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

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2008 Volkswagen City

North Vancouver, British Columbia – No matter how hard Volkswagen has tried to move their brand image upscale in recent years – remember the Passat W8 and Phaeton? – I’ve always thought of Volkswagen as the “people’s car” and Audi as the luxury automaker.

So the VW City Golf makes perfect sense to me: it’s small, it’s affordable, it’s fun to drive, and its basic design and powertrain, with a few upgrades and refinements, has remained the same for many years. In fact, the basic design of the City Golf is not that far removed from the first North American Golf which replaced the original Rabbit back in 1985.

Ironically, the first City Golf in 2007 came about as a result of bad planning at Volkwagen AG. When the redesigned Golf, re-named the Rabbit, was introduced in the middle of 2006, VW’s new clean diesel engine technology wasn’t ready to meet new North American emissions standards. As a result, the Golf TDI, which represented about half of all VW Canada’s Golf sales, had to be dropped from the Canadian line-up. In addition, Volkswagen’s inexpensive subcompact Polo model could not be imported to Canada because it didn’t meet this country’s stricter crash standards.

But in a remarkable feat of Canuck resourcefulness, the marketers at VW Canada improvised a plan whereby they could still import the old (gasoline-powered) Golf (from Brazil) at a lower base price than the new Rabbit (from Germany). They called the old Golf the “City Golf”, and they did the same thing with the old Jetta, renaming it the “City Jetta”.

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

With base prices under $15,000 and $17,000 respectively, sales of the City Golf and City Jetta took off like a V1 rocket, making them among VW Canada’s most popular models.

Budget VW buyers in the U.S. must be envious: the City Golf and City Jetta are available only in Canada.

Perhaps fearing that the old Golf looked too much like, well, the old Golf, VW stylists reshaped its nose and redesigned the headlights for 2008 so that it looks more like the new Rabbit and the Passat. Personally, I think this was completely unnecessary. The old Golf had simple, clean, classic lines that were distinct from the new ‘aero’ nosejobs of the Rabbit/Jetta/Passat/Eos/Touareg clones. Did Ferdinand Porsche give the original Beetle a new nose job every few years? Nein!

Fortunately, the basic City Golf, with a couple of exceptions, is still the same roomy, practical, economical, affordable fun-to-drive hatchback that it was before. Apart from the exterior changes, the biggest upgrade is a newly available (optional) six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission replacing the old four-speed automatic. As well, there’s new upholstery, a new three-spoke steering wheel, and a new CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary input jack and a USB connection.

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

The base price has increased slightly. The 2008 City Golf starts at $15,300, a $400 jump over the 2007 model. It continues to use the trusty 115-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and standard five-speed manual transmission. Standard features include four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 15-inch radials and steel wheels, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary and USB ports and eight speakers, power steering, manually-adjustable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, height adjustable driver’s seat, variable intermittent wipers, rear wiper and washer, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, rear cargo cover, and full-size spare tire.

Options on the 2008 City Golf include the new six-speed automatic transmission with manual Tiptronic shifting capability ($1,400), air conditioning ($1,350); power sunroof ($1,200), electronic stability control ($450); front side thorax airbags ($160); side curtain airbags ($410); centre armrest ($389), a Comfort Package that includes alloy wheels, power windows, power door locks, remote unlocking with a “switchblade” folding key, power heated side mirrors, cruise control, and alarm ($1,175); and a Cold Weather Package with heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles ($275).

My bright yellow test car had the Comfort Package, air conditioning, side curtain airbags and centre armrest for a total price of $18,624 plus a Freight/Destination charge of $1,335 and A/C tax of $100. Well equipped, my test car was just over $20,000.


Interior impressions

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

All City Golfs have four doors which makes getting into the back seat easier than in previous two-door Golfs (or Rabbits); and its hatchback design provides easy cargo access and a surprising amount of cargo space when the split rear seatbacks are folded down.

German cars tend to be designed for German people which means that they typically have more headroom and legroom than many Korean and Japanese compacts. Though it’s a compact car, the City Golf is roomy enough for four adults. Rear legroom can be tight for large adults, but moving the front seats forward a bit usually fixes that problem.

The new seat fabric has a more tweed-like texture with subtle pattern differences in the seat inserts and matching fabrics in the door inserts. As before, the driver’s seat is manually height adjustable and the steering wheel tilts up and down and telescopes in and out, allowing the driver to find a comfortable driving position.

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

Notable differences in the controls for 2008 are a new three-spoke steering wheel, a larger radio/CD/MP3 faceplate with easier to see and use buttons; a new auxiliary jack for iPods and a new USB port right in the front of the radio; and attractive new metal rings around the gauges.

There is a 12-volt powerpoint for charging phones just ahead of the shift lever under a cover, two cupholders between the front seats, and another cupholder at the rear of the centre console for rear passengers. My car had an optional folding centre armrest with a small storage area inside. I found this useful when cruising along the highway, but it sometimes gets in the way when shifting the manual transmission. There is no centre rear armrest.

My car also had the optional power windows, power heated mirrors and cruise control which come with the $1,175 Comfort Package which also includes alloy wheels, alarm and remote door unlocking. The power windows include pinch protection and the front windows have one-touch down operation. My car didn’t have the optional heated seats and heated windshield washers ($275) which I would highly recommend.

All five head restraints in the City Jetta are height adjustable and the front ones are also tilt adjustable for comfort and safety. The rear doors have child locks and the rear seats have anchors and tethers for child seats. Side airbags for the front seats ($160), and side curtain airbags for both rows of seats ($410) are available, and I would also highly recommend getting those. Previous Golfs have performed well in government crash tests, a good thing to know in a small car like this.

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

If I had a complaint about the interior, it would be the way the folding rear seatbacks work: first the seat cushions have to be pulled up against the front seatbacks; then the three rear head restraints have to be removed before the rear seatbacks can be folded down. Even then the loading surface is not quite flat as there is a small hump at the hinge point. I recall that the old Jettas used to have slots in the raised seat cushions to store the head restraints, but the City Golf does not, which means the head restraints have to be stored somewhere. The best place I found is in the rear footwells. On the positive side, the loading height is low, the cargo area is spacious (a total of 1180 litres/41.6 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded), there are two tie-down hooks in the floor, and the trunk floor, side walls and rear seatbacks are carpeted. As well, a removeable privacy cover is standard.


Driving impressions

115 horsepower doesn’t sound like much these days, and that may deter some buyers from considering the City Golf. But there’s another number that’s probably more important: the torque figure. The City Golf’s 2.0-litre eight-valve, single overhead cam four-cylinder engine offers 122 foot pounds of torque at just 2600 r.p.m. Torque is the responsiveness that you feel under your right foot when accelerating, and because the City Golf’s engine delivers maximum torque at relatively low revs, it feels more responsive at typical city driving speeds than the horsepower number might otherwise indicate.

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

As well, this engine has been revised and refined numerous times over the years, and it’s now reasonably smooth and vibration-free though a tad noisy under acceleration. Considering that it does about 3,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h and 3,600 r.p.m. at 120 km/h in top gear, it’s surprisingly smooth and quiet on the highway.

The City Golf’s fuel economy numbers of 9.8 L/100 km (28 mpg) City, and 7.0 L/100 km (40 mpg) Highway, aren’t class leading, but they’re better than the new five-cylinder Rabbit. The City Golf takes Regular grade gasoline.

Its standard five-speed manual shifter has a grippy shift knob and shift effort is easy though a bit loose feeling. I didn’t have an opportunity to test the new six-speed automatic Tiptronic, but this is obviously a big upgrade in an entry-level car like this. Still, performance is better with the manual transmission: Volkswagen claims a 0 to 100 km/h time of 10.4 seconds with the manual transmission and 11.7 seconds with the automatic.

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

Though the City Golf’s suspension is dated, its ride and handling is still superior to many newer compacts I’ve tested recently. There’s a feeling of stability and control at high speeds, handling is nimble, steering is quick and accurate, and the ride is comfortable. The standard rack and pinion power steering is not variable assist, but it provides low effort at slow speeds and tracks well at freeway speeds. A tight turning diameter of 10.9 metres (35.8 ft.) makes it manoeuvrable in parking lots and around sharp corners.

The City Golf’s standard Goodyear Eagle LS 195/65R15 all-season tires on my test car provided adequate grip and minimal road noise during my daily driving but they don’t have the grippiness of performance tires, so forget about the weekend autocross. Something you won’t find in most new cars is a full-size spare tire, and the City Golf’s regular spare is a welcome feature.

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

With standard disc brakes at all four wheels with anti-lock, the City Golf stops quickly and confidently. Electronic stability control, traction control and electronic differential lock are available as a $450 option. In a test of a previous Golf, I found it offered excellent traction in the snow and rain, so I don’t think traction control is needed. However, stability control can prevent spinouts on icy roads, so depending on where you live, this feature may be worth the money.

The driver’s visibility is good in all directions, and in bad weather, the standard intermittent wipers and rear intermittent wiper and washer proved invaluable in clearing the windows. One complaint which I also noticed in the previous City Golf: the smell of the windshield washer fluid gets sucked into the cabin when the front washers are operated.


Verdict

The restyled 2008 City Golf remains a good value in the compact hatchback class starting at $15,300, though options can easily send it over $20,000.


Pricing: 2008 VW City Golf

  • Base price: $15,300
  • Options: $3,324 ($1,175 – Comfort Package includes alloy wheels, power windows, power door locks, remote unlocking, power heated side mirrors, cruise control, alarm; $1,350 – air conditioning; $410 – side curtain airbags; $389 – centre armrest.)
  • Freight: $1,335
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $20,059 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


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