Affordable Fun-to-drive Hatchback with European Heritage
What were you driving 41 years ago? What have you driven over the past 41 years? If at some point a Volkswagen Golf has been in your driveway, then you know what it is like to own one of these fun cars. Now in its seventh generation, VW has upped the ante with the 2017 Golf TSI Wolfsburg Edition, a four-door hatchback that is one of six models in the Golf family that includes TSI S, R, GTI, e-Golf, Sportwagon and the all-new Alltrack. The Golf TSI Wolfsburg Edition offers a high-value trim level with all the popular features for very attractive price.
With its turbodiesel (TDI) off the market since 2015, Volkswagen has turned to their gasoline technology for all models, except the all-electric e-Golf. Clean Fleet Report’s Golf TSI had an inline
four, 16-valve 1.8-liter turbocharged and intercooled engine putting out 170 horsepower and 199 pounds-feet of torque that runs on regular gasoline. Our front-wheel drive test car was mated to a slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission with EPA fuel economy rated at 25 city/36 highway/29 combined. (Ratings for the six-speed automatic transmission for the city and combined average are the same, with the highway rating is one mpg less.) In 247 miles of driving throughout Southern California I averaged 33.5 mpg with a ratio of 80-percent highway and 20-percent city driving, which means I easily exceeded the EPA highway rating by reaching 40+ mpg.
The five-speed manual has short throws, a not-so-heavy and buttery-smooth clutch, and easy-to-find gears that never have any grinding or hunting. At first I thought it was odd that there was not a sixth gear, as all of the manual transmissions we test at Clean Fleet Report have the extra gear for fuel economy. But when I got the Golf TSI out on the highway, I was pleased to see the tachometer reading just shy of 2,000 rpms at 70 mpg. VW has done a good job of engineering this transmission to turn the engine slowly when it counts most— out on the open road.
For those of you unfamiliar with how to operate a manual transmission, well, don’t feel bad. The percentage of vehicles with a manual has dropped over the past few decades. Through much of the 1950s this was the only transmission you could get on a car or truck. When automatic transmissions came along, the number of cars with a manual began to wane, but then came the late 1960s and early 1970s. The performance craze and foreign manufacturers made manual transmissions a popular and common feature, but from the 1980s onward, fewer and fewer manufacturers put manuals in their cars.
So what kind of fun can you have with a manual? Should you consider opting for one when you buy your Golf TSI? The primary reason for buying a manual is the sportiness it can deliver, which is well-suited in the Golf since it already has a serious level of fun designed in.
The manual in the Golf TSI allows you to manage the torque that kicks-in at a low 1,600 rpm as you go through the gears. You will stay in first gear as long as possible and use second to get up to about 40 MPH. Then, that aforementioned fun kicks in with even and smooth torque in third even as you approach seventy-five. Once up to highway speeds, there was good pull in 5th gear, such that when traveling at 65 mph and needing to briefly get to 75 mph+ for passing, the necessary oomph was there without having to drop down a gear to fourth. The beauty of the engine horsepower, torque band and transmission combination is that the performance is effortless and buttery smooth. The pull is strong and hard with no turbo lag. In other words, it’s more fun than I can describe.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The 2017 VW Golf TSI is quiet and smooth, with a sure-footed driving experience. The Wolfsburg Edition comes with 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/55-R16 Continental ProContact all-season tires. Eighteen-inch wheels and tires are available. The handling characteristics had only a slight push when powered hard (no, real hard!) through a corner with body roll almost non-existent, even when pushed above recommended corner speed limits. Helped by the strut-type front suspension with coil springs and the multi-link and coil springs rear with anti-roll bars all-around, road feel was excellent. Rack-and-pinion electric power steering thankfully was not programmed to take away the fun of driving. Highway 70+ mph cruising was solid and confident. The Golf TSI is a well-balanced car that is easy to drive. Volkswagen makes a sportier version, the Golf GTI, that is an absolute rocketship and handles like a slot car.
A good handling car, of course, is nothing without good brakes. The Golf TSI comes standard with an anti-lock braking system, power-assisted front vented and rear solid discs. Our Wolfsburg Edition had autonomous emergency braking and electronic stability control.
Driving Experience: Interior
The Golf TSI Wolfsburg Edition Clean Fleet Report drove featured a clean fit and finish that was German-tight, with a good mix of soft and hard plastics. The simple layout of all gauges was uncomplicated by fake woods or other design gimmicks. White backlighting for the dash gauges added a premium element, which went along with the overall premium materials used throughout the interior.
Volkswagen says “attention has been paid to helping maximize comfort and convenience.” For the driver, you’ll recognize it pretty quickly. The center stack is angled toward the driver for easy viewing and use. Taking center stage on the dash is the capacitive and proximity sensor 6.5-inch color touchscreen. Capacitive technology is similar to what is found on smartphones and tablets and allows for functions such as swiping and pinch-zooming. While all this modern touchscreen technology is nice, Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of knobs and switches for the radio and climate controls. VW does a nice job of making it easy to operate the radio and single-zone HVAC system with the turn of a few knobs. The black dash has accents of chrome, aluminum and piano-black finishes.
The centerpiece of the infotainment system (information and entertainment) is the eight-speaker audio system. The sound is well-balanced for the Golf interior and delivers deep, full crisp tones for the AM/FM/HD radio and CD player, which has MP3 playback. Also part of the infotainment system is SiriusXM, Bluetooth for telephone and streaming music, and VW’s Media Device Interface, or MDI, which includes SD card and USB slots.
The Wolfsburg Edition trim level comes standard with Leatherette seats. The word “Leatherette” might not seem as desirable as leather, but this fabric technology is comfortable to the touch, provides good air circulation and is durable for almost anything you throw at it. For those of you who do want the real thing, VW has nicely wrapped the steering wheel, gear shift lever and parking brake handle in leather.
The heated front seats have good thigh bolstering and include a manual height and lumbar adjustable driver’s seat. There was a good choice of seat settings such that, when combined with the height adjustable and telescoping steering column, you could easily find a comfortable position. Separating the front seats is a center console with a height-adjustable armrest/storage area.
New for 2017, the Golf only comes as a four-door hatchback, so access to the rear seat is now easier than it was in the former two-door version. Once sitting in back, head, leg, elbow and shoulder room was accommodating for two adult passengers, but we thought the seat back was too vertical for long trips. However, the 35.6-inches of legroom, HVAC vents, cupholders and reading lights made the rear seat an overall welcoming place to hang out for shorter trips.
The beauty of a hatchback is the storage space, even with the rear seat in the upright position. However, if it is only the driver and front seat passenger on a long weekender, then the Golf has a very handy system for lowering the 60/40 split seatback (which has a ski pass-through opening) to an almost-flat position. When folded, you will find 52.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity–large enough for a full-size bicycle. This is a strong selling point for the Golf; it’s worth investigating the seating and storage configurations when visiting your dealer.
Interior conveniences standard on the Wolfsburg Edition include a power tilting and sliding sunroof, glove compartment with adjustable cooling, power windows, keyless access, multi-function steering wheel with audio and telephone controls, cruise control, power adjustable and manual folding heated exterior mirrors, multiple power ports, front and rear reading lights, carpeted floor mats and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Those rain-sensing wipers are a nice feature that speed-up and slow down based on the amount of water hitting the windshield. When you first notice they are operating at-will, you realize how convenient and helpful this technology really is.
Standard on all Golf trim levels is Volkswagen’s VW CarNet connected car technology that provides a seamless link between the car and an iPhone, Android smartphone or computer, or, as Volkswagen says, it “keeps you connected with your car even when you’re apart.” It comes as a full feature introductory trial, with a subscription available.
Driving Experience: Exterior
The 2017 Golf shares its design with the previous year. Using a “cab backward” look that gives it a lower visual center of gravity, the 2017 Golf has a recognizable steeply sloped hood with a narrow
grill and sleek, Halogen headlights. The strong, but subtle body line—the line that runs the side of the car from front to back—leads to the horizontal tail lamps, while the roof has a shark fin antenna and an integrated spoiler. The VW emblem on the hatch serves three purposes—branding, as the latch for opening the hatch and, lastly, it flips open when putting the car in reverse – revealing the back-up camera. Pretty crafty, those German engineers.
The Golf is slippery-through-the-wind with an aerodynamic drag coefficient of .029, which is lower than the Porsche 911 Turbo at .31 Cd. The Golf rear window is large, providing excellent sightlines and has a wiper. Compared to its competitors that have gone the route of squaring-off the corners and adding all sorts of scoops and vents, the Golf has been described as plain. Personally I found the Golf refreshing in its clean and simple design with round and soft lines.
Safety and Convenience
Clean Fleet Report’s Volkswagen 2017 Golf TSI Wolfsburg Edition came with six airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system and an Intelligent Crash Response System. Additional safety features include a rear view camera, a blind spot monitor that warns when a car is in a neighboring lane, and rear traffic alert that is very helpful when backing up in a parking lot.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI has a base price of $19,895. Clean Fleet Report’s Golf Wolfsburg Edition test car had a MSRP of $21,595. These prices do not include the $820 destination charge.
All 2017 Volkswagen Golf models come with these warranties:
- Basic – Three years/36,000 miles
- Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles
- Corrosion Perforation – 12 years/Unlimited
Observations: 2017 Volkswagen Golf TSI Wolfsburg Edition with the 5-speed Manual
Volkswagen eliminated the SE and SEL trim levels, as well as the two-door hatchback version of the Golf for 2017. But they added the Wolfsburg Edition. What does this mean for the consumer? VW looked at the popular options and trim levels from previous years and simplified the buying process by combining the favorites in the Wolfsburg Edition. They also adjusted the pricing so that a pretty much fully equipped Golf can be had for right around $22,000.
If you are shopping compact hatchbacks then you will find the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Wolfsburg Edition is very competitive with other brands. In reality the Golf is not much of a compact as the interior space makes it feel much roomier. The Golf, especially with the five-speed manual as ours was equipped, has spirited performance, is comfortable to drive, handles great, can haul a respectable amount of gear, comfortably carry two adults in the back seat and gets excellent fuel economy.
Go to your local Volkswagen dealer and take the Golf TSI Wolfsburg Edition out on the open highway and experience it for yourself. This hatchback is a favorite of drivers Worldwide and should be for you too.
Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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