2015 Volkswagen Golf Reviews and Ratings

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2015 Volkswagen Golf
Bob Plunkett

Introduction
Redesigned and improved from the platform up, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf and 2015 Volkswagen GTI mark the beginning of the seventh generation of these compact, front-wheel-drive cars. The all-new 2015 Golf is bigger, lighter and more powerful and starts at a slightly lower price compared with 2014 models.

Volkswagen sees the Golf lineup as the core of its brand, and as such, has spawned a number of variants and powertrains: Gasoline-powered Golf TSI and peppy GTI models come in two- and four-door body styles, and the four-door Golf TDI offers efficient diesel power. These are to be followed with the all-electric Golf-e, the high-performance, 290-hp Golf R, and the roomy SportWagon, the latter of which rides on the Golf platform with the body of a more traditional station wagon.

All gasoline-powered 2015 Golf 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. And while other carmakers seem to be dropping manual transmissions, Volkswagen keeps its standard 5-speed manual as well as an optional 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated 26/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.

Whether in two- or four-door styles, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf is fun to drive, with a ride that's firm but still comfortable.

The diesel-powered 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 dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DSG). It's smooth and quiet, and achieves good fuel economy, as expected from a diesel: 31/42 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission. Volkswagen dropped the starting price of the 2015 Golf TDI by more than $3,000 compared with the previous 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 setup, which we found to be much less composed on the road. On the plus side, the new packaging also allows more space than before, bringing total cargo capacity in line with other 2015 Golf models.

The GTI, which Volkswagen claims inspired the hot hatch segment, is as good as ever with its 210-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged power plant, bigger brakes, sport-tuned suspension and precise steering. A new performance package adds even more agility and grip thanks to an electronically controlled electronic slip differential, the first of its kind on a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Fuel economy understandably slips a bit compared to its tamer Golf counterparts, at 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.

Underneath all these models lies a new architecture, VW's MQB platform, which is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of powertrains and body shapes from the ground-up, instead of forcing engineers to shoehorn in modifications that can take up space (such as the battery pack in the electric e-Golf).

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.

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. Golf TDI models are in a class by themselves; 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 SportWagon. Model Lineup
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4 that makes 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque.

Golf Launch Edition ($17,995) comes only in the 2-door body style with a 5-speed manual transmission. Standard features include manually operated air conditioning, cloth upholstery, power windows/door locks/outside mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, manually adjustable seats with lumbar, Bluetooth connectivity, touch screen display, audio system with CD player, satellite radio capability and iPod integration, rear wiper, split folding rear seats with center armrest and pass-through, dual exhaust tips and 15-inch steel wheels.

Golf S is available as a 2-door with a 5-speed manual transmission ($18,995) or with a 6-speed automatic ($20,095). A 4-door body style is equipped with the automatic transmission only ($20,695). Additional standard features include leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls, leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, cruise control and VW Car-Net connected features. Wheels are 15-inch alloys. Four-door Golf S models can also come equipped with a power sunroof.

Golf SE ($24,495) is available only as a four-door model and comes with the 6-speed automatic transmission, heated front seats, Fender premium audio system, rain-sensing headlights, heated front washer nozzles, automatic headlights, front foglights and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Golf SEL ($26,995) also comes exclusively in the 4-door style with the automatic transmission and adds automatic climate control, keyless entry, pushbutton start, sport comfort seats with 12-way power driver's seat, ambient lighting with LED interior reading lights and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Golf TDI models are available in the four-door body style only and are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque.

Golf TDI S models include all standard features found on Golf S, with a choice of either a five-speed manual ($21,995) or a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission ($23,095).

Golf TDI SE models can be equipped with a 6-speed manual ($25,495) or DSG ($26,595) add the Fender premium audio system, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front foglights, rearview camera, heated front washer nozzles a power sunroof and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Golf TDI SEL manual ($27,995) and DSG ($29,995) trims add automatic climate control, keyless entry, pushbutton start, sport comfort seats with 12-way power driver's seat, ambient lighting with LED interior reading lights and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Options include the Driver Assistance Package ($695), which adds front and rear parking sensors and forward collision warning.

GTI models are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that produces 210 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It's available in a 2-door body style with a 6-speed manual ($24,395) or 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual, or DSG ($24,995), or as a 4-door with the same manual ($25,495) or DSG ($26,095) gearboxes. Standard features on the GTI include manually operated air conditioning, cloth upholstery, manually adjustable seats with lumbar support (4-door models get partial power front seats), power windows/door locks/outside mirrors, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls, leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, ambient lighting with LED reading lights, adjustable driving modes, cruise control, touchscreen display, audio system with CD player, satellite radio capability and iPod interface, Bluetooth connectivity, VW Car-Net connected services, split-folding rear seats with center armrest and pass-through, a lowered sport suspension, dual chrome-look exhaust tips, rear spoiler, red brake calipers and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Golf GTI SE 2-door manual ($27,395), 2-door automatic ($28,495), 4-door manual ($27,995) and 4-door automatic ($29,095) add leather upholstery, keyless entry, pushbutton start, the Fender premium audio system, a power sunroof, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights. Four door models get partial power seats.

Golf GTI Autobahn manual ($29,595) and automatic ($30,695) models add automatic climate control, a 12-way power driver's seat and navigation.

Options for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI include a Performance Package ($1,495), which bumps up horsepower by 10 hp for a total of 220 hp and adds larger brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential which electronically adjusts power to wheels while cornering for increased grip.

Safety equipment on all models includes dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side impact airbags, side air curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, electronic stability control and hill-hold assist. Walkaround
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. Interior
As always, the interior of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf exudes an air of simple elegance. Some might call it austere, but we like the controls and trim pieces that blend in unobtrusively with their surroundings, especially in black. That's quite a contrast from other car makers, who seem to overwhelm the eye with varying shades of trims and textures in the cabin, and, in the case of some, try too hard with gimmicks like cupholders that change color.

Controls are canted slightly toward the driver, and the instrument cluster has a classic white-on-black numbering that's easy to read. An information screen sits between the tachometer and odometer and allows drivers to easily see various functions by toggling through a control on the steering wheel. We were slightly bothered by the odd slant of the instrument cluster, however, which is angled upward.

In our test car, 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.

We were pleased to find that 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 other brands such as Hyundai, Nissan and most luxury brands. The Golf's optional built-in navigation works fine, though we found the female voice somewhat grating.

A premium audio system comes on SE and SEL trims is made by Fender, the same company 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 26/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/36 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 31/42 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. Summary
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.

Model as tested
Volkswagen Golf SE 4-Door automatic ($24,495)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Wolfsburg, Germany
Destination charge
820
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
17995
Price as tested
25315
Options as tested
none

Model Line Overview
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)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side impact airbags, side air curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, electronic stability control, hill-hold assist
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
1.8-liter direct-injected turbocharged inline-4
Transmissions
6-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, leatherette upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls, leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake lever, power windows/door locks/outside mirrors, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, partial power seats with lumbar, cruise control, heated front seats, Fender premium audio system, VW Car-Net connected features, Bluetooth connectivity, touch screen display, audio system with CD player, satellite radio capability, iPod integration, rear wiper, split folding rear seats with center armrest, rear pass-through, rearview camera, rain-sensing headlights, heated front washer nozzles, automatic headlights, front foglights, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
1.8-liter direct-injected turbocharged inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
170 @ 4500
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
26/36
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/solid disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent, strut, lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers
Tires
P225/45R17
Suspension, rear
multi link, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.4/na/41.2
Head/hip/leg room, rear
38.1/na/35.6

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
22.8
Wheelbase
103.8
Length/width/height
167.5/70.8/57.2
Turning circle
35.8
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
61.0/59.8
Ground clearance
5.4
Curb weight
3023


J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality 2 / 5
Overall Quality - Mechanical
2 / 5
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
2 / 5
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
3 / 5
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
3 / 5
Overall Quality - Design
3 / 5
Powertrain Quality - Design
2 / 5
Body & Interior Quality - Design
5 / 5
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
2 / 5

Overall Dependability 3 / 5
Powertrain Dependability
2 / 5
Body & Interior Dependability
3 / 5
Feature & Accessory Dependability
2 / 5

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

* The J.D. Power Ratings are calculated based on the range between the car manufacturer or car model with the highest score and the car manufacturer or car model with the lowest score. J.D. Power generates a rating of a five, four, three, or two. If there is insufficient data to calculate a rating, “Not Available” is used in its place.

J.D. Power Ratings may not include all information used to determine J.D. Power awards, visit the Car Ratings page to learn more about awards and ratings.