Road Test: 2020 Volkswagen Golf

It has been over four decades since Volkswagen’s iconic hatchback debuted in the United States, and the seventh-generation Golf is the best Golf yet. Approaching its last year of production for this generation in 2021, the Golf continues to represent a great value with a compelling combination of style, sporty handling, roominess, fuel efficiency, and technology.

We were quite surprised to have the opportunity to spend time in the Golf, given today’s buyers opting for more crossovers and trucks than ever before. But Volkswagen offered us a week with the Golf and we couldn’t wait for it to arrive.

The Golf TSI we evaluated essentially represents the only trim for 2021 too. The value-driven model offers standard 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, keyless access with push-button start with the button located next to the shifter, leatherette seating surfaces, heated front seats, a panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof, and heated washer nozzles.

Exterior
Golf features an unmistakable silhouette. The front bumper and chrome-surround grille are flanked on either side by striking LED daytime running lights that provide the Golf a light signature, and meld into the character line that runs the length of the vehicle. At the rear, full LED taillights complete the display without distracting from the strong C-pillar and overall grace of the Golf’s lines.

The 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped in 205/55 all-season tires look simple, classic VW and we’re so happy to see VW put a balance of comfort and handling as a probity, and leave the low profile tires for the GTI.

Automatic headlights with rain-sensing windshield wipers and the massive panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof are standard and really add a sense of upscale feel to the driving experience. They’re two things that really make the Golf feel like it’s a notch above the rest.

Interior
Golf has always been a versatile, functional vehicle from the beginning. It offers an expansive cabin for a vehicle of its size. There’s 93.5 cu-ft of interior room, 17.4  cu-ft of cargo space up to the parcel shelf, and 25.0 cu-ft. to the roof. The versatility of the load space is enhanced by a trunk floor that can be moved up or down by 3.9 inches, while the 60:40 split backrest can be folded to give an almost flat cargo area that can accommodate a full-size bicycle.

The standard leatherette-wrapped multi-function steering wheel emphasizes the driver-centric nature of the Golf, with ours evening including Tiptronic paddle shifters for increased driver control. The driver-centric design focus is also evident from the center stack, which is angled towards the driver—a trait frequently seen in premium luxury or performance vehicles.

White backlighting for the controls further highlights this upscale ambience, as well as the use of premium materials throughout, such as soft-touch plastics and trim pieces available in chrome, aluminum, and piano-black finishes.

The front seats are especially comfortable and fit our six foot stature well. Impressive too is that someone who’s also six feet tall can sit behind the six-foot driver comfortably. Smart packaging and well designed seats make it feasible.

Golf surprised us by featuring a number of comfort and convenience features often found on more expensive vehicles. Power windows (with one-touch up/down from all window switches) and exterior mirrors, and partial power front seats.

Powertrain
The 2021 Golf features a 1.4-liter turbocharged and direct-injection engine, which makes 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, like our tester was.

Power delivery always feels smooth and strong, with the turbo kicking in at low speeds and really making the Golf feel very peppy no matter the situation.

A smooth Start/Stop System is standard on automatic-transmission models. With it engaged, we averaged 39 mpg after a week of mixed driving, barely using up half a tank. Impressive for no hybrid or electrification technology.

EPA fuel economy numbers are 29 city/36 highway/32 combined, which is quite conservative compared to what we achieved.

Golf was the first U.S.-market vehicle built on Volkswagen’s MQB modular platform, which now underpins almost every VW on the market. The unitary construction chassis has two solid-mounted subframes with bolt-on front fenders, and utilizes technologies such as the laser clamp welder, which produces “wobble seam” welds in a wave pattern to help maximize strength in a limited space.

This translates to smooth handling, solid and secure feeling handling, and impressive road manners that rival much more expensive vehicles.

Infotainment

Golf’s 6.5″ touchscreen display does a superb job of responding to inputs and working with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system features an impressive two USB-C ports which is unheard of in this segment. Bluetooth gets an upgrade too, allowing us to pair two phones simultaneously. 

Since its debut for the 2014 model year, Volkswagen Car-Net has allowed Volkswagen owners to get connected to their vehicles. Car-Net moved into the next generation of integration, with an updated mobile app, a long list of no-charge services for five years, and new subscription options. Car-Net Services will be offered in three areas: Remote Access, Safe & Secure, and Hotspot. Next year, Volkswagen will introduce Carrier of Choice, giving our customers the option to select a data plan from either Verizon or T-Mobile.  With just a few clicks in the VW Car-Net mobile app or at vw.com/carnet, owners can add their new Volkswagen vehicle to their existing mobile data plan or purchase a new one. 

Car-Net Remote Access allows owners the ability to interact with their vehicle from miles away via the mobile app. It is offered at no additional charge for five years from the date of vehicle purchase. Features include remote start and stop (if equipped), remote door lock and unlock, remote honk and flash of lights, last parked location, and remote vehicle status display, which provides information on estimated fuel level and mileage and door and window status. 

VW Car-Net skills for Amazon Alexa are now available for most new Volkswagen vehicles, is. To set up, owners should open the skills page associated with their car model in their Alexa app and link the skill to their VW Car-Net account. This will allow them to use their voice on an Alexa-enabled device to ask Alexa to send remote commands from the comfort of their own home—for instance: “Alexa, ask Car-Net to honk my horn.”

Family Guardian services and Roadside Call Assist can provide added peace-of-mind no matter who is driving. Speed Alert notifies the owner when the pre-determined maximum speed limit is exceeded. Boundary Alert lets the owner know when the vehicle has traveled outside of a pre-set virtual boundary. Curfew Alert notifies the owner if the vehicle is driven while curfew alert is on.

Valet Alert warns if the vehicle is driven more than 0.2 miles from the valet drop-off location. The Car-Net app allows users to control who receives notifications by designating primary and secondary users, with varying levels of control and functionality for each. Notifications can come in the form of text messages, emails, or push notifications from the mobile app itself. If the vehicle is disabled, Roadside Call Assist is available at the touch of the wrench button.

Car-Net Safe & Secure is a paid subscription service that includes Information Assistance, Emergency Assistance, Automatic Crash Notification, Anti-Theft Alert, and Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance. The subscription is $99 per year before taxes and fees, and automatically renews annually at the end of the subscription term, unless cancelled. 

Information Assistance—accessed through the i-call button within the vehicle—allows the driver to speak to a Car-Net agent for support needs, such as points of interest and account services. Emergency Assistance can be accessed through the SOS button in the vehicle, and, if a cellular connection can be established, puts the driver in contact with the Car-Net service center, who can direct emergency responders to the vehicle’s location and notify the user’s Emergency Contact.  Provided a cellular connection can be established, Automatic Crash Notification can help automatically notify an operator who can quickly contact first responders in the event of a collision. 

Anti-Theft Alert sends a push notification to the user if the vehicle’s anti-theft alarm is triggered, and Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance uses Car-Net to assist law enforcement with locating the vehicle in the event that it is stolen.

Safety 
To help protect occupants, the Golf provides a combination of both passive and active safety systems. Standard features include Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring (Front Assist), Blind Spot Monitor, and Rear Traffic Alert.

A standard feature on the 2021 Golf is Volkswagen’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking System. This builds on the premise that a collision is rarely a single, instantaneous action, but rather a series of events that follow the initial impact—the most significant of which can cause additional collisions. The Automatic Post-Collision Braking System helps address this, in certain crash scenarios, by applying the brakes when a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors, thus potentially reducing residual kinetic energy and, in turn, the chance of additional damage.

The Golf also includes Volkswagen’s Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights if the car is involved in certain types of collisions.

Front Assist, standard on all models, is intended to warn drivers of potential frontal collisions (Forward Collision Warning) with vehicles and pedestrians, and in some cases provide automatic braking assistance (Autonomous Emergency Braking).

Golf feature a standard rearview camera but the Rear Traffic Alert system is equally superb.

The Rear Traffic Alert system is intended to detect vehicles approaching from the side that may be difficult for the driver to see while reversing. The system offers a 180-degree view of the back of the car with a range of 65 feet, and will present a visual and an acoustic warning, if a potential collision with a crossing vehicle is detected. If the driver does not react, the system can apply the brakes to help mitigate and, in the best case, can prevent a collision. The system is activated by putting the car in reverse.

Summary

The 2020 VW Golf has a feel much like the original Golf. Personality, simplicity, and driving pleasure remain at the forefront of the Golf, but with a touch of modern thanks to the advanced active safety systems and Apple CarPlay.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling9
Braking10
Powertrain and Fuel Economy9
Noise8
Headlights6
Interior Fit and Finish9
Seating8
Visibility10
Gauges and Controls10
Infotainment10
Crash-Avoidance9
Total Score89

Make: Volkswagen
Model: Golf
Trim Level: TSI
Engine: 1.4L Turbo
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Options: None

Base Price: $23,195
As-Tested Price: $24,115

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