Volkswagen's Golf hatchback and station wagon models get a mid-cycle update for 2018 that brings refreshed styling and updated active safety and infotainment technology.
With its new look, the Golf makes an even more upscale first impression, with redesigned bumpers front and rear, new halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED taillights for the base trim.
Tech-wise, those middle and top trims get the latest generation VW infotainment system, including a larger touchscreen, as well as the option of a new driver assistance package that adds pedestrian monitoring to the front assist system with city emergency braking.
Unchanged is the Golf's running gear, which includes a 1.8L turbocharged TSI four-cylinder engine that makes 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque that can be mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.
Our main criticism of the Golf's drivetrain is the wide spacing between the five-speed's ratios which, counterintuitively, makes the automatic more pleasing to drive enthusiastically. On the whole, we'd call the Golf's performance competent and confidence-inspiring, rather than exciting: the car handles nicely despite a soft ride and feels very well-planted at highway speeds. Just about every compact car against which the Golf competes can boast a grown-up feel, but this one benefits notably from its German upbringing.
Still notable by its absence is the TDI diesel engine option that was killed off by the diesel scandal that came to light in the fall of 2015. The 1.8L turbo gasser is a good performer, though, with nice low-end torque and frugal fuel economy, especially in highway driving. Volkswagen's devotion to driving enthusiasts is seen in its continued use of a traditional automatic transmission, instead of the continuously variable type that many key competitors, like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, have adopted.
This hatchback's trim designations are unchanged, and include Trendline (in three- and five-door configurations), Comfortline and Highline.
With this update, the base model gains the LED daytime running lights and taillights, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and leather trim for the steering wheel, shifter and parking brake lever, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen to replace last year's five-inch display. The five-door model also adds automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Those items are added to last year's standard features list, which includes eight-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, 15-inch alloy wheels (which are upgraded to 16s in the Sportwagen), air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, reverse camera, Bluetooth, and heated seats.
To the Comfortline model's standard kit, Volkswagen adds a panoramic sunroof, but takes away last year's dual-zone climate control. Carried over are 16-inch wheels (17s on the Sportwagen), proximity key, leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, and leatherette upholstery.
In the range-topping Highline model, a Fender audio system is now part of the standard package, but blind spot detection has been pulled and made an option. Brought forward from 2017 this trim's 17-inch wheels (18s on the Sportwagen, power driver’s seat, ambient interior lighting, automatic headlights, chrome exterior trim, leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, sports seats, rain-sensing wipers and navigation.
Options in Comfortline and Highline models include a lighting package that adds adaptive LED headlights, and the driver assistance group we mentioned above, which bundles adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane assist, park assist with park distance control, and newly includes the blind spot detection setup that used to be standard in the Highline, and automatic high beam control.