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2018 Volkswagen Golf Review

2018 Volkswagen Golf Review
There's a VW Golf for everyone, and they're even better for 2018 thanks to a big tech upgrade inside.

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf is a perennial favorite—and something of an underdog—among compact cars. It's offered as a four-door hatchback, a wagon with either a standard or slightly raised suspension, and a pair of sporty "hot hatches." 

With the 2018 Golf, Volkswagen has grafted a new layer of user-friendly technology on a vehicle that's been exceptionally spacious and nimble in all its generations.

We've scored the Golf range a 6.5, marking it down for its relatively bland looks and class-up price tag, but rewarding it for its excellent driving dynamics, terrific interior, and good use of passenger and cargo space.

The Golf lineup sees the addition of new LED taillights on all models for 2018, but they're otherwise indistinguishable from last year's lineup. Even the base five-door, a Euro-style compact car, boasts pert, continental looks. The real standouts, in terms of human and gear-carrying ability, are the SportWagen and Alltrack models. They're as roomy inside as a crossover but far more enjoyable to drive. The Alltrack was a new model added last year that echoes the Subaru Outback in a more compact package: a hint of off-road ability and slightly more butch looks.

There's a dizzying array of models and powertrains on offer, but VW has simplified things a bit for 2018 with fewer trim levels. 

A 1.8-liter turbo-4 that puts out 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque (a figure dropped to 184 lb-ft with the standard stick-shift) comes on hatchback and wagon versions. A 5-speed manual is standard and a 6-speed automatic is optional on the hatch, while the Golf SportWagen and Golf Alltrack come with a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed manual, or a 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox depending on if they're optioned with front- or all-wheel drive.

Golf GTIs and Golf Rs are for those who relish carving corners with their firmer suspensions, unique styling, and grippier seats. The GTI is front-wheel drive, like the standard Golf, but it substitutes a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 220 hp and 258 pound-feet and either a 6-speed stick or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic. The Golf R tops the range with all-wheel drive and 292 hp from its 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. It comes with a 6-speed manual but this year offers a new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.

There's also an e-Golf, an electric-only model that we've covered separately.

Every Golf variant shares the same basic interior, albeit with different trim finishes and seat designs and upholsteries as you work your way up from the low-$20,000 range up to over $40,000 for a loaded Golf R. They offer a business-like cockpit oriented toward the driver and above average room for four or five in a pinch. Wagons deliver the most cargo room, but all models are well-finished and feel like mini luxury cars. 

The big tech news for 2018 is a pair of all-new infotainment systems. Lower-spec models are upgraded from a 5.0-inch screen to a 6.5-inch display with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Higher-end Golfs utilize an 8.0-inch screen with even more functionality. And the Golf R replaces its conventional gauges with an highly configurable LCD screen for 2018. 

Humble, thy name is Golf.

Three years into its current generation, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf remains humble and hardly sexy, even in zippy Golf GTI and Golf R forms.

The Golf follows tradition outside. If you bought a Golf 40 years ago, back when it was called the Volkswagen Rabbit, you'll be happy with its gentle evolution. Hatchback models follow a traditional two-box form with a massive rear roof pillar. It does rob some over-the-shoulder visibility, but it's not as bad as some competitors with smaller side windows and a higher belt line. The wagon variants—SportWagen and Alltrack—are a little more interesting to behold, perhaps because they barely have any rivals in our market. They look just as at home in Los Angeles as they do in Berlin.

For 2018, every model has standard LED tail lights, but you'll have to be behind one to spot the difference compared to last year. 

Golf GTIs have a lowered suspension, a rear diffuser, unique side skirts, and twin tailpipes. Red brake calipers and special 17-inch wheels complete the look. The Golf R gets its own badging, four tailpipes, and different wheels. 

Inside, they're all the same aside from seats and trim finishes. Base 2018 Golf S models have grippy cloth seats, but Golf SE and SEL versions of most sub in leatherette. Despite what a salesperson might tell you, there's no actual hide here unless you go for a well-equipped Golf GTI SE or GTI Autobahn or the Golf R. We love the tartan plaid inside the base GTI, a classic cue that resonates with enthusiasts. 

Every version shares the same dash canted toward the driver's seat. Buttons and controls are logically grouped and generally easy to access. GTIs and Golf Rs have racy trim inside.

The Alltrack stands apart a bit with a slightly raised suspension, body cladding, revised bumpers, and its own grille compared to the more pedestrian Golf SportWagen.

With its Euro character, the Volkswagen Golf ranges from mild to wild.

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf lineup offers a trio of 4-cylinder engines that offer everything from ample to stellar power, along with suspensions to match. 

All models are among the most polished in their segments, and there's something to be said about the especially wide range of flavors on offer here.

Mass market models share a 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injection inline-4 rated at 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. It's included on all versions of the Golf hatchback and both the SportWagen and Alltrack wagons. It offers ample power for most needs, a generally refined demeanor, and should return decent fuel economy. Golfs come standard with a 5-speed manual; a 6-speed automatic is on the options list for S and SEs and it's standard on the Golf SEL. SportWagens with front-wheel drive come with a 5-speed stick or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic.

All-wheel drive is optional on base 2018 Golf S SportWagens and it's standard equipment on Golf Alltracks. With all-wheel drive, the line comes standard with an extra cog—a 6-speed manual—and offers as an option a dual-clutch automatic. 

One note: if you opt for a base Golf with the 5-speed manual, you'll get a little less torque—184 pound-feet. VW says that the 5-speed gearbox isn't quite as robust as the 6-speed on other models, but it wanted to keep the entry-level Golf's price tag low.

Confusingly, you can't order a 2018 Golf SportWagen in SE or SEL trim with all-wheel drive; VW's rationale is that, if you're going to spend that coin, you might as well just step up to the Golf Alltrack.

All ride softly, especially with the standard 15-inch alloy wheels on S models. Larger wheels require lower profile tires, but even the available 17s don't deliver a punishing ride quality. Steering is light but precise, and the Golf feels natural when pushed through a curvy road. The Alltrack delivers a modicum of four-wheeling ability with its raised suspension and an off-road mode for its traction control, but it gives up some capability to rivals with more ground clearance like the Subaru Crosstrek and Outback. 
Regardless, all versions are quiet on the highway and track well, making them exceptionally good long-distance cruisers. 

That's all most buyers need to know. But if you want a hot hatch, the Golf GTI and Golf R have long been among the segment's best. 

The enthusiast's choice
Both sporty models come with a 2.0-liter turbo-4, albeit with different states of tune. The GTI's version comes with 220-hp and 258 pound-feet of torque (a 10 pony bump over last year's base engine; the 220 hp version was an option in 2017). A 6-speed stick is standard and a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic optional. GTIs are quick, but not fast enough to get most buyers in trouble. They're exceptionally well balanced with their firmer suspension. They're remarkably balanced and linear even though they send power to the front wheels only, unlike rivals like the Subaru WRX. 

Golf Rs trade the GTI's front-wheel drive for a sophisticated all-wheel drive setup and they are rated at 292 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque. The R ships as standard with a 6-speed manual, but this year a new 7-speed dual-clutch is on the options list (a 6-speed dual-clutch was available last year). We've not yet driven the new gearbox in the Golf R, but last year's model pulled with authority from any speed regardless of transmission. 

The Golf R's limits are predictably higher. It gives Subaru's WRX STI and Ford's Focus RS a serious run for their money. Ultimately, those two are more raw—but the Golf R is vastly more livable as a daily driver. It's a lot of money, but for those who want a track-day demon that can also slay the daily commute, it's hard to see how anyone could improve upon this recipe. 

Comfort & Quality
A well-outfitted interior and decent cargo space makes the 2018 Volkswagen Golf immensely practical.

As long as you're not after a dashing design, the 2018 Volkswagen Golf delivers with its roomy interior and upmarket feel. 

We've given it a 7 out of 10 for its comfortable seats and a capacious cargo bay regardless of model.

The lineup consists of many variants, which can be whittled down to two body styles: five-door hatchback and full-on compact wagon. A three-door Golf used to be part of the line, but it was never a big seller. 

All models have about same space up front, with firm and supportive seats regardless of trim. Opt for the Golf GTI and Golf R and you'll get grippier thrones with big bolstering designed to keep you in place during hard cornering. We like the standard cloth on Golf and Golf Sportwagen S models and the GTI S' tartan plaid upholsteries the most. 2018 SE and SEL versions of the standard Golf hatch and wagon plus all versions of the Alltrack have vinyl seats, which VW brands as V-Tex leatherette. It's a little rubbery, cold in winter, and hot in summer—but it is hard-wearing and makes a great choice for owners with dogs, for instance. Higher-spec Golf GTIs and all Golf Rs have real leather, which isn't available on other versions.

Rear seat room is also good for two adults or three in a pinch. But it's cargo-hauling where the Golf line really excels. There's 16.5 cubic feet of space under the parcel shelf on a standard Golf hatch, which is more than most compact sedans. And nearly 23 cubes loaded to the ceiling. Fold the seats and you can fit a bicycle with nearly 53 cubic feet. The wagons are better yet; 30.4 cubes with the seats up and a voluminous 66.5 cubic feet maximum—that's more than many crossovers or SUVs. 

The 2018 Golf line is also less drab than before, with nice trim finishes on every version. 

There's a lot of safety tech here and excellent crash-test scores.

The 2018 Volkswagen Golf has mostly good crash-test scores and widely available active safety features. 

The IIHS says that all models rate as "Good" for every instrumented crash test and the optional front crash avoidance tech merits the top "Advanced" rating. That tech, which includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, park distance control, and automatic headlamps (on some models) is now optional on almost all 2018 Golf SE and higher trim levels. It's worth the extra cash, we think. 

The feds, meanwhile, rate the 2018 Golf at five stars overall—albeit with a four-star rating in terms of front crash and rollover protection. 

Standard features include a full complement of airbags, stability control, and a rearview camera. 

The Golf can be pricey, but its infotainment system is excellent.

A general streamlining of the Volkswagen Golf lineup for 2018 should make desirable features more accessible to most models—and we welcome the addition of a faster infotainment system with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Base models can feel a little spartan, but the optional infotainment system is excellent and a Golf can be loaded up with nice features, which brings it to a 6 out of 10 on our scale.

For the most part, 2018 VW Golfs are grouped under S, SE, and SEL trim levels. The GTI and Golf R are a bit different—GTIs come as S, SE, and Autobahn, while the Golf R is a "what you see is what you get." 

At the bottom end, the 2018 Golf S comes with power windows and locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, power-reclining front seats, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen. The SE adds to that a bigger 8.0-inch screen with a different interface, leatherette upholstery, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The SEL tops the lineup with 17-inch alloy wheels, a moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, and ambient cabin lighting. 

The Golf SportWagen mostly mirrors the Golf, albeit with the option of all-wheel drive on the S model only. That all-wheel-drive package also adds 16-inch alloy wheels and heated seats. Golf Alltracks build on SportWagens with standard leatherette upholstery; Golf Alltrack SEL versions have a Fender-branded audio system and 18-inch wheels.

SE and SEL versions of most Golfs are available with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, park distance control, and automatic headlamps (on some models) is now optional on almost all SE and higher trim levels. It's worth the extra cash, we think.

Moving over to the 2018 Golf GTI, all models have their own suspension settings and an uprated 2.0-liter turbo-4. The SE adds to the S full LED headlights, the 8.0-inch infotainment screen, a blind spot monitor, and automatic emergency braking. Leather is optional on the SE. The GTI Autobahn starts with full hide seats and also includes an adaptive suspension and a moonroof. 

The Golf R is the range-topper; in addition to being the most powerful, it comes with all-wheel drive, navigation, and VW's "Digital Cockpit," a system that replaces conventional gauges with a high-resolution LCD screen. It offers several different setups and can display a full navigation map and smaller virtual gauges. It's a high-tech feature that debuted on VW sister brand Audi's products to much acclaim a few years ago. 

Fuel Economy
Diesel? Shh. The Golf does well as long as you're not looking at the hot-rod R.

Most versions of the Golf will manage close to 30 mpg. Competitors do better. 

There are many figures to consider, but we'll first start with the highest-volume setup: the 1.8-liter turbo-4 with an automatic gearbox. It's rated at 24 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined in the hatchback and 24/33/28 mpg for the SportWagen.

Picking the manual on those models improves things by 1 mpg highway on either. 

Fuel economy for the 2018 Golf Alltrack and the all-wheel drive Golf SportWagen isn't as impressive: 21/30/24 mpg with the stick-shift, 22/30/25 mpg with the automatic.

Predictably, Golf GTIs and Golf Rs are a bit less fuel efficient. A stick-shifted GTI is rated at 24/34/28 mpg, while the 6-speed Golf R comes in at a not unimpressive 21/29/24 mpg. The 2018 Golf GTI with an automatic is rated at 24/32/27 mpg. The new 7-speed dual-clutch optional on the Golf R may change its figure over last year, so we'll hold off listing it. 

Note that all models but the Golf R run on regular unleaded; the range-topper requires premium fuel.

Missing the VW Golf TDI turbodiesel? You're not the only one. In late 2015, VW was accused of and later admitted to cheating the federal emissions test with its diesels. More than $22 billion in fines and buybacks later, it's safe to say that VW will be out of the diesel game in the U.S. for a long time. 

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