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2019 Volkswagen Golf Review

The practical 2019 VW Golf is a smart choice whether as a frugal hatchback or a zippy GTI.
The 2019 Volkswagen Golf is what we would all drive if we were all rational people. We’re not, so we buy three-row SUVs to take to Kroger and convertibles for family cars.

We’re imperfect. So is the VW Golf, but not as much as we are.

On our scale, the 2019 Golf rates 6.6 out of 10. That figure is for the lineup as a whole, but there’s enough breadth and depth here that each version—frugal Golf hatchback, hot-rod Golf GTI, hotter-rod Golf R, spacious Golf SportWagen, rugged(ish) Golf Alltrack, and e-Golf electric car—has its own personality. 

This year, VW downgraded the Golf hatchback and front-wheel-drive versions of the SportWagen’s engine to a 1.4-liter turbo-4 rated at 147 horsepower, a sizable 23-hp drop from last year’s 1.8-liter.

A new GTI Rabbit Edition trim package spices up the sporty version and all GTIs are now available with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Finally, a manual transmission is available in more versions of the Alltrack.

All-wheel-drive SportWagens and every Alltrack use a strong 168-hp 1.8-liter turbo-4. The Golf GTI subs in a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 228 hp plus a firmer suspension and uprated brakes. The Golf R takes things to 11 with its all-wheel drive and 288-hp turbo-4.

VW’s on-again, off-again e-Golf can travel about 125 miles on a full charge. It retains the Golf lineup’s virtues—a well-tuned suspension, sharp steering, and a plush cabin—but its range been eclipsed by competitors such as the Chevy Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf.

Turbodiesel engines were once integral to the Golf’s identity, but the automaker was caught systematically cheating on federal emissions tests. Today’s gas engines are nearly as thrifty, especially once the lower pump cost of regular unleaded compared to diesel is factored in.

Inside, Golfs are variations on the same theme: a businesslike, dashboard fitted with either a 6.5- or 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a wide range of standard active safety tech, and a high attention to detail.

Golf hatchbacks have good utility, and wagons—SportWagen and Alltrack share a shape—are better yet.

The Golf lineup shares its underpinnings with the VW Jetta. While the Jetta has a more spacious back seat, the Golfs have better cargo utility, more performance options, and nicer interior trim.

The 2019 VW Golf has conservative, Teutonic lines that should age well.
Most drivers won’t give the 2019 VW Golf a second look. In GTI and Golf R guise, that may be an asset to some drivers.

We give the 2019 Golf lineup a point above average for its sophisticated interior design, landing these Volkswagens at 6 out of 10 on our scale. 

Golfs can be distilled down to two basic shapes: hatchback and wagon. Either way, all Golfs now have four doors. Sharp lines and limited curvy contours give the Golf a conservative air. GTIs sub in shiny black and red bits, plus zippier 18-inch wheels wrapped in performance rubber. The Golf R sits lower yet, but only cognoscenti will notice its 19-inch wheels. At the opposite end, the e-Golf has aerodynamic wheels but is otherwise indistinguishable from a standard model.

We like the wagon’s long roof more for its balanced proportions, not to mention its added utility. SportWagens don’t emphasize sportiness in their styling—they look like long Golfs. The Alltrack’s unpainted plastic fender flares and matte silver trim hint at a woodsy air, even if it doesn’t sit as high off the ground as an Outback.

Other than upholstery—which ranges from grippy cloth to easy-clean synthetic leather on most Golfs—all versions share an interior design. Controls are grouped logically below either 6.5- or 8.0-inch touchscreens for infotainment. The larger of the two screens is hidden behind a glass panel that looks good but attracts fingerprints.

One complaint: All 2019 Golfs, even the costly Golf R, have a smattering of switch blanks around their gear levers.

From frugal to fire-breathing, there’s a 2019 VW Golf for every need.
As long as you’re not after a convertible or a pickup truck, the 2019 VW Golf will satisfy nearly every driving desire. We rate the lineup at 7 out of 10 overall, awarding points for commendable ride and handling. Golf GTIs and Golf Rs would earn another point for their strong engines.  

This year, a 1.4-liter turbo-4 rated at 147 horsepower sits under the hoods of all Golf hatchbacks and front-wheel-drive versions of the Golf SportWagen. We’ve not yet driven this engine in the Golf, but found it to deliver adequate, if not inspiring performance in the related VW Jetta sedan. A 6-speed manual comes standard on most models and an 8-speed automatic is optional.

The stronger, if thirstier, choice is the 168-hp 1.8-liter turbo-4 that was standard in last year’s models and is now relegated to all-wheel-drive SportWagens and the Alltrack. The engine mates well to either slick-shifting 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmissions.

The 1.8-liter is a gem of an engine and provides great thrust from a stop. It’s fantastic with the easy-shifting manual transmission, but the more popular automatic’s behavior is nearly as good.

Golf hatchbacks, SportWagens, and Alltracks have a plush, composed ride and light but accurate steering. They’re precise and entertaining, but not exactly sporty. Stellar highway stability reveals their German roots—after all, they’re tuned to cruise at triple-digit speeds in their home market.

The Golf Alltrack looks great but is a head-scratcher when it comes to four-wheeling. It sits less than an inch higher off the ground than the standard SportWagen and its 17-inch wheels are wrapped by tires without much sidewall compared to a Subaru Crosstrek or Outback.

Opt for the Golf GTI and you’ll find a modest power boost this year to 228 hp from its 2.0-liter turbo-4. If you’re counting, that’s up 8 hp from last year and 18 hp from 2017. The GTI’s turbo-4 provides excellent thrust with minimal lag away from a stop. A 6-speed manual is standard, while a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is a new upgrade over last year’s 6-speed unit.
GTIs are remarkably balanced for sending that much power to the front wheels. More steering heft and a dialed-in suspension make them a hoot to shuffle through a daily commute or down a winding canyon road. They’re not unduly stiff, even though they ride on 18-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile tires. Drivers in cold climates might want to budget for winter rubber, however.

At the top of the heap, the Golf R features a 280-hp version of the 2.0-liter turbo-4 that shoots power to all four wheels. The Golf R delivers impressive, but controllable performance. It’s unflappable at speed, but ultimately not as thrilling or as composed as the Honda Civic Type R.

With its conservative looks, however, the Golf R blends in and may be the better choice for hooligans.

VW e-Golf
Driving the e-Golf is almost like driving any other Golf, except that it won’t easily take you from coast to coast.

The e-Golf’s 35.8-kwh lithium-ion battery pack provides its electric motor with about 125 miles of range. Acceleration is instant and silent. Around town, the e-Golf zips from stoplight to stoplight with ease. It gets up to highway speed with enough power in reserve for passing maneuvers, but sustained cruising at posted speed limits will drain its battery quickly.

We like the e-Golf because driving it is a relative non-event, but its range is nearly half that of a Chevrolet Bolt EV. That alone makes it a tough sell for all but the most ardent VW-philes.

Comfort & Quality
The 2019 VW Golf uses its small footprint especially well.
No matter what’s under its hood, the 2019 Volkswagen Golf is a practical choice. We rate it at 7 out of 10, with points above average awarded for its comfortable front seats and its excellent cargo utility.  

Every 2019 Golf has front seats that adjust in eight directions, something some automakers don’t include at twice the VW’s price. Full 12-way power adjustment for both seats comes on the Golf R, as it should for about $41,000.

The Golf’s rear seats aren’t as spacious, but a relatively high roofline and wide-opening rear doors mean that both hatchback and wagon bodies accommodate passengers well enough for compact cars.

Where the Golf’s design shines is in its ability to lug things other than humans. Hatchbacks have about 23 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats up and 53 cubes with the split-folding bench flat. SportWagens and Alltracks are better yet: 30 cubic feet with the rear seats upright and 66.5 cubes with them folded flat.

Moreover, the Golf utilizes what space it has very well. Intrusion from the wheel wells is limited and most versions have some pockets for smaller items around the spare tire well.

Low-sheen surfaces cover the bulk of the Golf’s interior and soft-touch panels adorn dashboards and front doors. The shiny trim around the center console doesn’t impress, but we like the tough fabric and synthetic leather trim that covers most versions’ seats. Real leather upholstery is standard on the Golf R and optional on the Golf GTI.

Touches such as lined door pockets to prevent items from rattling around and headliner fabric-covered roof pillars give the Golf a bucks-up feel for its attention to detail.

The 2019 VW Golf has performed well in crash tests.
Nearly all versions of the 2019 VW Golf come standard with collision-avoidance active safety tech and the small car has performed well in crash tests.

We land at a 6 out of 10 for safety, giving the 2019 Golf a point above average for a five-star government crash-test rating. 

The IIHS hasn’t tested the Golf’s automatic emergency braking, so it doesn’t earn a Top Safety Pick award. However, the Golf scored mostly “Good” ratings in the insurance industry-funded group’s barrage of tests. We’ll update this space if they see fit to test its active safety tech.

Most Golfs—except the base Golf GTI and SportWagen trims—come standard with forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. That tech is optional (and highly recommended) on other Golfs.  Blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and rear cross-traffic alerts are standard on some higher trims and widely available (and again recommended) on other versions.

The 2019 VW Golf is a good value in most configurations.
Narrowing down the “right” 2019 Volkswagen Golf may take some time. At every step of the way, the 2019 Golf is generally feature-laden and backed by a terrific warranty, however.

For that we, rate the Golf at 7 out of 10. 

Generally, VW’s trim level structure includes S, SE, and SEL grades but features vary by bodystyle. For instance, a Golf SE hatchback and a Golf SE Alltrack aren’t directly comparable.

Golf infotainment and warranty
One thing all Golfs have in common is above-average infotainment software. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility supplement a system that works well enough on its own. The standard 6.5-inch touchscreen is clear and responsive. The optional 8.0-inch display hides behind a glass panel that looks great but attracts fingerprints and has capacitive buttons that are less responsive.  

On all, a single USB port and Bluetooth are standard. Built-in navigation is available on some trims, too.

Nearly every Golf is covered by an impressive 6-year, 72,000-mile warranty that can be transferred to subsequent owners. The warranty doesn’t apply to the limited-market e-Golf, however.

Golf hatchback, SportWagen, and Alltrack features
Base Golf S hatchbacks cost about $22,700 and include power features, air conditioning, alloy wheels, cloth seats, blind-spot monitors, a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Bluetooth, and automatic emergency braking. The Golf SE adds synthetic leather upholstery, keyless ignition, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, and a moonroof for about $25,000, while another $1,300 buys adaptive cruise control, 17-inch wheels, and active lane control.

Golf SportWagens cost about $1,000 more. For around $23,000, the SportWagen S essentially mirrors the base hatchback with one notable exception: active safety tech including blind-spot monitors, automatic emergency braking, and rear cross-traffic alerts are a $450 option. Additionally, all-wheel drive paired with the more powerful engine costs $2,500 on the SportWagen S. No all-wheel-drive SportWagen SE is available.

The all-wheel-drive Golf Alltrack is more popular with consumers than the SportWagen and is offered in three trims: S, SE, SEL. For about $27,800, the Alltrack S builds on the SportWagen S with synthetic leather seats and active safety tech. SE and SEL trims add larger screens, moonroofs, upgraded audio, and active lane control. The costliest Golf Alltrack SEL is nearly $37,000.

On most Golf hatchback, SportWagen, and Alltrack trims, an automatic transmission costs $1,100.

Our recommendation is the Golf S SportWagen with all-wheel drive and active safety features. At about $26,000, the wagon balances value, four-seasons performance, and utility exceptionally well.

VW has not detailed the 2019 e-Golf, but we’ll update this space when we know more.

Golf GTI and R features
The sporty Golf GTI costs about $28,500 and includes plaid cloth upholstery, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and heated front seats. Active safety tech adds $450.

The limited-edition Rabbit package throws in LED headlights, keyless ignition, special wheels, active safety tech, and a few other features for $1,300.

Golf GTI SE and Autobahn trims pile on more features such as a larger touchscreen, a power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, and an adjustable suspension.

On GTIs, the dual-clutch transmission adds $1,100.

The Golf R tops the lineup in just one configuration for about $41,300—or $42,400 with the dual-clutch transmission. That makes for a costly Golf, but at least it’s well-equipped with leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, a moonroof, a full suite of active safety tech, and premium audio.

For $2,500 more, VW will paint the Golf R in one of 40 paint schemes, none of which are subtle.

When it comes to sporty Golfs, we like the relative simplicity of the base GTI with active safety tech (and not just for its plaid upholstery).

Fuel Economy
The 2019 VW Golf should be very frugal, but the EPA hasn’t weighed in yet.
We can’t say for certain if the 2019 Volkswagen Golf will be as miserly as before. Until the EPA provides its guidance, all we can do for now is speculate.  

We have high hopes for base Golf hatchbacks and SportWagens with the new 1.4-liter turbo-4 and 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmissions. Last year’s models were rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city, 34 highway, 29 combined with the 5-speed manual and 24/33/28 mpg with the 6-speed automatic.

If the new, downsized engine and additional gears don’t improve economy, we’ll eat our words. The 2019 VW Jetta with this engine is rated at 30/40/34 mpg with an automatic and we expect the 2019 Golf to come close.

Carryover Golfs with the 1.8-liter turbo-4—all-wheel-drive SportWagens and all Alltracks—were rated last year as high as 22/31/25 mpg with the manual transmission and 22/30/25 mpg with the automatic.

The Golf GTI was faster but not much thirstier than regular hatchbacks last year: 25/33/28 mpg with the manual. This year’s new 7-speed dual-clutch may be even better.

All models but the Golf R run on regular unleaded. The Golf R sips premium at a rate of 22/29/25 mpg with the dual-clutch and 29/29/24 mpg with the 6-speed manual.

The VW e-Golf is rated at 125 miles of range, but it is only offered in certain, largely coastal, markets.


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