Talk about a survivor.
Like the Beetle before it, the Volkswagen Golf hatchback has retained its basic boxy form ever since the first one rolled off the assembly line in 1974 as a ’75 model. Unlike the Beetle, however, successive generations of Golfs have resulted in a car that is as thoroughly modern today as anything else on the market.
The current made-in-Mexico Golf initially arrived for the 2015 model year. Compared to the previous version, it was stretched by about five centimetres overall, with most of the gain found between the front and rear wheels. The width also increased about 2.5 centimetres, while a five-centimetre reduction in body height between the rocker panels and the roofline helped give the Golf a more elongated stance.
A minor facelift for 2018 improved on the conservatively shaped appearance that is the automotive equivalent of a finely pressed suit. This is one car that VW’s designers seemed to have scrupulously avoided faddish or controversial shapes that might draw unwarranted attention.
Mostly unchanged for 2019 is a passenger compartment that’s devoid of any hint of low-rent cost cutting. Both the front and rear seats are well bolstered and the soft-touch dashboard and controls would look right at home in more expensive German brands. A 16.5-centimetre touchscreen is standard, while a 20-centimetre version is available.
The Golf provides plenty of space behind the hatch opening for gear and groceries, either with the 60:40 rear seat folded (nearly) flat or left upright. The adjustable load floor can be lowered by close to 10 centimetres if extra space is needed.
By far the most significant change to the 2019 Golf is the powertrain. The previous turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder has been replaced by a turbocharged 1.4. The new engine, which is also installed in VW’s compact Jetta sedan, makes 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Compared with the 1.8, that’s down 23 horses and 16 pound-feet.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while an eight-speed automatic is optional. Previous Golfs offered a five-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic.
The reduction in output might give some buyers pause, but Volkswagen claims that overall performance has been only slightly affected. On the plus side, fuel consumption is rated at 7.4 l/100 km in combined city/highway driving, with either the manual or automatic transmission, which is better than the previous 8.2 l/100 km (manual transmission).
No doubt the smaller engine and more efficient transmissions help lower consumption, as does a roughly-90-kilogram reduction in vehicle weight.
Looking for more spunk? Check out the Golf GTI with its 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, or the all-wheel-drive Golf R with 288 horsepower and 280 pound-feet. Either model will cost more (the Golf R quite a bit more) than the basic Golf’s $24,200 starting price, including destination fees.
For 2019, The starting-point Golf Comfortline isn’t all that basic since it comes with air conditioning, heated front seats and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The Highline gets the larger touchscreen, climate control, power sunroof, leatherette seat covers and 16-inch wheels.
The top-rung Execline gets navigation, Fender-brand premium sound system, 12-way power driver’s seat and 17-inch wheels.
The range of crash-preventing active-safety technology - which includes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection - is available with the Execline and is not standard.
The current trend to utility vehicles means that some automakers are trimming their small-car offerings, but for buyers who appreciate the look and feel of something more nimble, the constantly improving Golf will not disappoint.
What you should know: 2019 Volkswagen Golf
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact hatchback
Engine (h.p.): 1.4-litre DOHC I-4, turbocharged (147)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; eight-speed automatic
Market position: Over the past few decades, the Volkswagen Golf has achieved near iconic status with buyers preferring the German-engineered hatchback in all its various forms, including the sporty GTI and all-wheel-drive Golf R.
Points: Familiar styling is always in vogue. o First-rate interior design provides both comfort and up-to-date technology. o Standard turbo engine is a bit less powerful than its predecessor, but with a new transmission it delivers improved fuel economy. o VW should consider adding the Golf Alltrack’s AWD system to the options list.
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (opt.); active cruise control (opt.); emergency braking (opt.); pedestrian detection (opt.)
L/100 km (city/hwy) 8.1/6.4 (MT); Base price (incl. destination) $24,200