2012 Volkswagen Golf Hatchback - FROM $17,995
It may cost more than comparatively equipped rivals, but the 2012 VW Golf sweats the details and provides a level of refinement that few can possibly match.
What's New for 2012
Beyond adjustments to its trim and options structure, the 2012 Volkswagen Golf is unchanged. Notably, however, one of those adjustments is the deletion of optional rear side airbags.
Pound for pound, feature for feature, the 2012 Volkswagen Golf costs more than other compact cars. It would be easy to leave things there, damning the Golf with a case consisting merely of dollar signs and a spreadsheet of standard features. Indeed, it's a case that stripped VW's recently redesigned Jetta of myriad niceties and details that used to make it a step above the rest. Well, the Golf retains those niceties and details, maintaining its position as a special car for those who recognize a higher-quality product when they see it, feel it and drive it. And who also don't mind paying a little extra for it.
Indeed, compared to other vehicles in its class, the 2012 VW Golf feels positively upscale. Its interior puts others to shame (including the Jetta) thanks to top-notch materials, meticulous construction and going-the-extra-mile niceties like rear seat air vents and a tilt-and-telescoping front armrest. With optional features like heated seats, a Dynaudio stereo and a navigation system, the Golf can actually begin to feel like a near luxury car. Really, only the new Ford Focus (http://www.edmunds.com/ford/focus/2012/?sub=hatchback) comes close in this regard.
Once underway, the Golf continues to set itself apart with the sort of refinement German cars are renowned for. Handling is secure and the ride is at once comfortable and composed. The Golf's Achilles' heel, however, is its five-cylinder base engine that returns fuel economy that's upwards of 10 mpg worse on the highway than some competitors. Sure, they're less powerful, but we're betting most buyers would be willing to sacrifice some acceleration to save money at the pump. Luckily, the turbodiesel TDI meets or beats those lofty rival fuel economy figures and is certainly the more appealing Golf. However, it's even more expensive.
Overall, though, we think very highly of the 2012 VW Golf and find that its added cost in TDI guise is justified by its impressive fuel mileage, added refinement and details that won't show up if you simply compare the features of one car to another. We would make the same argument about the Focus, however, and it doesn't require pricier diesel fuel. However, the reality is that both of those compact cars may be too expensive for your budget, so it's definitely worth considering the Mazda 3 as well as the Kia Forte hatchback. They'll offer you more stuff for your money, but the overall experience won't be quite as special.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf is a five-passenger hatchback available in two- and four-door body styles. Each is broken into 2.5L and TDI trim levels, which correspond to engine choice. The high-performance GTI is discussed in a separate review.
Standard equipment on the base 2.5L Golf includes 15-inch steel wheels, foglights, full power accessories, keyless entry, heated mirrors, cruise control, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, front seat adjustable lumbar, cloth upholstery, a compass, a trip computer and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Convenience package adds heated front seats, a front center armrest and Bluetooth. The Convenience & Sunroof package adds those aforementioned items plus a sunroof, a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an iPod/USB audio interface and a touchscreen audio interface.
The Golf TDI includes all of the above equipment as standard, minus the sunroof. Also included are 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a lower ride height, heated windshield washer nozzles, floor mats and a multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Sunroof & Navigation package adds the sunroof and a navigation system, but subtracts the compass and auxiliary audio jack. The Tech package includes the Sunroof & Navigation items, plus bi-xenon headlights and a premium Dynaudio sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf 2.5L is powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder (hence the trim name) that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. These Golf models are classified as partial-zero-emissions vehicles (PZEV) when sold in states with California emissions standards. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. With the automatic, the Golf 2.5L achieves an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Sticking with the manual improves that to 23/31/26. But either way, that's worse fuel economy than the Golf's primary (though admittedly less powerful) competitors.
To get similar to better fuel economy than those competitors, we recommend the Golf TDI. It has a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder that puts out a modest 140 hp, but a robust 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard and a six-speed automated manual (DSG) is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a Golf TDI with a manual went from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds -- a quick time for this segment. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 30/41/34 with the manual, while the highway number ticks up to 42 with the DSG.
Every 2012 Volkswagen Golf comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a Golf TDI came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet -- a good distance for this segment.
In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Golf received the highest score of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Simply replacing the VW logo on the Golf's steering wheel with four rings just might be enough to convince you that you're in an Audi. That's how nice the Golf's interior is. Among other compact hatchbacks, the Volkswagen's blend of top-shelf materials, refined design and quality workmanship place it above all others. The Golf's cabin is actually much nicer than that of the recently redesigned VW Jetta sedan.
Whether you choose the two- or four-door, the Golf's passenger space remains the same. For those who plan on shuttling multiple passengers, the four-door is the obvious choice, offering a surprisingly large backseat that's notably more spacious than that of a Mazda 3. Access to the two-door Golf's rear seats is made relatively painless thanks to front seats that slide easily out of the way. Behind the rear seats, the cargo area can hold up to 12.4 cubic feet of stuff -- double the capacity of a Mini Cooper, but about average for other hatchbacks. Dropping the split-folding rear seats bumps that figure up to 46 cubes.
The 2012 Volkswagen Golf's high level of interior refinement is echoed in its composed, solid feel on the road. At highway speeds, the Golf is significantly quieter than other hatchbacks. Alternately, you can take it out on a curvy road and the well-weighted steering will inspire confidence.
The Golf's gasoline engine provides strong power throughout the rev range, but it sounds unrefined and we're betting most buyers would sacrifice some of that muscle for better fuel economy. Opting for the turbodiesel will get you that higher fuel economy along with an abundance of low-end torque. The downsides are the extra noise and a higher price, but in general, the Golf TDI is the more appealing model.