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2018 Volkswagen Golf: New Car Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Volkswagen Golf, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Volkswagen Golf Review

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf serves as a wonderful reminder that Golf cars are among the best-selling in the world. In Europe, a compact hatchback like this makes so much sense. It has an element of style, can handle those tight ancient streets, long autobahns and curving hilltop roads with equal panache, and is practical enough for most people’s purposes. These attributes work just as well on either side of the Atlantic.

Even though we gripe a little about how the Golf is not quite so upscale as it once was, it’s still one of the classier choices of the compact hatchback scene. The whole range begins with the 1.8T, then goes on to include the GTI, Golf R, SportWagen, Alltrack and the e-Golf. These models are all reviewed individually. We’re concentrating here on the most affordable version, which has an excellent turbocharged gasoline engine, a fine interior and a well-balanced platform.

What’s New for 2018?

The front and rear ends receive a little refreshing, with LED daytime running lights, new LED taillights and some chrome highlights. Trim levels are now S and SE (the Wolfsburg Edition is no more). The S trim gains rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights and a new 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen; SE models have an 8-in version of that display. The New Vehicle Limited Warranty is now 6 years/72,000 miles (whichever occurs first). See the 2018 Volkswagen Golf models for sale near you

What We Like

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

What We Don’t

VW has brought this version of the Golf a bit downmarket; some higher-level options like parking assistance and navigation are no longer available; the manual transmission only has five forward gears

How Much?

$21,760-$24,505

Fuel Economy

This front-drive-only Golf is propelled by a turbocharged 1.8-liter/4-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque with the standard 5-speed manual transmission. When the optional 6-speed automatic transmission is installed, maximum torque increases to 199 lb-ft.

Fuel economy with the manual transmission is estimated at 25 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. With the automatic, those figures are 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf 1.8T comes in S and SE trim levels.

The S ($21,760) has 15-in alloy wheels, a rearview camera, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel/parking brake lever/shift knob, heated side mirrors, climate control, an infotainment system with 6.5-in screen, 8-speaker audio system, satellite/HD radio, Bluetooth (for two phones) and USB connectivity, SD card slot, auxiliary input, cruise control, cloth-covered seats (with manual lumbar adjustment up front), cooled glove compartment, power accessories and Volkswagen’s Car-Net telematics system (integrating Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link).

SE ($24,505) brings a panoramic tilt/slide sunroof, fog lights, heated front washer nozzles, keyless entry/ignition, leatherette seating surfaces, heated front seats, 8-in touchscreen, voice control, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert and 16-in alloy wheels.

Choosing options is simple. The automatic transmission is $1,100. There are no more extras, except for a few little things like the "MuddyBuddy" trunk liner.

Cargo capacity is impressive, with 16.5 cu ft. behind the rear seats (as large as a midsize sedan’s trunk). Flip the rear seats down and there’s a remarkable 52.7 cu ft.

Safety

The Golf comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags. Both trims feature an automatic post-collision braking system that applies the brakes after an impact, reducing the risk of damage from subsequent collisions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the Golf its maximum score of five stars overall. That breaks down to four stars for frontal impacts and five for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named it a Top Safety Pick (when it has the extra driver aids).

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 subtle brushed aluminum accents. This doesn’t feel like an economy car, but 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.

Long trips are no problem. The front seats provide sturdy support that will be familiar to VW fans. 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 (a symptom of electric steering assistance), something that becomes more apparent through the turns. But the car is ready and eager to transition from one direction to the other.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Ford Focus — The Focus is getting old, but its styling remains fresh in both sedan and hatchback forms. It also manages to be fun and fuel-efficient at the same time.

2018 Honda Civic — There’s now a hatchback version. The Civic’s quality and affordability make it a great choice.

2018 Kia Forte — Keenly priced, yet well-equipped. The Forte keeps getting classier.

2018 Mazda3 — Arguably the Golf’s toughest competitor, the Mazda3 comes in hatchback or sedan form, gets better fuel economy and offers sportier handling. Its back seat is relatively cramped, however.

2018 Subaru Impreza — Comes with all-wheel drive as standard, which might be tempting to those living in the more northern latitudes. Available as a sedan or hatchback.

2018 Volkswagen Jetta — If the VW brand is tempting, but the need for a sedan is greater, the Jetta fits the bill. The interior is much better these days after a period of "de-contenting," and the car is almost as big as a midsize.

Used Volkswagen Golf GTI — For more equipment and power, check out a GTI that’s about a year or two old and investigate the certified pre-owned (CPO) program.

Autotrader’s Advice

Let’s suppose a version with the automatic transmission and that little boost in torque is already decided upon. It will help with resale values down the line. If there’s enough money in the budget, choose the SE for the extra safety features.

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