upgrades as they are advertising it as an off-road vehicle with the tag line “Carpe Dirt.” I can’t wait to drive it, too.

Golf is a solid, even exciting offering from VW, and I highly recommend looking into buying one.