The 2019 Volkswagen Golf is a compact hatchback with ideas above its station. While rivals from Korea or Japan tend to be resolutely mainstream and built to a budget (although the Mazda3 is something of an exception to this), the Golf is classy enough to approach the premium bracket.
Along with this regular version, the whole talented range includes the GTI, the Golf R, the SportWagen, the Alltrack and the e-Golf. Those models are all reviewed individually. We’re concentrating here on this most affordable version, which has an excellent turbocharged gasoline engine, a fine interior and a well-balanced platform.
We’re nearing the end of the Golf’s seventh generation. An all-new model is due for the 2020 model year. In the meantime, here’s one of the finer choices among compact hatchbacks.
What’s New for 2019?
Last year’s turbocharged 1.8-liter engine is replaced by a 1.4-liter/4-cylinder unit. That means a drop in horsepower, from 170 to 147, but torque stays the same, which is arguably the more important figure. The transmissions are also new, with a standard 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic. Standard equipment now includes forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, plus blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. SE versions are eligible for a Driver Assistance package.
What We Like
The right size; sophisticated character; fuel-efficient engine; adult-sized back seat; practical hatchback body; six years/72,000 miles warranty.
What We Don’t
Some high-level options like parking assistance and navigation are not available.
$22,740 to $25,040
The front-drive-only Golf is propelled by a turbocharged 1.4-liter/4-cylinder engine making 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, running on regular 87-octane gasoline. The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, or there’s the option of an 8-speed automatic. Models with the automatic also have an engine stop/start feature that saves some fuel when idling.
This 1.4-liter engine is a new addition for 2019 and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not have any fuel consumption estimates at the time of writing this review. However, this same engine is in the new-generation 2019 Volkswagen Jetta compact sedan, where it achieves 30 miles per gallon in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 34 mpg combined (6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic). Compare that with last year’s Golf 1.8T consumption of 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined (manual) and 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined (automatic). We can safely say this new drivetrain is more fuel-efficient.
Standard Features & Options
The 2019 Volkswagen Golf comes in S and SE trim levels. The automatic transmission costs $1,100.
The S ($22,740) has 15-inch 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 a 6.5-in screen, an 8-speaker audio system, satellite/HD radio, Bluetooth (for two phones) and USB connectivity, an SD card slot, auxiliary input, cruise control, cloth-covered seats (with manual lumbar adjustment up front), a cooled glove compartment, power accessories, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring with a rear-traffic alert, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net telematics system (integrating Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link).
The SE ($25,040) brings a panoramic tilt-slide sunroof, fog lights, heated front washer nozzles, keyless entry/ignition, simulated leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, an 8-in touchscreen, voice control and 16-in alloy wheels.
The Driver Assistance package that’s available in the SE (for $1,295) includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, a self-dimming rearview mirror and 17-in alloy wheels.
The cargo capacity is impressive, with 16.5 cu ft. behind the rear seats up to the level of the parcel shelf (as large as a midsize sedan’s trunk), or 22.8 cu ft. up to the ceiling. Flip the rear seats down and there’s a remarkable 52.7 cu ft. You could fit an adult-sized bicycle in there.
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.
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
2019 Honda Civic — Now there’s a hatchback version. The Civic’s quality and affordability make it a great choice.
2019 Hyundai Elantra GT — It’s well-priced, well-equipped and well-made.
2019 Kia Forte — It’s keenly priced yet generously equipped. The Forte keeps getting classier.
2019 Mazda3 — Arguably the Golf’s toughest competitor, the Mazda3 comes in hatchback or sedan versions and offers sportier handling. Its back seat is relatively cramped, however.
2019 Subaru Impreza — It comes standard with all-wheel drive, which may appeal to those living in the more northern latitudes. It’s available as a sedan or a hatchback.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta — If the VW brand is tempting, but the need for a sedan is greater, then the all-new-for-2019 Jetta fits the bill.
Used Volkswagen Golf GTI — For more equipment and power, consider a GTI that’s around two years old, and investigate Volkswagen’s certified pre-owned program.
Even though the S now has more standard equipment, the SE is still the preferred choice if the budget allows.