By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating:
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
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.
By Glob (MD) on Tuesday, February 19, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Value driving anc commuting pleasure, practical"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"For roads in my area it is as much car as you can put on the road sanely and still have fun. I came from a much higher horsepower rear wheel drive car and dont miss it. I could never get out of second gear without risking lives and freedom. The gti is a near perfect driving machine. I have to deduct points for front wheel drive and the weight bias that causes, It is just a perfectly balanced "i live in the real world" car. just drove on a 2000 mile round trip journey. Comfortable the whole way; averaged 38mpg on the highway and it carried all my stuff perfectly. Dont know where the epa gets its ratings... I cant get it to run below about 28mpg if im out hitting the curvy roads like a hooligan all day."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Dans (KS) on Wednesday, January 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great price, fun to drive, luxurious"
Cons: "Brother that is 6'4" has some room issues"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"You can't ask for a car that mixes business with pleasure better! It has great fuel economy and great performance. It looks great - very sharp lines. The interior is luxurious and roomy. The hatchback offers versatility for hauling things around and is great for dogs. I would recommend this car to anyone who wants to have a fun, practical car that also has the finishes of a luxury brand."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Dom (TX) on Tuesday, January 15, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 26,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "A blast to drive, great MPG, excellent interior"
Cons: "Smallish nav screen, leaky rear washer nozzle"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought my GTI Autobahn new in 2011 and I've been very pleased with the car. First of all, the interior quality and attention to detail is top-notch. It drives wonderfully, and the smooth power delivery of the 2.0L turbo engine is nothing short of addicting. I opted for the six-speed manual and have not regretted it. The clutch is easy to operate with smooth engagement, and the shifting is precise and has a great feel. On top of the incredible handling and smooth, powerful engine, it is quite economical. I usually see 32-34 mpg on highway trips and about 25 mpg in town, and I have a heavy right foot! Another feature I love is how much space it has for what seems like a small car on the outside. The back seat can comfortably accomodate two average-sized adults, and it can swallow a surprising amount of cargo. Fold the rear seats down, and it is down right cavernous back there. My only real criticisms are that the navigation screen is a bit small (but it DOES allow you to program a destination while the car is in motion), the accessory rubber floor mats did not wear well, and the rear washer nozzle leaks fluid onto the glass occasionally (multiple trips to the dealer have not rectified the problem). My next car will almost certainly be another GTI, but perhaps the 5-door model (easier access to the rear seats)."
3 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By Oilhead (NV) on Wednesday, December 05, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 18,000overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Pros: "It looks great when parked!"
Cons: "Unreliable, outdated technology, inconvenient,"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"In the first few months the radiator leaked twice and a pump failed. VW only loaned me a car once, and that was after a lot of unnecessary nonsense. That alone should steer the reader away from VW. Also, the stereo is supposed to be Bluetooth, but the control panel will not fast forward songs, select songs or select folders using my smartphone which is a Galaxy III. So if you want to function your phone, you still need to drive with your knee and operate the phone, which is so backwards compared to hands-free system of the Focus ST and other 2012s. Basically the "fancy German engineered" head unit is no better than just plugging an audio cable directly into your phones headphone output. The Bluetooth is also a pain to reconnect every time I start the car. It uses a little button on the turn signal behind the steering wheel to function the limited phone options, such as dialing. And entering the numbers takes so long you might as well just wait until you arrive at your friend's house and skip the call altogether. There is no text option. The key locks are a joke, usually only one door unlocks and VW won't change it even though I know they could. The gas cap will be locked but when you unlock it the car honks at you and locks you out while you are pumping gas. Sometimes I think it's locked when it's not. You never know. The power for my GPS turns off when the car is off, so if you stop for gas, or a drink, then restart the car you have to wait until the GPS turns on, hit OK, then reprogram your destination. The USB port is nice, but cost $40 to convert if you don't use Apple (which I don't), unfortunately you cannot change the USB while driving because of it's location so you might have to just listen to what you have plugged in already. And remember you can't choose what song is playing on your phone. The Audio input is in the drink holder so you have to choose either a drink or audio device. So overall it is very frustrating and inconvenient for commuting. If you are a grandma and need something for going to the store and aren't going to put alot of miles on this then it's ok, I guess. But if you want something more fun and reliable to commute in, I would look at the Focus ST. Check out the Recarro Seats."
2 people out of 14 found this review helpful
By Jr. (NY) on Tuesday, December 04, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 550overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Good looking, compact, sticks corners well, fun"
Cons: "iffy breaks, mpg is questionable, want more HP."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"My 2005 benz C230 Kommperssor (lol) was flooded during Sandy and the GTI really impressed me with the speed and agility. I drive in nyc, and the stock rims on the GTI are 18"...really hurts when you hit a bump. Regardless, the wheels on this car are beautiful and they came with all season Pirelli's!(I also purchased the wheel and tire insurance) The breaks don't instill a lot of confidence, seems like they lag a bit. It's not high on amenities but still very cool cockpit feel to it. Also, I've had the car for only two wks and on my day to day drive I'm not getting more than 18mpg. Overall, I am happy with my purchase."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Driving guy (CA) on Saturday, October 06, 2012
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, decent gas mileage"
Cons: "Expensive when loaded, Minor interior details"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"First of all never ever buy a dark coloured auto. All the minute scratches will show no matter how well you care for it. Acceleration is good but there is always the slight tip in when the throttle is applied but I attribute that to the turbo lag. Acceleration is very good but a little squirrely since it is a front wheel drive car. Once underway its a comfortable long distance cruiser and I have seen as high as 38mpg because I keep the tires inflated 5 lbs over what the door jamb says. The original equipment Dunlop tires are garbage being very noisy and they detract from the driving experience. I changed them out at 1K miles because I spend a lot of time behind the wheel. The 10K service intervals are too long and dont quote me that the VW engineers know what they are doing. I deal in automotive service and have seen too many problems regarding these extended service intervals in european cars. 5-7K is more appropriate but I truly believe this was done so that VW could offer this service as an added value although the car suffers. The car would benefit from a larger intercooler and perhaps an oil cooler as well if they plan on keeping the 10K service interval. Synthetic oil breaks down at a much slower rate but, with the amount of driving I do which is 12K miles in 3 months is higher than "severe" use. Overall the build quality is very good with consistent gaps between the doors and hood and trunk lid. My only issue is that anytime the car is washed I have to wipe down the door sills since there is no seal there. Its a mild annoyance and hopefully VW addresses it soon. Cargo space is very good compared to other cars that I looked at in its class (volvo C30, Focus SV, Mustang V6 Premium). Depreciation is a bit steep unless you order every single option available as I did (Autobahn DSG) Seats are very comfortable and somewhat snug for larger people but very supportive for spirited driving. What surprises me is the quality of leather used for the interior seating surfaces because it seems subpar to what I have seen in other German cars. The Nav/Sirius/Bluetooth Dynaudio system does not disappoint but at higher levels makes one of the rear door panels rattle. The bluetooth operation works well but the other parties complain about road noise so perhaps a noise cancellation system would be in order. This is not an inexpensive car and I would gladly pay more for it if they can resolve the small niggling detais. I was going to purchase an Audi A3 but the electrical issues that seem to plague that brand brought me to VW which is their parent company. Will I buy another one? Yes. I am also planning on purchasing a second one(TDI or hopefully a GTD) for my wife as she drives great distances as well."
6 people out of 6 found this review helpful