2015 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony
San Francisco, CA – “Anyone with a pulse.”
That was the answer we got from Volkswagen PR impresario Thomas Tetzlaff when asked who the intended market for the 2015 Volkswagen Golf would be.
As much as his meaning was that they think any Canadian driveway would make a good home for the Golf, I couldn’t help but think of the old “Drivers Wanted” campaign. Any zombie commuter would be pleased with this compact car so long as its features, fuel economy, reliability and residuals hold up (reliability in particular a sore spot for Volkswagen), but if you do have a pulse, and if driving gets your heart rate up, the Golf starts to take on a slightly better value proposition.
Okay, looking at it might not get you too excited. It’s still a pretty traditional hatchback, the mostly flat roof resisting the coupe-ification trend, and although the windows get slightly narrower and the roof drops a bit, the side windows seem positively tall and visibility is consequently excellent, even through the rear windshield.
Another area unlikely to cause much excitement is interior design. Our test drives included one example with the navigation and one without, both straightforward and simple; some will find it austere and boring, others will say it is refined and elegant, uncluttered. Its strength is in the familiar layout of major controls. The touchscreen is surrounded by buttons for main menus, knobs for volume and tuning and the touchscreen ‘buttons’ are large and clear. Heating and A/C or the automatic climate control are governed by three large dials that will be instantly recognizable.
A large speedometer and tachometer fill the gauge cluster, with a small, legible information screen nestled between the two. Steering wheel controls are mostly conventional, though I found it odd that the volume and station selection were on opposite spokes – but not as clever as Chrysler’s back-of-spoke controls. The steering wheel itself is quite nice, ergonomically contoured, the grip leather with tight stitching and the hub and spokes finished in a bit gloss black plastic and silver trim for an upscale look and feel. All the switchgear feels solid, imparting a sense of quality, and one tester displayed a silvery brushed metallic trim to relieve the black.
The seats were also a relief. A recent test of the 2013 GTI and the 2014 Jetta in our Compact Car Comparison Test had me complaining about the seats that seemed awkward and pushed my shoulders forward uncomfortably no matter the adjustments. These seats were a tad wide and flat, but seemed neutral for a variety of body types and comfortable in both models that we tested.
As mentioned in our 2015 GTI review, interior dimensions are improved in most respects, and seating proves comfortable and accommodating in the rear as well, but it doesn’t ‘feel’ as spacious as the recent Jettas that we have tested – though we might be guilty of falling prey to the psychological effect of a light, cream interior. The black interior of the Golf is also slightly offset by the lighter grey headliner, but it is still no airy, cavernous interior. The trunk, however, is both large and useful, with a wide, square shape and 640 L of space, or 1,490 with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats lowered and a ski pass-through as well for added convenience. The Mazda3 Sport manages 572/1334 L, the Focus 674/1269 and the Elantra GT 651/1,444.
2015 Volkswagen Golf dashboard. Click image to enlarge
But the most appealing feature of the interior in the two examples I tested was between the two front seats. Both Golfs I drove featured manual transmissions, a five-speed manual with the 1.8TSI, and a six-speed manual with the TDI.
We drove the 1.8TSI immediately after wrapping up our route in the new GTI, and it only made the 1.8 look all the better – not outright better than the GTI, but perhaps a better value. As a whole, the GTI packs on a lot of desirable equipment (bigger wheels, lowered sports suspension, extra gear in the manual transmission, etc.), but the Golf held its own as an enjoyable car to drive in both 1.8T and TDI form.
Our time in the gasoline Golf started out with us getting hopelessly lost in an Oakland industrial area until Google maps came to the rescue and got us back on course. Our route took us over a brief highway stint and back up into the same canyon roads as we drove in the GTI snaking up through Wildcat Canyon Regional Park and along the San Pablo Reservoir and then back down through UC Berkeley campus to the Craneway Pavilion. These are more entertaining roads than anything within hours of the GTA, and the little Golf held its own.