2015 Volkswagen Golf Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Laura Burstein
© 2015 NewCarTestDrive.com

All-new the 2015 Volkswagen Golf lineup comes in three- and five-door body styles plus a new wagon, with a wide choice of powertrains that use gasoline, diesel or electricity for propulsion. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf marks the beginning of the seventh generation of these compact, front-wheel-drive cars.

We’ve found the entire lineup of 2015 Volkswagen Golf models fun to drive, with a ride that’s firm but comfortable. The interiors are very nice, comfortable, convenient, and everything is easy to operate. These are great cars. And we aren’t the only automotive journalists to think so:

The new Volkswagen Golf earned the prestigious 2015 North American Car of the Year award.

All gasoline-powered 2015 Golf models use an updated version of VW’s 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder, good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque in the standard model. And while other carmakers seem to be dropping manual transmissions, Volkswagen keeps its standard 5-speed manual as well as an optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated 26/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.

The diesel-powered 2015 Golf TDI uses an updated version of VW’s turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed DSG automated manual transmission. The TDI is smooth and quiet, and achieves excellent fuel economy.

Volkswagen dropped the starting price of the 2015 Golf TDI by more than $3,000 compared with the previous-generation 2014 model, but not without compromises. For one, the Golf TDI loses its sportier (and more expensive) multi-link rear suspension in favor of a less sophisticated torsion beam rear axle, which we found to be less composed on the road. On the plus side, the new packaging allows more luggage space than before, bringing total cargo capacity in line with other 2015 Golf models.

The SportWagen offers a choice of the 1.8-liter TSI (gasoline) engine or the latest version of the 2.0 TDI diesel. Transmission choices include a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed automatic, a 6-speed manual, and a 6-speed dual clutch automated manual. SportWagen EPA fuel economy ratings range from 25/35 mpg City/Highway for the TSI manual to 31/43 mpg for the TDI with manual transmission.

The 2015 Volkswagen GTI, the car that inspired the hot hatchback phenomenon in 1975, is better than ever with its 210-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged power plant, bigger brakes, sport-tuned suspension and precise steering. A new performance package adds 10 hp, plus even more agility and grip thanks to an electronically controlled electronic slip differential. Fuel economy slips a bit compared to the standard Golf, to 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg with the automatic.

Yet another variation on the same 2.0-liter turbo, the 2015 Golf R generates 292 hp and 280 lb.-ft. It’s EPA-rated for 23/30 mpg City/Highway. That’s more power and better fuel economy than that of the previous-generation version. Both of the turbocharged engines require Premium gasoline, whereas the standard Golf versions burn Regular gas.

Inside, all 2015 Golf models get comfortable seats, a tasteful interior with thoughtfully placed controls, a new standard touchscreen and plenty of space for people and cargo. We found even the tallest drivers are comfortable in the back seat, with ample headroom and sufficient legroom. Cargo space measures 22.8 cubic feet, and the Golf’s boxier shape allows stuff to be stacked nearly all the way to the roof. As you’d expect, the bigger SportWagen provides even more volume: 30.4 behind the rear seats, 66.5 with the rear seats folded flat, rivaling many compact SUVs.

Competitors to the 2015 Volkswagen Golf include hatchback versions of the Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Mazda3, and the Hyundai Elantra GT. Alternatives to the GTI include the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si. The only hatchback rival to the 2015 Golf R is its more expensive cousin, the Audi S3, though a hotter Ford Focus is due for the 2016 model year. Golf TDI models are in a class by themselves; those looking for diesel power would have to go to a four-door sedan like the Chevrolet Cruze diesel or step up to a more expensive luxury vehicle like the BMW 328d SportWagen.

Model Lineup

Golf Launch Edition ($17,995); Golf S 2-door ($18,995); Golf S 2-door auto ($20,095); Golf S 4-door ($20,695); Golf S sunroof 4-door ($20,995); Golf S sunroof auto ($22,095); Golf SE 4-door ($24,495); Golf SEL 4-door ($26,995); Golf TDI S ($21,995); Golf TDI S auto ($23,095); Golf TDI SE ($25,495); Golf TDI SE auto ($26,595); Golf TDI SEL ($27,995); Golf TDI SEL auto ($29,095); GTI S 2-door ($24,395); GTI S 2-door auto ($25,495); GTI S 4-door ($24,995); GTI S 4-door auto ($26,095); GTI SE 2-door ($27,395); GTI SE 2-door auto ($28,495); GTI SE 4-door ($27,995); GTI SE 4-door auto ($29,095); GTI Autobahn ($29,595); GTI Autobahn auto ($30,695)

Walk Around

While the 2015 Golf is fully redesigned, exterior changes are subtle. The front end is slightly lower and wider, with a shorter front overhang. Headlights are narrower, with standard foglamps on upper trims, and new LED running lights are optional.

Underneath all Golf models is a new architecture, VW’s MQB platform, which is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of powertrains and body shapes from the ground-up. Compared with the previous generation, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf is about two inches longer, an inch lower and ever-so-slightly wider, riding atop a wheelbase that’s stretched by more than two inches. The front wheels sit 1.7 inches farther forward, making the Golf appear to sit farther back on its haunches and giving it a sportier, more aggressive stance.

Volkswagen says the new shape also helps the Golf achieve better aerodynamics; the drag coefficient has been improved from 0.32 to 0.29. A lower number is better, as it helps the car slip more easily through the air, improving performance and fuel economy.

From the side, the longer hood is evident, as is its lower stance. The side body crease that runs from behind the front wheel arches and just below the door handles is crisper and sharper.

In the rear, the back end is flatter, framed by narrower, more angular tail lamps. The rear window opening is sits slightly higher up. The lower rear bumper is also more angular, framing the license plate housing in twin symmetrical bulges. Both TSI and TDI models get twin tailpipes on one side.

GTI models are differentiated by a unique mesh front grille and bold horizontal lines across the foglamp housings, side skirts, a roof spoiler and red calipers. In back, the GTI gets a unique rear diffuser and twin chrome exhaust tips, one on either side.

Golf R distinctions are subtle, entailing a revised front bumper design with larger air intakes, bi-xenon headlights with LED surrounds, black finish side mirror backs, an R-specific wheel design, four tailpipes, and of course R logos on the front fender.

The e-Golf was to designed to look and feel like a regular Golf, so exterior distinctions are minimal. The headlights are LED, the wheel design is specific to this car. And because e-Golf is battery-powered, there is no tailpipe.


In one model we drove, the instrument panel was wrapped in a pleasing, soft-touch material that was textured just enough to give it interest, with a soft matte finish that made it look high-end and also prevented glare. The center stack, gearshift surround and dash came trimmed in a tasteful, low-gloss brushed aluminum-look trim.

A new standard color touch screen sits in the center stack, flanked on either side by rows of buttons that control audio, phone and vehicle information functions. The buttons allow quick access to each function, without looking cluttered. While the screen is a nice addition on base models, we would like to see a larger screen for the more expensive trims and the GTI, especially on cars equipped with navigation. Below, three perfectly symmetrical knobs operate the climate control functions.

On cars equipped with pushbutton start, the button sits on the center console, rather than next to the steering column like in some cars. This felt a bit unnatural, but we think owners would get used to it relatively quickly. Traditional ignition keys are used on some models, with a key that flips out of the fob; and you’re never looking for the key.

All 2015 Volkswagen Golf models come standard with iPhone connectivity and use Apple’s newest Lightning plug. Though, when our iPhone 5s was plugged in, we were disappointed that our phone’s navigation audio commands did not come through the car’s speakers, as it does with Hyundai, Nissan and most luxury brands. Golf’s optional built-in navigation works fine, though we found the female voice somewhat grating.

A premium audio system that comes on Golf SE and Golf SEL trims is made by Fender, of guitar fame. If you like your music loud, the Fender system will deliver, but at low to moderate volumes, we didn’t find it remarkable. In fact, it was especially hard to hear in the GTI due to all the road noise.

Front seats are comfortable, and getting in and out of the car is easy, even for our six-foot-five driving companion. Side bolsters hold occupants firmly around the corners and fit a range of body styles and sizes, though our tall colleague mentioned after some time he was feeling a tad pinched in the hips. Standard upholstery on our test car was Volkswagen’s V-Tex leatherette, which was comfortable and appears as if it would hold its shape long-term, though it would be hard-pressed to mistake it for real leather. Our SE model was equipped with partial power seats; fore-and-aft adjustments are manual, while recline functions are automatic. We find this combination a bit strange and would prefer either all-manual controls like those found on the Golf S 2-door, or the 12-way full power seats that come on SEL trims.

Despite the 2015 Golf being longer than its predecessor, front legroom remains stays the same at 41.2 inches. In the rear, the Golf gains only one-tenths of an inch in legroom at 35.6 inches. And because it’s about an inch lower, the Golf loses some headroom compared with the outgoing model: about an inch in front, and about a half-inch in the rear. Still, the Golf’s boxy shape makes it plenty roomy, and we got no complaints in that department even from our very tall driving companion, who fit fine behind the (much shorter) driver.

Outward visibility is excellent, unimpeded except for the large C-pillars (the rearmost roof supports).

Storage space is plentiful in the Golf, with twin cupholders in the center console, and wide, deep front door pockets that can hold giant water bottles and coffee mugs. Rear passengers get a fold-down center console, when a fifth passenger isn’t in the center seat.

Cargo space measures 22.8 cubic feet in all models. This is especially significant in the TDI model, which previously could carry only 15.2 cubic feet (due to the position of the diesel system’s urea tank in the rear of the car). The tradeoff, comes in the form of a new, space-saving torsion beam suspension, which slightly sacrifices driving dynamics. A split folding rear seat is standard, as well as a center pass-through, which allows multiple cargo and passenger configurations.

Compared to the four-door Ford Focus hatchback, the Volkswagen Golf offers slightly more rear legroom but falls short of the Focus’s 23.8 cubic-foot trunk. The Kia Forte hatchback gets more headroom, slightly more rear legroom and and 23.2 cubic feet of trunk space. Mazda3 hatches slightly more rear legroom with 35.8 inches, but have slightly less headroom in the front and rear the least amount of trunk space at 20.2 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is both sophisticated and fun, with European road manners that make it pleasurable to drive around town and on the highway.

Though all models now use four-cylinder engines, there is ample power for most driving needs. Golf TSI models use an updated version of VW's 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. On our TSI test car with the automatic transmission, acceleration was smooth and shifts were timely. There is a brief moment of hesitation at tip-in, followed by ample thrust. But we wouldn't call it turbo lag; this is typical for all newer cars tuned to maximize fuel economy. In sport mode, the transmission holds gears longer, providing plenty of thrust during our test drive through the hilly roads of Northern California.

In TSI models, the ride is firmly sprung, but not uncomfortable. Rebound is smooth and quick when going over train tracks and potholes. Over rougher road, a rear multi-link suspension helps to keep everything in check.

Fuel economy is a fairly admirable 25/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, according to EPA estimates.

Golf TDI models use a revised version of VW's turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. We found our TDI test car exceptionally quiet on startup, and the clattering typical of a diesel engine was only obvious when driving at low-to-moderate speeds on demanding roads.

Our Golf TDI model was equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission. Clutch engagement is smooth and shift throws are comfortable, but like all cars that now use cable linkage, it feels soft compared to stick shifts of old. In most situations the transmission responds just as it should, though we'd often have to downshift to first gear at parking-lot speeds, where in many cars second would suffice. We also felt caught between second and third gears at moderate speeds through winding uphill roads: the engine whirred along at the top of its limits in second, but failed to provide enough oomph in third. As a result, we found ourselves shifting back and forth around nearly every turn. If you like the driver engagement of a manual, this car will give you that and then some. If not, stick to the automatic.

To create more trunk space (and perhaps to cut costs), Golf TDI models no longer have the sportier and more expensive multi-link rear suspension found on other Golf models, and instead use a less sophisticated torsion beam rear setup. Driving around town, the difference was negligible, but we found the car became unsettled and was much less composed around hard corners and on uneven, undulating surfaces.

While it may not deliver the best ride quality of the lineup, the Golf TDI excels in fuel economy, with 31/45 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.

On both models, the Golf's brakes work well. On the previous generation Golf, we dug into the brake pedal repeatedly on Germany's Autobahn to slow down from triple-digit speeds. This time, though our drive was at much lower speeds, we felt just as confident. Pedal feel is solid, and braking feels stable.

The 2015 Golf GTI is sporty yet still refined, with its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 210 hp and a hearty 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Not only is the GTI more powerful than before, it's also about 80 pounds lighter, which makes the GTI feel plenty zippy around town and on the highway. Suspension in the GTI is firmer and feels flatter through the corners than the standard Golf, which also makes it more comfortable for aggressive driving.

An optional Performance Package for the GTI boosts power to 220 horsepower and adds bigger brakes and a new torque-sensing electronically controlled limited-slip differential. As its description suggests, the limited-slip differential improves stability and grip via electronic, rather than mechanical, means.

The electric steering in the GTI feels heavy, which will satisfy those who equate high steering effort with sportiness. Though our opinion, artificially creating a heavy steering feel isn't necessary to enjoy a jaunt around town or some weekend canyon carving.

The exhaust note on the GTI is satisfying, and one can hear it adequately through the cabin, though it has quite a bit of competition in the form of road and tire noise. In fact, we found the GTI so noisy at highway speeds, we had to considerably raise our voices (or the volume of the stereo system) to hear anything.

Fuel economy for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is rated at 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.

The Volkswagen Golf is a versatile, fun-to-drive car available in a variety of body styles and powertrains. The standard Golf offers German refinement at Honda prices. The Golf TDI achieves excellent fuel economy and has more cargo space than before, though ride quality is slightly compromised. The GTI is sporty yet refined, with increased power and less weight over its predecessor.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report after her test drive of the Volkswagen Golf and GTI in San Francisco.

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