FIRST LOOK AT THE FRESHENED VW GOLF FAMILY OF SMALL CARS
By Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Beetle – Rabbit – Golf . . . what a heritage.
The folks at VW recently showed off the updated-for-2018 Golf family of compact cars–a hatchback, a couple of sport wagons and two performance hatchbacks–on the popular-with-drivers back roads around Pinckney and Hell, Michigan not far from Detroit. The receding glaciers of 10,000 years ago paused here churning up sandy, gravelly hills making for scenic and twisty back roads, just right for getting the feel of these great handling little cars.
You’ll have to look hard to find the subtle changes in style and design on these already attractively German cars. The classic two-box design has changed little, but we now get standard LED lighting front and rear and a few changes under the skin.
As driving enthusiasts, we’re pleased VW offers manual transmissions across the entire line of Golf models. Steve took the day to drive each model around the morainic hills of southern Livingston County, Thom, only alltrack and Golf R. Both of us were pleasingly reminded of why VW owners are typically loyal. In addition to the simple, Teutonic aesthetic that implies great quality, Volkswagen delivers the kind driving dynamics, particularly with the manual transmissions, that reward the enthusiast.
The regular Golf comes in two trim levels, S and SE, with updated lighting, a touch more chrome and some new infotainment screens. Powertrains remain the same with the 170 horsepower, 1.8-liter turbo engine and five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. It weighs just 3,000 pounds with rated fuel economy approaching 30 mpg combined. The entry level Golf S starts at just under $21,000.
The Golf SportWagen starts at $21,685 and comes with the 1.8-liter turbo powertrain described above. 4Motion all-wheel drive is available for about a grand extra. You’ll get lots of driver assistance technologies with more coming. And, SportWagen gets the same minor styling upgrades as the others.
The Golf Alltrack, sort of a more off-roady compact wagon, gets three trim levels – S, SE and SEL – with starting prices between $25,955 for the S to $35,660 for the SEL. The Alltrack gets most of the same updates inside and freshened trim outside as its hatchback sibling. The SE now gets Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking as standard with Pedestrian Monitoring and Blind Spot Monitoring coming mid-year. Powertrains remain the same 1.8-liter with six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automatic. Fuel mileage gets a combined rating of 25 mpg, plus one click for the manual transmission.
For those of you who “get it” that wagons provide everything an SUV delivers, except the taller driving position, the Alltrack is a great car. The shifter is smooth, the chassis sold, and the powertrain delivers plenty of power for everyday families, with enough in spirit in reserve to put smiles on faces.
Our favorite in the lineup is the hatchback GTI with significantly more performance and panache. For 2018 GTI sports an upgraded 220-horsepower version of the trusty 2.0-liter turbo (10 horsepower better than last year), with six-speed manual or six-speed DSG with Start/Stop technology. This one has an impressive 258 pound-feet of torque and posts notable fuel mileage, though it requires premium. This new GTI gets LED exterior lighting all around with desirable and useful LED headlights on SE and Autobahn models, upgraded brakes on the top trim levels, larger infotainment screens, and a whole slate of driver assistance technology. You can now get 18-inch wheels as well. This new GTI comes in three trim levels beginning with the S at $26,415. Combined fuel economy is around 25 mpg.
We’ve long thought the GTI one of the few “perfect” cars. Priced competitively with similarly equipped competitors, it has superb brakes, an astonishing powertrain that make driving or commuting a pleasure, the later because of VW’s latest telematics system, which is almost telepathic in its response time. And, because it is the original “hot hatch”, you have room for multiple passengers or a passel of footlockers with the rear seat folded.
Hottest of the hot hatches is the Golf R that comes in only one trim level – loaded – priced at a head-spinning $39,785. With the 2018 R you get considerably upgraded styling, a 12 ¼-inch touchscreen display, new digital cockpit, standard navigation, new 19-inch wheels, the new 7-speed DSG transmission, The 2.0-liter turbo makes an impressive 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque and is mated to either a six-speed manual or DSG transmission with Tiptronic all-wheel drive with start/stop. VW plans to make just 4,000 of these per year so you’ll get a bit of exclusivity as well.
Thom had never drive the R and came away simply blown away. “My first impression was that the powertrain was a boosted VR6!” “The chassis, which offers selectable modes from nearly-track to commute, responds to every whim of the driver, complimented by a superb engine, the DSG gearbox adding double whipped and two cherries, like having Sia and Shakira performing at your next birthday party.” If you are interested in a high performance ride: Ford Focus RS, Audi RS4, Lexus IS, you’d be smart to test drive a Golf R.
VW’s new six-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty comes with all 2018 Golfs and is among the best in the industry.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved