The Volkswagen Golf is one of those cars that is iconic in its execution and is also mass-made — a trade-off for most other companies that are still striving to find that balance. Spearheaded by the potent and fantastically fun GTI, the Golf line has long been recognized as the pinnacle of engineering, affordability, and all-around drivability. That streak has continued through 2015, as Motor Trend and Green Car Reports have each bestowed the Golf family with their “Car of the Year” and “Car to Buy for 2015” awards, respectively.
“While we admit that the 2015 Golf won’t make the average freeway-goer take much notice, the devil’s in the details,” Motor Trend said in its write-up. “With crisply sculpted bodywork that’s nearly an inch lower, two inches longer, and a half-inch wider than its predecessor’s, the new Golf looks sleeker and sportier than the car it replaces.”
The Golf, once a solitary hatch, has bloomed into a full family of vehicles encompassing a range of drivetrains, each with their own unique quirks and characteristics. At the lower level, starting with an MSRP of just shy of $18,000, is the standard gasoline-driven packs a 1.8 liter turbo-four and plays the role of volume mover for the Golf family. Numerous trims are available for the gasoline version, but for the more eco-conscious, the TDI diesel Golfs are a notable departure from the norm in the compact car class.
Naturally, the diesels are more expensive — a base TDI will run $21,995, but the advantage is the mileage: On the highway, the 2015 Golf TDI is rated for 45 miles per gallon, and 30 around town. Volkswagen alleges that you can drive nearly 600 miles on a tank before needing to refill. The 2015 TDI uses the same 2.0 liter diesel unit seen in previous model years, but it’s tuned for 150 horsepower — over the prior 140. Torque remains the same, at 236 pound-feet.
The next rung up the ladder is the Golf GTI. Famed for its agility, reflexes, and high-revving turbo-four, the Golf has long been the standard of the hot-hatch class, and the car is widely accepted as one of the best performance bargains on the market. The 2.0 liter turbo is tuned for 210 horsepower, which in a car so compact feels like considerably more.
But if the GTI is simply too sedate for you, than the Golf R will fill that void. Back after a brief hiatus, the R now packs 292 horsepower (over the 256 it had previously), and that power is sent to all four wheels. It cleared the Nurburgring in 8 minutes and 11 seconds, and zero through 60 takes just 4.9 seconds; this is a Golf, remember. Exhaust is dealt with by means of four outlets out the back. Pricing has not yet been announced, but it’s a safe assumption that it will fall in the mid-30s range.
The peak, however, is not the Golf R, but the new e-Golf in terms of price. Performance-wise, it doesn’t hold a candle to the R, but the e-Golf — which supplements the fossil-fuel consuming drivetrain for an electric motor and batteries — is the most expensive Golf on paper, with an MSRP of over $36,000. Pricey, sure, but buyers can take advantage of the $7,500 tax credit that will bring the price below $30,000, as well as the gas bills that will go up in smoke simultaneously (one of many advantages of an electric car).
The e-Golf is, for all intents and purposes, a Golf inside and out. Volkswagen was careful to ensure that the car was a Golf first and electric car second, and they’ve succeeded impressively in this task. It’s rated for about 83 miles of range, and at 116 mpge combined, it’s among the most efficient in the electric car class. It’s available in just one trim, the SEL, which is the most optioned-out variant that VW offers Stateside. That helps further justify the e-Golf’s lofty price, and arguably makes it a better offer than a comparable Nissan Leaf, which rings in at over $27,000 after the tax credits.
“With several electric vehicles present at this year’s COTY event, the e-Golf was lauded for driving and feeling most like a “normal” car,” Motor Trend said. “We also enjoyed the driving experience. The chassis feels as willing and playful as the other variants, while the electric motor provides an instantaneous 199 lb-ft of torque, rocketing the e-Golf forward. Best of all, interior and cargo room appear to suffer little thanks to clever battery packaging.”
Next year, a wagon-formatted Golf will also be available, but only with the TDI and gasoline trims. It’s rumored, however, that VW is in the process of testing a Golf R wagon, though there’s a good chance that this vehicle may not make it to the U.S. Volkswagen is shifting the Sportwagen name from the Jetta, where it is now, to the Golf line for 2015, and leaving the Jetta solely as a sedan model.
Perhaps the biggest boon to the Golf’s success is an interior that feels beyond its class. This is true of all Volkswagen models; the interiors are all nicely laid out, and every feels more premium than one would expect. This is true for the base models as much as it is further up the optioned food chain, and it’s made Volkswagen’s cars popular amongst youngsters as much as it has the more senior. The exteriors routinely maintain the understated, clean appearance that often pales when next to bolder competition, but it’s important to remember that these are drivers’ cars.
Given the versatility of the Golf lineup, it’s not a huge surprise that they’ve been bestowed with the top honors. There’s a kind of character in the Golf range that’s not seen among modern compacts, cars, or CUVs, and for that reason, it’s deserving of the awards offered. “VW floored our judges by reimagining the seventh generation Golf for nearly every need and want,” Motor Trend Editor-in-Chief Ed Loh said in a statement. “From the value-laden Golf 1.8T and high-MPG Golf TDI to the legendary hot hatch GTI and all-electric e-Golf, there truly is a Golf for everyone.”