Volkswagen's new Golf hatchback has dropped the "Rabbit" name for the U.S. market. And the automaker's sixth-generation Golf has sharper styling, an upgraded interior and an available fuel-frugal "clean" turbocharged diesel engine.
The Golf, as it's always been called in Europe, is among models that Volkswagen feels will significantly increase its U.S. sales by 2015. The Volkswagen Jetta has the same basic design, but is more popular here because it has a conventional trunk, whereas the Golf is a hatchback with a flip-up rear hatch through which cargo is loaded.
Many Americans largely associate hatchback models with the cheap Japanese hatchbacks once sold here. But things are changing, with hatchbacks becoming more popular among younger folks, who, like Europeans, like a hatchback's versatility.
The Golf's surprisingly good diesel is in the new upscale Golf. More Volkswagen models might have the automaker's "clean" diesel engines by 2015--if not sooner. Americans should toss preconceived notions about diesel engines because the Golf 2-liter, four-cylinder diesel is smooth, quiet and provides fuel economy similar to that of some gas/electric hybrid autos.
Both front-wheel-drive Golf compacts have two or four doors and mostly the same proportions of the 2009 Rabbit. The new Golf models won't win beauty contests, but looks wider and lower, with additional sharp lines and soft curves and a more commanding road presence.
Among new features are a different front end design with a wider, double-bar grille, no side moldings for a cleaner look and updated taillights. The lower rear bumper has a blacked-out insert and a cutout for a pair of exhaust tips.
The quiet interior has supportive front sport seats, and there's a rear armrest and split folding seat for added cargo space. The cockpit still looks a little spartan, but not cheap. For instance, brushed metallic appearance trim inserts are on the dashboard and in door panels and accent the redesigned instrument panel and center console.
There's still a fair amount of plastic, but it's high-quality material. And the center of the rear seat is soft enough to comfortably accommodate a fifth passenger--not the case with many cars. Gauges can be easily read, and a large glass area provides good visibility. But audio and climate controls should be larger.
The cargo area is nicely shaped, but not especially long. The flip-forward rear seatbacks sit flatter in the four-door version than in the two-door, although the four-door cargo area opening seems higher..
List prices range from $17,490 to $23,690. There's lots of standard comfort, convenience and safety equipment, including air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks and an 8-speaker sound system. The diesel model adds such features as a touch-screen sound system and a sport suspension with vehicle lowering 17-inch alloy wheels with performance tires.
Options include a $1,000 power tilt-and-sliding sunroof, $225 cold weather package with heated seats, $199 bluetooth connectivity, $350 rear side air bags, $700 xenon headlights, a $476 advanced sound system and a $1,750 navigation package.
The diesel has gobs of torque, which made it seem like a potent small V-8 when I drove a Golf TDI diesel model, occasionally topping 100 mph, on German high-speed highways (autobahns) from Wolfsburg to Berlin after a media preview of the Golf at Volkswagen's giant, sprawling manufacturing facilities at its Wolfsburg headquarters.
The other new Golf 2.5L model introduced here had an advanced 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine that also allowed easy 100 mph cruising. However, it feels and sounds a bit harsh.
The gas engine develops 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, while the TDI diesel generates 140 horsepower, but 236 pound-feet of torque.
The gas 2.5L two-door comes with a standard five-speed manual transmission, and the four-door version has a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control that lets a driver shift manually with a push of the gear lever.
The Golf TDI diesel has a standard six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) with Tiptronic that delivers the performance of a manual with an automatic's precision.