With an all-new fifth-generation model coming in 2006, the Golf remains virtually unchanged for 2005. Its model line-up also remains the same, available as a four-door hatchback with gasoline or diesel engine, and as the sporty GTI two-door hatchback, with turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engine.

The Golf comes in three trim lines, starting with the CL, available in gasoline only. This very base car does come with ABS, four-wheel disc brakes and side airbags, and includes variable intermittent wipers, AM/FM/cassette, and 60/40 split rear seat.

The GL comes in gasoline or diesel, and adds manual remote heated mirrors, anti-theft alarm system, CD player, floor mats, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, fully reclining front seats, and the ability to option a sunroof.

The upper-line GLS is also gas or diesel, and adds air conditioning, power mirrors, power windows, heated washer nozzles, heated seats, and premium stereo.

The very-well-equipped GTI comes standard with ABS, air conditioning, power heated mirrors, cruise control, power locks and windows, CD player with eight speakers and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The V6’s standard 17-inch wheels and leather interior can be optioned on the four-cylinder, which comes with 16s and cloth.

No matter what model, the Golf remains a fun-to-drive, comfortable and very well made car that has the added practicality of its hatch configuration, although rear seating is rather tight. Steering is nimble and direct, and while it can be swapped for an automatic, the five-speed manual is extremely smooth. The GTI ups the stakes with sport-tuned suspension to go with the extra power.

North Americans still aren’t sold on diesel, and that’s a shame. The Golf’s TDI models are more throaty than clattery, and offer gasoline-style performance while returning fuel economy numbers that petrol can only dream about.

The Golf’s base $18,530 makes it a challenger in the price wars: while Chevrolet’s Optra5 is $15,550, the Ford Focus ZX5 starts at $21,755, the all-new Kia Spectra5 is $19,995, and the Mazda3 Sport is $20,285. The Golf is very base for that price, but it’s a very good base car – something that’s often overlooked in the automakers’ race to give more bells and whistles for low dollars. Watch for prices to drop as the 2006 models make their way to the showrooms and dealers clear their 2005 inventories.

The Golf and GTI are built in Coritiba, Brazil.

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