Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

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No, i did not use the parking assist to park this car.

Usually when we get press cars, we get them for about a week at a time. This gives me enough time to live with the car, really get to know it, get under its skin.

The only problem is the week I picked up this car I also got acquainted with a guy named “Stomach Flu”; who turned out to be a real a$$hole.

So while I was lying on the couch, living in the paradox that is sweating and shivering at the same time, I had a bit of a moment (said days) to contemplate the major changes with this car (that otherwise looks minimal from the outside).

1. The New MQB Platform

courtesy of Volkswagen Canada

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen Canada

There has been a lot of hoopla surrounding this new chassis – which stands for Modularer Querbaukasten – or in English, modular transverse toolkit. And for good reason – it is meant to underpin most of the Volkswagen Group’s offerings leading up to 2018.

There are certainly some upsides to this platform; the MQB platform has shaved off 100kg off the weight of the car, which should endow it with a new level of alertness in the handling department, and should feel a bit peppier – even without the engine upgrades. The structure itself is stiffer, and apparently gives the Golf more rear leg and cargo room than before.

The downsides? I think this remains to be seen, but my fear is that all future MQB platforms will drive the same, with only a body shape to differentiate. Yes you can make changes to the suspension geometry, but…is that enough to make the cars feel different? I guess only time will tell.

2. The New 1.8TSI Engine

new 1.8TSI engine

new 1.8TSI engine

Replacing the old wonderfully warbly 5-cylinder 2.5L naturally aspirated engine is the 1.8 turbo charged “TSI” engine (stands for Turbocharged Stratified Injection) with the idea that it can meet/surpass previous horsepower/torque specs while providing better fuel economy with the smaller displacement engine. Emphasis here is on lighter components and reduced friction internals to provide that power and torque while increasing fuel efficiency, resulting in 170 hp between 4800 and 6200 rpm (yes it really is flat), with torque pegged at 185 lb-ft between 1600-4200rpm. More on this later.

3. Safety Features

Who knew lights could have this many features?

Who knew lights could have this many features?

OK so nothing really mind bending here, but a few nice safety features. Probably the biggest one is the ability for the car to brake itself after an initial collision, preventing a potential “chain reaction” accident. Other little nice features include headlights that swivel up to 13 deg to help you corner at night time, Bi-Xenon lights to better light up the road (pretty good on a <30k car), and “light assist” – which automatically dims high beams in oncoming traffic so you no longer piss off Mr. Flanders going the other way.

4. Adjustable Rear Cargo Tray

Believe it or not this is actually one of the features of the new Golf. OK so it has a bit of “Feature: Steering wheel turns” to it, but its actually a pretty cool idea. In essence, there are two levels you can store the rear tray in, allowing you to leave something valuable in the hatch underneath the tray (when it is in the “high” position) without it looking like you have left anything in the car. Lower position maximizes the cargo space, giving you an extra couple of inches in height. And of course, the cargo area still has 60/40 split seats, with space for a skis to fit through the arm rest… because that is the kind of people that buy these cars.

Cargo in multiple configurations: Top left - cargo floor in the up position. Top Right - ski opening and cargo floor down. Bottom Left - 60/40 split and Bottom Right: All rear seats down.

Cargo in multiple configurations: Top left – cargo floor in the up position. Top Right – ski opening and cargo floor down. Bottom Left – 60/40 split and Bottom Right: All rear seats down.

Static Impressions

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New design makes the Golf look modern and sophisticated. Not bad for a <$30k car.

When I did finally overcome the plague that I had, I was finally able to appreciate the design of the new Mk 7 Golf. True, most of changes to the exterior are akin to crinkling the Mk6 design slightly, but its made the Golf look a bit more refined, a bit more modern.

Top Left: Steering wheel feels great in the hand. Top Right: climate control dials. Buttons were difficult to read at a distance. Or maybe thats just me getting old. Bottom Left: Push button start. Bottom Right: Touch screen works pretty well, and even reminds you to bring your phone with you.

The interior is similar, with the usual Volkswagen level of finish: A good thing. Lots of soft touch fabrics and a spongy dash give the car an upscale feel that could put “premium” cars to shame. General feeling of quality is abound.

12 way adjustable and heated sport seats were excellent; mocking the GTI for support

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metallic strip has a row of LEDs that light up a night.

The new car seems to have a lot of interior lighting; light in the door panel, light in the door handle, light in the door opener, on top of all the light switches being backlit. During the day this is ok, but at night time it was like driving with a lit-up Christmas tree in your lap.

Our vehicle came in the top-spec “Highline” trim, which mostly adds visual trinkets such as larger wheels, a panoramic roof (which while excellent, looks much bigger from the outside than it does from the inside), and some very comfortable sport leather seats. Note however that this will add nearly $10k to the price of the base Golf, so consider carefully.

Our vehicle also came with “Multi-media” Package, which also added the very awesome Fender sound system amongst other things. This doesn’t come cheap however, lightening our wallets by another $2200.

Driving Impressions

 

Pounding pavement like a madman! A law-abiding, sub-speed limit, and polite madman, that is.

Pounding pavement like a madman! A law-abiding, sub-speed limit, and polite madman, that is.

So do the new engine and new chassis make a better drive than the old steed?

In short, yes.

While I do miss the engine note and linear performance of the old 2.5L engine, the new one is undoubtedly a step up from the old Golf and the chassis is a bit keener. Probably more impressive however is the Golf’s overall composure. The suspension soaks up bumps on the roads brilliantly, yet stiffens up suitably to make cornering fun and surprisingly flat – something many manufacturers don’t quite get right. The car remains impressively neutral through the bends, ultimately giving way to predictable understeer. On a short back-to-back drive of the new Golf with the new GTI, the Golf was surprisingly the more impressive of the two (albeit they were on slightly different routes), with the Golf giving up just a bit of steering feedback and grunt to the GTI. This is pretty high praise for a car that starts at roughly $20k.

TSI badges denotes turbocharging on all engines in the new car

TSI badges denotes turbocharging on all engines in the new car

With the optional 6 speed automatic with Tiptronic, I found the transmission a bit too keen to change up in gear, ECU often realizing that it was too low in the power band, and causing the dreaded “gear hunting” that I find rather annoying in automatics. Shifting into manual mode seemed to help alleviate this problem, and revealed just how sweet the engine revs and sings to its 6200 rpm rev limit, with ample torque for passing throughout. Owning a manual vehicle, I found the “push up to shift up” of the manual mode to be counter-intuitive, but something I got used to over time.

Probably my biggest complaint about this car however, was its dead pedal. From a full stop and stepping on the accelerator, there was a solid second or two of delay before there was any sort of response from the car. I’m not sure whether this is an isolated case, an engine mapping issue, or a throttle tuning problem with the electric throttle, but I found this only happened when the car was idling at a stop. I found this particularly disconcerting at left turn lights, where I almost had to predict when the car would react to otherwise negate a potentially hairy intersection situation.

As a result, I found myself being much more aggressive with the throttle in an attempt to trick the car into responding (and admittedly combined with the fun driving dynamics), the fuel economy suffered, averaging around 12L/100km with mostly city driving. Note that this number was obtained through filling up and comparing the fuel used with the kilometers traveled.

Panoramic roof looked impressive on our "Highline" spec vehicle

Panoramic roof looked impressive on our “Highline” spec vehicle. Hipster-spec coconut water optional.

Conclusion

Despite lying in fetal position on my couch for a significant portion of my time with the Golf, I came away feeling rather satisfied with the car. I think I would have liked to try the car in a manual, not just because of my love for driving manuals, but so I can better separate whether the issues I came across were accelerator pedal tuning issues or an engine mapping issue.

The car looks and feels overall very impressive, seemingly able to do many things very well. For best value however, I would probably just spec the basic “Trendline” model for best value, or otherwise consider the GTI. The issues aside, I feel that the new Golf is one I can very much recommend to my friends, and would be great for those that want that “day-day commuter” with a non-pretentious sophistication to it.

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