2018 Volkswagen Golf Review

2018 Volkswagen Golf - Golf swings effortlessly into action


Worldwide, Volkswagen's little Golf provides a substantial foot (and tire) print.

More than thirty million Golfs have been sold around the planet since its 1974 European introduction, qualifying the little giant as the best-selling European car of all time. When it first arrived for sale in the U.S. in the mid 1970's, Volkswagen sold the vehicle under the 'Rabbit' name until the second-generation intro in 1985 when the Golf name made it to the U.S.  The Rabbit name reappeared briefly around 2006 in the U.S., but was short lived as VW wisely returned with the Golf name. 

The Golf family of U.S. vehicles for 2018 include the Patriarch (conventional) Golf, up-tempo GTI,  'performance halo' all-wheel-drive Golf R, versatile Golf Sport wagon and all-electric plug in e-Golf (available in select coastal states, but nowhere near Chicago). From German, Volkswagen translates to the 'people's car.'

Our tester this week is the conventional Golf.  Available in two trims (S, SE) VW dropped off an entry S trim with cloth seats and a five-speed manual transmission.

Golf's S trim provides better-than-average fuel economy (25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway) with preppy handling in a relatively lightweight product.  While not the least-expensive compact hatchback on the market, Golf now offers greater piece of mind that's priceless.

All 2018 model year Volkswagens sold in America (except the electric e-Golf) now come with a six-year/72,000-mile "People First" warranty, which is transferable to the next owner during the its duration at no cost to either party (not all manufacturer warranties offer this transfer option).

People's First is a bumper-to-bumper, limited warranty including the powertrain, transmission and mechanical parts (not ware-and-tear items such as tires or wiper blades).  Volkswagens coverage is now double what a majority of automakers offer (usually three-years/36,000-miles).

Think of Golf as a five-door hatchback of a compact nature.  If a compact sedan tops your wish list, VW offers the Jetta, undergoing a next-generation revamp in the 2019 model year.  Volkswagen showcased the global debut of the seventh-generation, Jetta at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit mid- January.  Chicago's very own Auto Show opens to the public Saturday, February 10 and continues daily until Monday, Feb. 19.

In the 2017 calendar year, the Golf family of vehicles sold 68,978 units in the U.S., up a substantial 11.8 percent from the previous year.

Back in 2015, Volkswagen brought out the seventh-generation Golf to the U.S.  The 2018 version continues with these underpinnings, based on a VW's MQB platform introduced in European-sold Golfs in 2012. This Gen-Seven redo includes a handling-enhancing variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering system, increased rear leg room while shaving significant weight off the previous generation.

Changes from 2017 to this model year remain minimum save for newly designed, narrow wrap-around LED-type taillights in all 2018 trims.

The sole engine in S and SE is a peppy 1.8-liter, four-cylinder turbocharger delivering 170 horsepower.  Turbocharging delivers greater air volume into the engine for increased horsepower without added cylinders by pumping recycled exhaust gases through a pinwheel-inspired turbine back into the engine.  The fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons of regular, unleaded fuel.

For those still appreciating the input a stick-shift transmission offers, Golf offers a manual transmission in more trims than just about any compact competitor with a predictable foot clutch and easy-glide right-hand shift knob.

Volkswagen's, world renowned,  well-identifiable, circular V over W logo appears exterior-wise mid-way through the narrow front grille and on Golf's backside, between the up-dated rear tail light, serving double duty as a mechanical latch that when flipped up from the bottom, opens the rear tailgate. The opened hatch provides ample headroom for those 6-feet two-inches and shorter. Our S trim tester included dual inboard dual exhausts. All four side doors sport body-colored, strap-like handles.

In the mass-market compact segment, pricing plays a big part in the decision-making process.  Golf's pricing has fallen closer in line with the growing number of competitors since 2015, when the seventh-generation version arrived in the states.  A base front-wheel drive S with five-speed manual transmission checks in at $20,910. Add $1,100 for a six-speed automatic transmission.  A front-drive Golf SE trim starts at $23,665 with an additional $1,100 when adding the AT.

The SE adds larger 16-inch tires (compared with 15-inchers on S), push-button start, leatherette seating surfaces with heated front seats, larger 8-inch in-dash touch screen, Satellite radio with limited subscription and a power tilt-and-slide moon roof.

Hatchbacks like Golf sit somewhat lower to the ground than similar-length compact crossovers such as the Honda CR-V or Volkswagen's own Tiguan (starting about $4,000 higher than Golf). That said, Golf provides excellent visibility in multiple directions thanks to four side window and back hatch window.

The easily visually digestible instrument panel includes two circular, deep-set analog circles flanking a digital window with a half-dozen toggle screens selected via a 3 o-clock button on the three-spoke steering wheel. The left-side analog circle includes tachometer readouts while the right orb features the speedometer with a fuel-gauge insert along the bottom. At night, white backlighting dominates with needles glowing a hot red.  Cruise control buttons locate on the steering wheel's nine-o-clock side (with VW's iconic logo front and center on the steering wheel).

Ventilation functions control via an old-school, but highly effective three dial design, each tactile dial responsible for a specific duty (single-zone temperature, fan speed, fan direction).  Drivers can twist all three while keeping eyes squarely on the road.

Front buckets manually slide fore and aft with the assistance of a looped under-seat pull ring. With second-row 60/40 split backrests folded, Golf offers a usable 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space. Volkswagen's well-regarded MIB II connectivity comes standard across the Golf family. The 6.5-inch in-dash color touch screen works along with SD cards, a USB port and Bluetooth wireless technology. The very user-friendly touch screen works in tandem with two twist knobs (selecting volume and station presets) and large, well-marked quick-guide push plates surrounding the screen.

2018 Volkswagen Golf

Starting price: $20,910

Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Horsepower: 170

Wheelbase: 103.8 inches

Overall Length: 167.6 inches

Overall height: 58.2 inches

Overall width: 70.8 inches

Fuel economy:  25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway

Curb weight: 2,945 pounds                                                                                             

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.