Car Review

2016 Volkswagen Golf: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2016

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf is one year into its seventh generation, and despite one notable setback, it's still at the top of the compact-hatchback hill. That setback, of course, is the cheat software in the diesel engines that forced Volkswagen to pull its TDI models out of the market.

Nevertheless, the Golf still has an excellent TSI gasoline engine, a fine interior and a well-balanced platform. The wider range spans from the 1.8T up to the GTI and Golf R, and even includes the all-electric e-Golf. These last three models, though, are all reviewed separately, so we'll just concentrate here on the most accessible versions of the Golf hatchback.

What's New for 2016?

Despite being all new last year, this year's model still manages some refinements. The basic car has a new 5-inch touchscreen. Higher trims have a 6.5-in touchscreen that incorporates Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink, all of which are ways to integrate a smartphone into the infotainment system. Volkswagens used to have some odd cable, but that has now been replaced by a regular USB port. A rearview camera is now standard, except for the base trim.

The optional Driver Assistance package receives some new features, such as adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system with rear-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, automated parallel and perpendicular parking and a self-dimming rearview mirror.

What We Like

The right size; sophisticated character; fuel-efficient engine; adult-sized back seat; practical hatchback body style

What We Don't

A bit pricier than the competition

How Much?

$19,315-$28,245

Fuel Economy

The Golf is propelled by a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on base and S models, while a 6-speed automatic transmission is optional. In higher trim levels, the 6-speed automatic is standard.

Fuel economy with the manual is estimated at 25 miles per gallon in the city, 37 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg combined. With the automatic, those figures are 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined.

The Golf uses front-wheel drive with these engine/transmission/trim-level setups.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Volkswagen Golf comes in base, S, SE and SEL trim levels. The base trim is available with only two passenger doors. The S can come with two or four doors, although once there's a sunroof installed, it's four doors only and stays that way further up.

The basic TSI ($19,315) comes with 15-in alloy wheels, an infotainment system with a 5-in screen, Bluetooth connectivity, daytime running lights, cruise control, cloth seats (with manual lumbar adjustment up front), power accessories and air conditioning.

The TSI S ($20,395) brings a rearview camera, Volkswagen's Car-Net telematics system, a 6.5-in touchscreen, satellite radio, a leather-wrapped hand brake/shift knob/steering wheel and auxiliary steering-wheel controls. Four-door models also feature partial power seats and can be equipped with a panoramic power tilt-and-slide sunroof.

The TSI SE ($26,045) adds 17-in alloy wheels, V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces, the Cold Weather package (heated front seats and heated front washer nozzles), rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front fog lights, keyless access with push-button starting and a Fender-branded (made by Panasonic) audio system.

The TSI SEL ($28,245) enjoys 18-in alloy wheels, navigation, Climatronic automatic air conditioning, sport comfort seats, a 12-way power driver's seat and ambient lighting with LED interior reading lights.

Cargo capacity is impressive, with 16.5 cu ft. behind the rear seats (as large as a midsize sedan's trunk). When you flip the rear seats down, there's a remarkable 52.7 cu ft.

Safety

The 2015 Golf comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags. A Driver Assistance package ($1,495) is optional on SE and SEL models, adding a forward-collision warning system with autonomous emergency braking. All Golf models feature an automatic post-collision braking system that applies the brakes after an impact, reducing the risk of damage from subsequent collisions.

The 4-door version hasn't been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the 2-door model scored a maximum of five stars overall. That breaks down to four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has tested a 4-door model and made it a Top Safety Pick+.

Behind the Wheel

The premium feel of the interior is impressive, from the soft-touch plastics of the dashboard and rich door-panel materials to the subtly brushed aluminum accents. This doesn't feel like an economy car; it feels more like a downsized entry-level luxury vehicle.

The touchscreen incorporates a capacitive touch sensor with swipe and pinch-to-zoom functions, just like a smartphone. It also has a proximity sensor that automatically calls up a more user-friendly layout when a hand approaches. This is impressive stuff for a car that starts at around $20,000.

The front seats provide firm support that will be familiar to Volkswagen fans. Long trips are no problem when sitting in one of these. The back seat is remarkably adult-friendly given the car's modest dimensions.

The drive is nimble yet solid, staying absolutely composed at higher speeds, as well as completely comfortable. The steering is rather numb in corners (a symptom of electric steering assistance), but the car is ready and eager to transition from one direction to the other.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Ford Focus -- The Focus is getting on in years, but its styling remains fresh in both 4-door and hatchback guise. It also manages to be fun and fuel efficient at the same time.

2016 Kia Forte -- Don't ignore the keenly priced yet well-equipped Kia. The Forte keeps getting classier.

2016 Mazda3 -- Arguably the Golf's toughest competitor, the Mazda3 comes in hatchback or sedan form. This model gets better fuel economy and offers sportier handling. Its back seat is relatively cramped, however.

2016 Subaru Impreza -- The Impreza comes with all-wheel drive as standard, which might be tempting to those living in the more northern latitudes. It's available as a sedan or hatchback.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta -- If the Volkswagen brand is tempting but the need for a sedan is greater, then the Jetta fits the bill. It has much better interiors these days after a period of de-contenting. The car is almost as big as a midsize sedan.

Used Mercedes-Benz CLA250 -- Admittedly, this model is not as practical as a Golf, but it's more upscale and well-appointed. A certified pre-owned model is within reach. You might even find one with all-wheel drive.

Autotrader's Advice

An SE with the Driver Assistance package has a good balance of fun technology and great active safety features.

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2016 Volkswagen Golf: New Car Review - Autotrader