Expert Reviews

Long-Term Test Update 1: 2015 Volkswagen Golf (1.8TSI)

Odometer at pick-up: 6,788 km
Odometer current: 9,842 km (3,054 km by autoTRADER)
Observed Fuel Consumption: 8.15 L/100 km (8.0 L/100 km displayed on trip computer)
Fuel costs: $244.98

As is to be expected, our first few weeks in the Golf have been hectic, it being the holiday season and time to visit family near and far. In this case, the Golf served as our ride of choice for a couple of quick road trips, first from Toronto to Montreal in a colleague’s hands, and then to visit my own family in Picton, Ontario. Plus, we got enough snow and cold weather to get a feel for this as a winter car, and discovered some quirks that got under our skin.

Since today was so cold and its cold weather performance is fresh in my mind, let’s start there. This is a small car, but it seems to take half of my commute (10+ minutes) before it gets warm unless we warm it up for a while, but I hate idling, so usually suck it up and skip that pointless pollution. But once those seaters get warmed up, wow are they ever hot! Thankfully they have three settings, and the climate controls are super easy to use, even with my big gloves on.

Something that doesn’t work with gloves on: the touchscreen controls for radio. As I commented in the log book: “Touchscreen with gloves on, not so good.” My wife, however, has gloves with the conductor fingertips for smartphones and those work fine, so she gets to choose the satellite radio station on cold days. The fact that the screen response is slow and the graphics little better than a Game Boy don’t help its cause, but basic functions are dead simple, and the homescreen can be set up with four favourite phone numbers, which I really appreciate.

Meanwhile, our good friend and colleague Justin Couture took the Golf for a quick run to Montreal and back, so I’ll let him take over for a while.

Montreal Road Trip, Justin Couture

As with people, you learn a lot about cars on a road trip. Dealing with that rambunctious buddy of yours from university might be possible in “limited doses” but belt him in for six hours with no place to go and you’ll quickly discover just how much tolerance you have.

The Golf makes a formidable first impression. On a dealership test drive, it is difficult not to warm to its charm. It’s every bit the Audi in Volkswagen's clothes that you’d expect with a premium interior, peppy off-the-line performance and a thoroughly complete list of standard equipment. Panoramic sunroof, heated leatherette seats, and back-up camera for less than $26K? One would certainly be excited for any small car at this price, let alone a Volkswagen Golf – one boasting 185 200 lb-ft of torque and the same genetics as the Audi A3. It’s enough to make you suspicious of any rough edges or clipped corners – automotive personality quirks, if you will. The ones that grate on your nerves – just as they would on a road trip.

You’ll get a $10,000 ticket and roadside suspension by the time you hit 3,000 rpm in fifth.

So, off we went to Montreal with the intention of finding out what the Golf is really like.

As per our first impressions, the Golf’s endearing traits were strong. For the driver, the cabin is easy on the eyes, and simple to navigate. Small cars generally score well for cabin ergonomics, and in the Golf everything is where you’d expect it to be, although two gripes became apparent – the sluggish graphics of the main infotainment screen, and the clumsy, bulky proprietary hookup for one’s smartphone.

The latter was especially frustrating given our car’s lack of navigation. The short length of the cord meant one could either mount the phone on the windshield or charge it. The multimedia interface also clumsily required one to choose between using Bluetooth audio or charging. Given the Golf’s ability to be an and car – small and high quality, peppy and economical, this multimedia letdown is but a small gripe.

From the beginning: 2015 Volkswagen Golf Long-Term Test: Arrival | Update 2 | Update 3 | Wrap-Up

Getting onto the 401 due east form the GTA, what quickly becomes apparent is that this thing is quiet – somewhere between "local library on a Friday night in summer" and "Buick Verano." And this on grippy winter tires. Honestly, Volkswagen has done an outstanding job in quelling NVH – in particular, wind noise – which makes the Golf feel like a more solid and substantial car despite the fact that the MQB platform it rides on is lighter than its predecessor. Wind – brought on by high-speed motoring or mother nature – can’t break through the Golf’s thick glass and sound insulation. High-profile winter tires up-sized the ride; it is neither flinty nor underdamped, and is precise in the way European cars are known to be.

This is a car you can drive for a very long time, arriving at your destination feeling refreshed and no worse for wear. The seats live up to VW’s tradition of fine accommodations for drivers.

Third gripe: I get VW’s ideology about keeping the Golf a five-speed manual, but in this instance, the Golf is pushed to its outer limits. Fifth is effectively an overdrive, rendering the car a four-speeder. True, there’s a good wallop of torque that’s available once the engine hits 1,600 rpm, but it feels somewhat flat-footed against tall gearing until around 2,000 rpm. You notice this especially if you’re a law-abiding citizen travelling 80 km/h in fifth – most cars can pull cleanly away but the Golf chugs and shudders. On the flip side, you’ll get a $10,000 ticket and roadside suspension by the time you hit 3,000 rpm in fifth.

Gripe as I may about this, there are two solutions. One is opting for the automatic, which not only has a sixth gear (its sixth ratio is actually shorter than the manual’s fifth ratio), the other is rowing the ‘box a bit more. And that’s fine because the gearbox is actually pretty decent. The clutch is progressive, and although it’s not the last word in slickness with a bit of notchiness when rushed, it is neither recalcitrant nor mushy. Much could be said about the Golf’s steering – it’s more engaging to drive than most compact cars, but neither is it especially light on its toes, lacking the flyweight ease of motion that the Mazda3 offers its drivers.

In any sense, we netted some seriously good fuel economy figures while on the road. We dropped the overall average to 7.9 L/100 km after some urban short-distance driving sandwiched by two long open-road stretches between the eastern GTA and Montreal. Not bad considering that our trip was conducted at an average speed of 115 km/h. It may not be as fuel-frugal as the TDI, but this is a fairly miserly motor.

Other virtues: while the Golf has opted to strut down a more stylish route – it’s decidedly less stub-nosed than in years past – Marc Lichte’s handy penwork has not shaved its roofline down to turn it into a fashionable hatchback-coupe. Rear-seat riders benefit with plenty of rear headroom and cargo space is generous. You could do worse than to be a rear-seat passenger in the Golf, even if you can’t have heated rear seats or a rear-seat entertainment system.

The Golf, as it turns out, is very much car we’d hoped it to be. A few minor gripes aside, there are no serious red flags for friendship here – heck, it even takes regular fuel. So fear not the road trip: You’ll find a good friend in the Golf.  –JC

A note on fuel consumption: After more than 3,000 km, the trip computer displayed a consistent 8.0 L/100 km, both for the extended period and various shorter stretches, and our calculations using receipts and odometer confirm this range, landing at 8.15 L/100 km. That is respectable performance for a car rated at 9.3/6.4 city/highway, during the thirstiest season with winter tires, winter fuel and cold temperatures, though our two long highway drives obviously had a positive effect.

Anyhow, to wrap up, I’ll add my own notes on the Golf’s long-distance charm, which consist mainly of the quiet, comfortable ride Justin reported, and the excellent practicality of a right-sized car. This car is at the very line where anything smaller would be a tight squeeze, but the generous trunk and suitable rear seat mean there is ample stowage for a family road trip as well, and the roofline mean it’s a best case scenario for installing child seats and children for a car. And of course, the hatchback configuration means easy loading of all our weekend supplies, though as we’re past strollers and playpens, there was really no challenge, but getting my hockey bag in and out is a cinch.

What really made me happy was the cabin storage. I was happy with the tray and short cable for iPhone charging (though it still uses VW’s proprietary MDI cable with custom connections that you must buy at a dealership instead of USB ports with your own cables). I knew where I was going, so had no need for navigation, and the short cable keeps me from the temptation of playing with my phone.

The last item I’ll report is a bit of a glitch, and not the good kind that will help you beat Turbo in a race and save your friend Ralph from destruction, but a nuisance and distraction. Our trusty Golf’s tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) must not like its winter tires, so it would periodically flash us dire warnings of a “Pressure loss”, sending us scrambling to gas stations, checking pressure with our handy dandy pocket pressure gauge, then resetting the systems as all pressures were equal and within tolerances for the tires as posted on the B pillar. An unpleasant task in the cold, wet weather in an otherwise enjoyable car.

Truly, as Justin says, this is an and car; compact and practical, fun and efficient, good looking and utilitarian, affordable and refined. This trim is also perfect for us. I have yet to think of a single option I would want added or removed, though I would gladly trade a heated steering wheel for that pesky, glitchy TPMS, and recognize that most shoppers will pay the extra $1,400 for a very good six-speed automatic transmission. This one is truly a keeper, right-sized and right-priced, and the upcoming TDI model will be hard pressed to show its value with its increased MSRP and fuel prices currently negating the fuel consumption advantage of Volkswagen’s efficient clean diesel technology.

Pricing: 2015 Volkswagen Golf
Base Price (3-door Trendline): $18,995
Base Price (5-door Comfortline): $22,895
Options: $1,695 (Convenience Package: automatic headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone electronic climate control, light assist, power sunroof and rain-sensing wipers)
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,395
Price as Tested: $26,085

4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km Powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

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