Car Reviews First Drives

2019 Volkswagen Golf First Drive: Same Car, New Engine

Revisiting our 2015 Car of the Year

Revisiting our 2015 Car of the Year

The seventh-gen Volkswagen Golf showed up in the North America in 2014 as a 2015 model, but it’s actually even older than that. In Europe, it first went on sale toward the end of 2012. It received an update in late 2016, but still, it’s far from the freshest compact on the market. For 2019, Volkswagen updated the Golf again, which meant we needed to bring one in for testing.

And we tried to. We really did. After a Volkswagen drive event that coincided with the Los Angeles Auto Show, we left with the keys to a bright red Golf SE of our own. The plan was to bring it into the office on Monday, test it on Wednesday, and send it back at the end of the week.

Unfortunately, we never got past the “bring it into the office on Monday” part. A motorcyclist rear-ended our stopped car after a careless driver made a blind lane change that left him with no other choice. Thankfully, he was wearing proper safety gear and only needed minor medical attention. If he hadn’t, it could have easily been a lot worse.

But one much less important consequence of that driver’s reckless behavior was that we had to cancel our test of the now-damaged Golf. That’s too bad, too, because for 2019 Volkswagen swapped out the Golf’s 1.8-liter engine and six-speed automatic in favor of a 1.4-liter turbo-four and an eight-speed auto. With 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, the new engine is down 23 hp and 16 lb-ft compared to the old one. A six-speed manual now comes standard.

So does the less powerful engine mean you get a significantly slower Golf, or does the new transmission compensate for the lack of power? Will our Real MPG test show a marked improvement in fuel economy like Volkswagen claims? Until we can get another 2019 Golf in for testing, we won’t know for sure.

According to the EPA, the 1.4-liter engine is definitely more fuel efficient. The Golf’s city rating is up 5 mpg (47 L/100 km), and its highway rating is up 4 mpg (58.8 L/100 km), resulting in 29/37/32 mpg (8.1/6.4/7.3 L/100 km) city/highway/combined. That’s not quite as good as the 32/42/36 mpg (7.35.6/6.5 L/100 km) the Corolla hatch gets, nor is it on par with the five-door Civic’s 31/40/34 mpg (7.6/5.9/6.9 L/100 km), but it’s a lot closer than it was. Plus, it’s tuned to run on regular gasoline, not premium like some turbocharged engines are.

Given the reduced horsepower, we wouldn’t be surprised if the 2019 Golf is a tick slower than the 2018 model, though it sure felt quick enough for daily driving. From behind the wheel, most drivers won’t notice a difference, even if they do appreciate the smooth, quick-shifting eight-speed automatic. If you need more power, there’s always the 228-hp Golf GTI.

Around town, the Golf quickly reminded us why we named it our 2015 Car of the Year. From its comfortable ride to its excellent seating position, agile handling, and high-quality interior, the Golf still feels like it was designed to compete at a much higher price point. Over time, Volkswagen has added features, making it an even more compelling car. Blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and rear cross-traffic alert are now standard, as is an all-important USB port. You also have the option to upgrade the standard 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to an 8.0-inch unit. And Volkswagen now offers a six-year/72,000-mile (116,000-km) warranty.

That said, the Golf shows its age in a few places. The display located between the gauges has disappointingly low resolution, for example, and for a lot of people, one USB port won’t be enough. And even though the Golf’s base price is several hundred dollars higher than the Toyota Corolla’s, to get adaptive cruise control, you have to buy the Golf SE with the $1,295 USD driver assistance package. On both the Civic and Corolla hatchbacks, ACC comes standard.

The good news: It shouldn’t be long before Volkswagen introduces a completely new Golf. And based on what we’ve seen with the new Jetta, it’ll be better all around. But even though the current Golf still has a few flaws, Volkswagen has done a great job of keeping it competitive.

The 2019 Volkswagen Golf and 2019 Golf GTI are shown below.