2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
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Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2008 Volkswagen City Golf

Ottawa, Ontario – In this age of environmental awareness, recycling is as important as ever. So while I would have loved to see Volkswagen bring its little Polo over from Europe to compete in Canada’s popular subcompact class, the company deserves kudos for doing a little recycling of its own with its City brand.

The fourth-generation Golf and Jetta were showing their age by the time their replacements showed up (the fifth-gen Jetta in 2006 and its Rabbit hatch counterpart in 2007), but the company’s decision to rebrand the fourth-generation cars as entry-level models was a small stroke of genius.

For Volkswagen, it was a great way to get into the subcompact market in Canada without the significant cost that bringing the Polo over would have involved. For budget-minded consumers, these City models are the best way to enjoy German engineering and a new-car warranty, for significantly less than $20,000 (the three-door Rabbit does sell for $25 under the 20 grand marker).

2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf. Click image to enlarge

For 2008, the City Golf’s exterior has been significantly updated; the look is shared with the Golf and Bora (Jetta) sold in Brazil (the City Golf is built in Brazil, while the Jetta is bolted together in Mexico). The interior got less attention, though. Anyone who’s driven a fourth-gen Golf/Jetta will feel right at home here: the only notable change is a new stereo head unit. Mostly, this is okay, but it’s not perfect. The climate controls are a little low on the dash to be within easy reach, and the stereo’s volume and tuning knobs are a little small if you’re wearing gloves.

There is a lot to like too, though: my tester’s power windows (part of the $1,175 Comfort Package) had auto up/down front glass controls, which is a nice touch in a little car. The fully-functioned trip computer, which offers fuel consumption information as well as the standard odometer, is also rare in a car that starts at less than $16,000.

Comfort is great, with nice front seats and good space in all directions. The bracket creep that typically sees any given model of car get bigger with each redesign means that these fourth-gen cars are a little tight inside compared to most newer compacts. But line this car up against the current crop of subcompacts though, and you get a perfect fit.

While the rear seat is hardly huge, it’s at least as roomy as what you’ll find in its competitors, and coach chairs are comfortable, too. The smallish rear door openings make getting in and out a challenge for taller passengers, though.

Cargo space is generous, though the need to remove the headrests and flip the bottom seat cushion forward to achieve a flat load floor with the rear seatbacks folded is annoying.

The nice-sounding standard eight-speaker stereo was a welcome companion for an Ottawa-Toronto round trip, as were the auxiliary inputs: there is both a USB connection and a standard plug-in type.

To the City Golf’s $15,300 base price, my tester added the new-for-2008 six-speed automatic transmission ($1,400); a $1,175 Comfort Package that included power locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, security system and remote trunk and fuel door release, plus 15-inch alloy wheels; air conditioning for $1,350; and the side curtain airbag package for $410. Including $1,335 freight, the total came to $20,970. Missing were the heated seats and windshield washers that are bundled as a $275 package – a good deal, I think, for a couple of small things that can make a harsh Canadian winter a little more bearable.

2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf
2008 Volkswagen City Golf. Click image to enlarge

Despite this platform’s near senior citizen status, the drive is still satisfying. The suspension soaks up rough roads without getting too pillowy, and handling is fun, even if there is noticeable body lean in corners. There was some road noise at highway speeds in my tester, but I blame that partly on my car’s winter tires. Remember, though, that this is a small car; expecting Lexus-like quiet here is unreasonable. Besides, being able to hear what the tires are doing is part-and-parcel of an involving driving experience.

The 2.0-litre engine can trace its roots back even farther than the car it’s bolted into. It’s reasonably smooth and is happy enough to rev, but I can think of several other engines in the class that are more fun to put through their paces. The flip-side is the motor’s flexibility: 115 horsepower is so-so for an engine of this size, but the 122 lb-ft of torque peaks fairly low, making the motor very well suited to city driving.

The six-speed auto makes good use of the power, too, its closely-spaced ratios keeping the motor in the meaty part of its rev range much of the time. My one complaint about the transmission is the short overall gearing. While it makes for energetic leaps off the line in town, there’s no reason for a torquey motor like this to spin at 2,500 r.p.m. at 100 km/h. Making the sixth gear ratio a little taller would be a welcome change. As I’ve noticed in other VWs using this six-speed, the transmission can be a little slow getting into gear when shifted from park.

The City Golf/Jetta’s Natural Resources Canada ratings of 9.8 L/100 km (city) and 7 L/100 km (highway) aren’t exactly top of the charts among subcompacts. With a reasonably light right foot, I averaged a little more than 10 L/100 km in the city and managed to eke out numbers in the mid-seven litre range on the highway.

Okay, so environmentalists might not see much merit in the kind of recycling that went into creating VW’s City brand. Let them buy the hybrids, then, and leave the City Golf (and Jetta) for the driver looking for a low-budget car that brings a little more style and class to the subcompact segment.

Pricing: 2008 Volkswagen City Golf

Base price: $15,300
Options: $3,925 (six-speed automatic transmission, $1,400; Comfort Package, $1,175; air conditioning, $1,350)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $ 1,335
Price as tested: $20,660

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Volkswagen City Golf

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    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Volkswagen Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
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