The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is a dedicated follower of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought. Fully redesigned this year, the new Golf is made in Mexico instead of Germany, and it's a little bigger and has a little more technology inside. It's also a lot more fuel-efficient in base form, thanks to a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that replaces the old 5-cylinder lump. But for the most part, the changes here are evolutionary, and for good reason: The Golf was already a great little hatchback without them.
The base model's improved fuel economy is probably the biggest news. The discontinued 5-cylinder engine was rated at just 30 miles per gallon on the highway -- a poor showing for a compact hatch -- but the new 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower turbo-4 gets up to 37 mpg by the same measure. That's a competitive figure, and the little turbo is also pretty spunky, at least at lower speeds. You get a lot of car for your money when you go with a base 1.8-liter Golf.
Happily, the turbodiesel Golf TDI is back for another tour of duty, and it has 10 more hp, as well as a bit more fuel efficiency. For better and worse, it also has a tank of emissions-friendly urea solution that must be refilled at regular intervals. This is better because it helps the environment, obviously, but it's worse because it gives you one more thing to think about in terms of maintenance. Used-car shoppers should note that the previous-generation Golf TDI did not employ a urea tank.
With these changes, plus an improved infotainment interface, crisper styling and more interior space, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf is easily one of the top compact hatchbacks in the game. If you're looking for a well-rounded, sophisticated car in this segment, you should give the new Golf a go.
What's New for 2015?
The Golf is fully redesigned this year, featuring a new base engine, a fresh interior and numerous other changes.
What We Like
Just the right size; sophisticated character; fuel-efficient base engine; amazingly efficient and torque-rich TDI engine; adult-sized back seat
What We Don't
Base engine lacks power at higher speeds
The front-wheel-drive Golf is powered by either a 1.8-liter TSI turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (170 hp; 184 lb-ft of torque) or a 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel 4-cylinder (150 hp; 236 lb-ft). A 5-speed manual transmission is standard with the TSI, with a 6-speed automatic optional. The TDI gets a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual called DSG.
Fuel economy for the TSI is estimated at 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway with the manual, with the automatic yielding 1 mpg less. The TDI returns up to 31 mpg city/42 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2015 VW Golf is a compact hatchback offered in three main trim levels: S, SE and SEL. Either the TSI or TDI engine can be specified, with the latter incurring an extra charge. There's also a limited-production 2-door TSI Launch Edition model for early shoppers.
Note that the Golf comes with either two or four doors, but the SE and SEL trim levels are 4-door-only.
The Launch Edition ($18,815) is equipped with the TSI engine, Bluetooth, a 5.8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, iPod integration, cloth seats with manual lumbar adjustment, full power accessories and air conditioning.
The S ($19,815) adds alloy wheels, Volkswagen's Car-Net telematics system, leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped handbrake/shift knob/steering wheel, auxiliary steering-wheel controls and cruise control. Four-door models also feature partial power seats and can be equipped with a panoramic sunroof and xenon headlights.
The SE ($25,315) tacks on larger alloy wheels, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front fog lights, a rearview camera and a premium Fender audio system.
The SEL ($27,815) boasts even larger alloy wheels, a navigation system with 3-D mapping, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry/ignition, sport front seats with power 12-way driver adjustments and LED ambient interior lighting.
Cargo capacity in the 2015 Golf is impressive. There's 16.5 cu ft. behind the rear seats -- that's as large as a midsize or even a large sedan trunk -- with 22.8 cubes available if you pile stuff up to the roof. Flip the rear seatbacks down and there's a remarkable 52.7 cu ft. on offer, which is a 15 percent increase compared to the previous generation.
The 2015 Golf comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags. Optional on SE and SEL models is a Driver Assistance package that adds a forward-collision warning system. All Golfs feature a new automatic post-collision braking system that applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the risk of damage from additional collisions.
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation of the 2015 Golf, we were impressed by the premium vibe, from the rich dashboard and door-panel materials to the subtle brushed-aluminum accents. This doesn't feel like an economy car; in fact, it's almost like an entry-level luxury car that's been downsized. Of course, much the same could be said of the previous Golf, too, so there aren't any revolutionary changes here. But unlike the current Jetta, which turned a little cheaper inside with its latest redesign, the Golf is blessed with a nicely executed cabin by any standard.
In terms of technology, the newly standard 5.8-in touchscreen takes a big step forward with its "capacitive touch sensor," a fancy way of saying that you can swipe and pinch-zoom -- just like a smartphone. Again, that's standard, so every Golf comes with this nifty technology. The display also has a proximity sensor that automatically calls up a more finger-friendly layout when your hand approaches. This is impressive stuff for a car that starts under $20,000.
The Golf's front seats provide firm support that will be quite familiar to VW fans. The back seat is remarkably adult-friendly given the Golf's modest dimensions, though the same was true of the previous Golf, too -- it's not like the car really needed the extra 1.1 inches of rear shoulder room that have been added this time around.
On the road, the Golf feels nimble yet solid, displaying that distinctive Germanic composure at higher speeds. The steering is rather numb in corners, but you can hustle this little hatch along if you feel like it. It has moves. We were hoping for more punch from the standard 1.8-liter TSI engine; in the manual-transmission version, there's almost no roll-on power in fourth or fifth gear at speed. It's peppy enough around town, though, and for those who want better real-world performance, the TDI serves up a big wave of torque on demand along with its superior efficiency.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Focus -- The Focus may be getting on in years, but its styling remains fresh, and it's both fuel-efficient and fun to drive.
Mazda3 5-Door -- Arguably the Golf's toughest competitor, the sleek Mazda3 hatchback gets better fuel economy and offers sportier handling to boot, though its back seat is relatively cramped.
MINI Cooper -- Although it's smaller than the Golf, the Cooper has a similarly upscale character, and its funky looks could win you over.
With its effortless torque and stellar fuel economy, the turbodiesel TDI is the way to go if the price doesn't put you off.