2020 Volkswagen Golf TSI Review by David Colman
It's got it all, except for one little thing
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
The VW Golf range is available with either an 8-speed automatic transmission, a 7-speed sequential gearbox or a 6-speed manual shifter. For those of us who love to change gears the old fashioned way, with a clutch and a console-mounted stick, the base model of the Golf range, called TSI by VW, is a real treat when equipped with the 6-speed manual. The shift lever is topped with a palm-filling, leather capped knob inscribed with the pattern of gear location. Reverse requires a hard kick forward and to the left for engagement, while all 6 forward speeds call for forward/back actuation, with a slight right jog from the 1/2 gate to the 3/4 gate and another jog from 3/4 over to 5/6. Operation of this manual gearbox is a dream, with each gate and gear easy to locate. Clutch actuation is similarly worthy of praise, with an easily determined engagement point that is crisp enough to require no slippage at all.
The only drawback of this manual is that it contains only 6 gears, not 7 or 8, like the other available transmissions. This would not be a problem if VW hadn't chosen such a tall second gear. Since first gear (4.11:1) is a real stump puller of a ratio - good for only 25mph or so - second gear (2.12:1) needs to be numerically closer to first than the one VW has chosen. Instead the Golf's diminutive 1.4 liter turbo falls flat on its face when you upshift from first to second. From a mileage reward standpoint (31 MPG Overall), this ratio choice is beneficial, but I would prefer a significantly lower second gear than the 62mph ratio VW has selected. On the other hand, 4th gear (.97:1) is tall enough to act as a perfect freeway ratio. In fact, I inadvertently forgot to upshift from 4th to 5th or 6th, and travelled for more than 30 freeway miles at 65mph in 4th without even noticing the difference. For the record, 4th gear requires just 3000rpm at 65mph while 6th gear drops that number to a very leisurely 2000rpm at 65mph.
Car makers love to dump acronyms on the public without ever defining the meaning of these arcane abbreviations. Mazda is especially adept at this confusion, with their "Skyactive" label, which seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time. VW too has followed this terminology path with their "TSI" descriptor. Courtesy of Long Island, New York's largest VW dealer, Donaldson's VW, we learn that TSI stands for "Turbo Stratified Injection." This simply means that the base model, inline 4 cylinder engine that powers the Golf TSI is both turbocharged and direct fuel injected to produce 147hp from just 1.4 liters of displacement. When you compare that output to the top echelon Golf GTI's 2.0 liter 4 (228hp), the TSI would seem to be at a serious performance disadvantage. However, such is not the case. The Golf TSI, thanks to its sub-3,000lb. curb weight (2995lb.), is so light and agile that it encapsulates all the fun and liveliness of the revered GTI in a significantly less expensive, more economic package.
Nor will you find one of those ubiquitous and pretentious "Drive Mode" knobs cluttering up the center console of this VW. Rather, VW engineers have seen to it that the Golf TSI is in "Sport Mode" every time you set out for a drive. That's because they've calibrated the spring rates, shock absorber settings and rear anti-sway bar diameter to provide you with a resilient, sometimes rough ride that pays off in spades when you tackle a twisting back road with this Golf. Despite the fact that tire selection (Bridgestone Ecopia 422+) and size (205/55R16) and tread hardness (TW 540) are all less than optimal for big skid pad numbers, this petite Golf hangs onto the road with imperturbable aplomb. The base model Golf's alluring performance is down to VW's brilliant suspension system, which utilizes MacPherson struts up front and a multilink setup and 19mm antiroll bar in back. Factor in a minimal turning circle of 35.8 ft. and a quick steering ratio of 13.6:1, and you have yourself a responsive dervish of a family sedan.
The interior of the Golf TSI is nicely done, with typical Germanic attention to functionality. The front seats, done in V-Tex leatherette, are encapsulating, as well as heated. The split rear bench folds flat for 17.4 cubic feet of storage. The rear hatch opens and closes the old fashioned way - by hand. Our only complaint involved the lack of a USB port inside the cabin. Since our test Golf lacked any SiriusXM satellite radio connection, we were relegated to the tedium of AM/FM feeds. So we looked around for the non-existent USB port to connect our own music supply. That's when we discovered that this base model Golf does not provide one (contrary to their advertising). Rather, VW requires you to buy a "CarStick" for which they have provided their own design of receptacle. This proprietary device - available only from your local VW dealer - allows you to connect your tunes or phone to the Golf's sound system. This proved to be the only off-song note in a week of driving highs with the bargain priced Golf TSI.
2020 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF TSI
ENGINE: 1.4 liter inline 4, 16 valve DOHC, Direct Fuel Injection, Turbocharged
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 28MPG City/36MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $24,115
HYPES: Great Shift Actuation, Solid Build Quality
GRIPES: Where's the USB Port?
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10