By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.6
Now entering its fifth decade, the global automotive community and, by extension, consumers are fully embracing the 2-box, compact layout first popularized by Volkswagen's Golf. And although U.S. consumers have been slower to embrace the Golf in the same way they enjoy the more conventional Jetta, new 5-door entries from Scion, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Chevy have done a great deal to move U.S. consumers closer to this global center. Now in its sixth generation, the 2012 VW Golf continues to evolve, providing (typically) more comfort and composure than similarly priced offerings from Japan, Korea or the U.S.
If you enjoy intelligent design, efficient operation, careful build quality and artful execution, the 2012 Volkswagen Golf should fit a wide range of transportation needs. Although not as entertaining as the turbocharged GTI derivative, both the 2.5-liter in-line five and 2.0-liter TDI have prodigious torque along with competitive efficiency. The GTI provides expressive performance within a practical footprint, while the new Golf R is almost explosive in its capability. The Golf design has proven timeless, boding well for long-term enjoyment and a reasonable return on investment.
At one point those shopping for a 3-door or 5-door hatch had little beyond Volkswagen from which to choose. Lately, there's been an entire catalog of new entries, from manufacturers as diverse as Ford (Focus) and Hyundai (Elantra). With an abundance of choices you may find something elsewhere closer to your needs and/or budget.
No significant changes to the base car, but option packages have been simplified. Those Golfs equipped with the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder gasoline powertrain are available in Golf, Golf with Convenience, and Golf with Convenience and Sunroof guises. Those consumers opting for the 2.0-liter Clean Diesel can spec their Golfs as Golf TDI, Golf TDI with Sunroof and Navigation, and Golf TDI with Tech Package. Making any of these choices continues to provide you with a high level – for the segment – of standard equipment. Celebrating 35 years as the world's best "hot hatch," VW's GTI receives a new variant - GTI with Convenience and Sunroof - which groups together some of the most popular stand-alone options. And for those with a penchant for spending more to get more, the Golf R, with 256 horsepower, 4Motion all-wheel drive and a $35,000 MSRP should more than satisfy.
Driving Impressions Sharing its overall architecture with VW's GTI, the Golf enjoys a level of solidity and composure relatively rare in its size or price category. The all-independent suspension delivers a composed...ride, rack-and-pinion steering provides a direct communication with the front wheels, and the rigid body structure contributes to both handling and safety. In short, there's none of the tin-box feel often associated with cars in the compact category – the Golf feels more like a mid-size sport sedan. The 5-cylinder gasoline powerplant with 170 horsepower won't overwhelm you with either power or personality, but proves oh-so-competent in the daily commute. The diesel has power and personality in spades, but requires a financial commitment up front while providing 40-plus highway mpg in return. Opt for the 200-horsepower GTI and you have a confluence of both more capability and an almost serene driving environment – this isn't the hot hatch for a youngster, it's the responsive hatch for a youthful psychology. If you're lucky enough to secure the all-wheel-drive Golf R, plan for high-speed driving at any appropriate venue in any appropriate season. We'd recommend Montana between January and December.
With all of the discussion surrounding hybrid and electric powertrains, diesel remains the well-proven leader in efficiency and longevity. The Golf's 2.0-liter TDI is efficient, versatile and responsive. That combination should please both the enthusiast behind the wheel and the accountant keeping track of monthly costs.
Having popularized – after a fashion – the 3- and 5-door hatch, Volkswagen continues to move the needle with some 46 cubic feet of cargo space. It isn't, to be sure, a minivan, nor does it hold the commercial possibilities of Ford's Transit Connect. But with those wanting something fun to drive, but still needing some vestige of practicality, the Golf's hatch configuration is tough to beat.
Volkswagen describes the Golf interior as one that continues to "set the quality benchmark in its class." And we wouldn't disagree; the Golf employs a mixture of design and execution rarely found at window stickers fully twice that of the 2012 Golf. Throughout the Golf interior, from seat choices to the dash and center stack, you'll not be disappointed by the Golf's visual and tactile performance. And its functional acumen is underscored by an info-centric dash, form-fitting bucket seats and high-lift tailgate. The 2012 GTI and Golf R take the interior one step further, with an ergonomic steering wheel, aggressive sport seats and more comprehensive instrumentation.Exterior
Visually the Golf was tightened for 2011, and those more athletic contours have been carried over in 2012. The crisp, shark crease running the length of the Golf add, we're told, "visual movement" to the car, while its swept-back headlights heighten the Golf's athletic look. New for 2012 on the Golf TDI Clean Diesel with Tech are LED daytime running lights that sit along the sides and base of the headlights. The 2012 Golf is an evolution of a design that worked from the git-go, and continues to work because its design team refuses to dramatically alter its innate goodness.
At a base price of under $19,000, the 2.5-liter Golf is modestly equipped, with tilt-and-telescopic steering column; power windows with auto up/down; air conditioning, split-folding rear seat with armrest and pass-through; radio with single CD; and dual polished exhaust tips. Adding Convenience ups the ante with front center armrest, heatable front seats and Bluetooth technology. Convenience and Sunroof goes beyond the addition of the sunroof with Premium VIII touch-screen radio, Sirius satellite radio and an MDI with an iPod cable. The diesel lineup – TDI Clean Diesel, Sunroof and Navigation and Tech Package – takes a similar stair-step route, but starts at a base of just under $25,000. The GTI and Golf R receive unique fascias and badging, along with a stance - via more aggressive rubber - that conveys both higher ambition and capabilities.
Most notable among your list of choices in the VW showroom is the 2.0-liter TDI diesel. Car companies with operations in the U.S. have been uniformly slow in adapting diesel's benefits – abundant torque and high efficiency – to U.S.-based (or bound) platforms. VW and Mercedes continue to show the way, and the benefits of the diesel in a Golf-sized package are many. Beyond the diesel, we'd cite the Golf's available DSG gearbox (optional on diesel-equipped Golfs), whose efficiency and immediacy are a perfect complement to the diesel's 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque.
Although the Golf's base 5-cylinder powerplant doesn't receive a huge amount of love from VW's enthusiast base, it's proven to be eminently sensible for the cut-and-thrust of daily driving, offering reasonable horsepower, smoothness and efficiency; its most damning descriptive is that it's simply not much fun. That can't be said for the 2.0 TDI, offering abundant torque, awesome efficiency and a driving experience as visceral as VW. Given the diesel's $5K premium, however, you should weigh your driving needs, and costs, carefully. You'll need to drive a significant amount in a diesel to recover its higher initial purchase price. Performance enthusiasts can enjoy the GTI's warmed-up 2.0 liter turbo-4 offering 200 horsepower, or its more boosted variation – with 256 horsepower – available in the Golf R.
2.5-liter in-line 5
170 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
177 lb-ft of torque 4,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/33 (manual), 24/31 (automatic)
2.0-liter in-line 4 Direct Injection Turbodiesel (TDI)
140 horsepower @ 4,000 rpm
236 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-2,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 30/42
2.0 liter in-line 4 turbocharged (GTI)
200 horsepower @ 5,100-6,000 rpm
207 lb-ft of torque @ 1,800-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/31 (manual), 24/33 (DSG)
2.0 liter turbocharged in-line 4 (Golf R)
256 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
243 lb-ft of torque @ 2,400-5,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27
By Jess on Sunday, October 05, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 14,000overall rating 6 of 10rating details
Pros: "Not too expensive, fun to drive"
Cons: "Difficult to get in back seats"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"I'm a high school student and my parents bought this car for me used to share with my brother and two other younger siblings (once they get their licenses). It terms of value and quality, the car seems top notch. The reliability is usually pretty good, but when it's raining it is difficult to accelerate through turns, which is partially the tires fault but it still is kind of frustrating. It is a super fun car to drive and the speakers are nice for long rides. In regards to the design: I'm not a huge fan. It's really cute from the outside, but the inside just does not work as well for me. Specifically, the touchscreen for the radio is dangerous to work while driving because you actually have to read it. THIS CAR DOES NOT HAVE AUTOMATIC LIGHTS. This seems like something that would be intuitive in a 2012 vehicle. Also, I got the car in the winter and every time I would drive it a random ding noise would go off and I was worried something was wrong with the car. After about a month, I realized that every time that it goes below 40 degrees outside (which is pretty much every day from November to march) the car makes this noise. My least favorite part about the car is the comfort and convenience. Being extremely short, the small height of the car is not that big of a deal. But my brother and dad are constantly complaining about how there is not enough room, especially if either has the misfortune to sit in the backseat. Although the car is able to fold the seats down for extra space, I have to leave them up and I am left with a too small trunk that, ironically, can only barely fit my golf clubs and pull cart without obstructing my rear window. Overall, if you have any tall family members or need more space go for the 4 door instead of the 2 door, you will thank yourself in time."
5 people out of 11 found this review helpful
By jiteng on Thursday, August 28, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 750overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Economical, powerful, fun to drive"
Cons: "none so far"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I was looking for an economy hatch (around $25K) that was extremely comfortable for long trips, quiet at hwy speeds, gave great hwy mpgs and had decent tech. The choice came down to 3 cars- Mazda3 2.5GT, Kia Forte5 and the 2015 Golf TSI SE. The Kia has the best technology and creature comforts including heated and cooled driver seat, heated steering wheel etc... But I did not enjoy how it drove and the interior felt sort of lower tier. The Mazda3 was extremely impressive in just about every area but a lack of storage around the driver and no option for a lighter blue had me look toward the Golf. When I finally test drove it I felt like I was home. Just perfect in every area. Quieter and more comfortable than the other cars on the road, great storage everywhere including a large door pocket, storage under the seat and on the left of the steering wheel in addition to the center console and center stack. The infotainment system sounds incredible (since it's made by Fender- 400W sub woofer located inside the spare tire) and has a nice 5.8 inch color touch screen that works like a smart phone screen with swipes and pinches. Plus the Blue Silk Metallic is a beautiful blue. I bought the SE model with the lighting package which includes bi-Xenon lights with Adaptive front lighting and LED DRls (Adds $995). Including Chrome exhaust tips, mud flaps and monster mats I paid $26K including destination. I have only driven it around 700 miles so far but it's a dream. I am averaging around 30mpg but that's 90% city. I've seen MFD show between 38 and 40 mpg during the brief hwy driving at around 70mph. I expect it should easily get 40mpg on long trips. The 1.8T is a really powerful engine for this class and pulls the car extremely well - 0-60 in about 7.5 sec with the automatic. The low end torque 200 lbs/ft starts around 1500 rpm so the car shoots out of a stop light with amazing quickness. Hwy passing is cinch. It doesn't feel like it's laboring at all and there is almost no turbo lag. I think this is the best car I could have bought that fit my specifications and plus the German dynamics is just an added bonus."
20 people out of 33 found this review helpful
By frankie on Monday, July 28, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 53,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "all good"
Cons: "maintenance is costly"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"An excellent car. Besides the miles per gallon. Handles so well, like a really expensive german car. Top notch quality inside, seat material a little on the economical side. Also somethings over engineered but for me that's great. Have put almost 50,000 miles on the car and it sti;; drives like a 50,000 car. All i do is the maintenance which is expensive at VW. LOve the car!"
15 people out of 29 found this review helpful
By Rostapher on Sunday, July 20, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 31,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great Highway MPG, torque, fun!"
Cons: "Not for Toyota Camry drivers"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I have loved VW Golfs for quite a while now and I have had the privilege to own two of them, a MkIV (2002 gas) and my current MkVI (2011 TDi). The MkVI is a very comfortable and agile car that makes driving fun while sipping diesel. This car excels on the highway, returning 44-45 MPG on long trips. Tons of torque is available at low RPMs, so if you encounter a steep hill, just drop it into 3rd or 4th and it powers up the incline like it's not even there. If you are a city driver, this might not be the car for you if you're mainly looking for high MPGs. It's probably better to go with a Prius or other hybrid or even an electric Leaf since those cars excel in town, but you will have more fun with the Golf. The Golf is also one of the best looking cars on the road under $30k, classic with well defined lines and curves. No crazy bubbles, swoopes or oversized grilles. Plus, at 31k miles, I have had zero problems with this vehicle, which is to be expected. Ultimately, the Golf is a drivers car; so if you enjoy driving and think of it as more than just getting from point A to point B, you will really appreciate this car."
15 people out of 26 found this review helpful
By Brigid on Monday, July 14, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 58,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great value, super fun to drive"
Cons: "Would have preferred 8 way adjustable seat."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Great car. Never once stuck in the worst winter of my life even when 4WD cars couldnt make it up the hilly roads. Super comfortable and totally 100% reliable all of the time."
6 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By markez on Saturday, May 31, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Dull, but brilliantly so"
Cons: "Dull, but that's the biggest con I can think of."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The Golf 2.5 Base is my wife's car. It replaced her 12 year old Miata. Everything about this car is sensible or reasonable or both. Dependable, predictable, solid, reasonably economical, sensible price, sensible size, reasonably comfortable, reasonable stereo, reasonable servicing costs, reasonable looks, better than reasonable built quality. Reasonable performance if you can be bothered to go and find it. Just does everything it says in the brochure without any fuss or excitement. She hates buttons and it has the minimum. For example, Lights: on or off. That's it, 2 positions. She hates complexity, and there isn't any. Absolute wysiwyg,(the car and her) and she loves it. Dull but brilliantly so (only the car this time - not her). Probably everything she looked for in her spouse, and at least the car came through."
15 people out of 29 found this review helpful