KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 11/15/2011
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.
You'll Like This Car If...
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.
You May Not Like This Car If...
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.
What's New for 2012
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.
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.
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.
Notable Standard Equipment
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.
Notable Optional Equipment
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.
Under the Hood
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
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf 2.5L two door enjoys a base price of under $19,000, while the four door is $2K more expensive. The four door's pricing is roughly in line with Kia's Soul "Plus" 2-box "boxster." And while the two cars might not be frequently cross-shopped, the Kia brings to its passenger volume of over 100 cubic feet more standard features and equipment than Volkswagen could high-step over. The rationale for purchasing either the 2.5L Golf or Golf TDI (starting at around $25K for the 2-door, $27K for the four) will be found in attaching a value to heritage, long-term ownership and the intangibles that accompany both. The Golf's more robust cousin, the GTI, is priced between roughly $25,000 and $30,000, depending on the number of factory options. And the Golf R, available in both 2- and 4-door body styles, comes in at between $35,000 and $37,000. For an indicator of prices being paid in your market area, be sure and consult Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Option. Resale of the Golf has historically fallen slightly short of Japanese competitors while proving better than those offerings from Korea. The TDI, however, has proven to be the gold standard in the compact category, especially when fuel prices are volatile.