The first generation Volkswagen Golf was introduced in 1974 and it has been a success story ever since. The origin of the Golf name is not completely clear. Some say it was named after a wind or ocean current (Gulf stream) like the Bora, Jetta and Scirocco. Others think it was named after the game like the Polo and Derby. But perhaps it is just meaningless and the marketing department came up with a short and catchy name.
This premium compact car was rented from Enterprise car rental at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and about 18,000 kilometers showed on the odometer. It was registered in December 2013 so about 6 months young at time of my rental. The regular compact Peugeot that was assigned to me was not ready and the friendly Enterprise employees quickly agreed to let me have the Golf when I pointed to it in the row of cars. I have had good experiences with Enterprise car rentals in the US and this location at Amsterdam Airport was no exception.
My first impression when walking up to the Mk7 Golf and getting in the car is that everything is just right. As it is one of the best sold cars in Europe, nothing was left to chance and you expect certain perfection from a German car. This latest generation Golf won’t be available in the US until later in 2014. The European automotive press seems to be liking this Golf and this week-long rental was a good opportunity to get more familiar with it.
The Golf is available in a dizzying number of 14 different model trims in the Netherlands: Trend Edition, Trendline, Comfortline, Highline, Highline Business Edition, Cup Edition, BlueMotion Trendline / Trendline Plus / Comfortline / Highline, GTI, GTD, R and e-Golf. It will probably take a while to compare all and figure out which one you want to order. In contrast with the USA, many car purchases are custom ordered from the factory with exactly the equipment the buyer wants. That’s great if you have specific needs but buying a car from a dealer lot in the United States is often easier and faster.
Prices start at € 18.491 for the Trend edition and going up to € 30.289 for the BlueMotion Highline. The GTI starts at € 33.591, GTD € 35.890, Golf R € 46.590 and the e-Golf sets you back 35.491 euros. This may appear pricey but keep in mind these prices include taxes which can be more than 50% in the Netherlands based on the CO2 emissions of the engine.
In addition to the regular 3 or 5-door body style, there also is the Variant (station wagon), Sportsvan (family hauler van) and the Cabrio.
The Golf is a compact car and form follows function to get the most out of interior space. It’s a good design in line with previous generations and mostly an evolution instead of revolution in the design language. That is what most customers probably want in a German mainstream car where economy, reliability and usability are more important than a fancy design.
The 7th generation Golf is slightly longer and lower than the previous Mk6. It is also 100 kilos lighter and has up to 23% increased fuel economy. Exterior lines are modern, mostly straight and just nice to look at. But it all depends what you prefer and some may find it boring and too plain. The Dutch saying “You cannot argue about taste” holds true to car design and there is no design that fits all.
The interior is what appealed most to me about the Golf. The dash is a nice combination of quality materials and straight-forward and pleasant design. It’s not curvy with many angles like the Ford Focus and other small cars and I find the Golf much better in this regard. Others may think it is too plain but I like it very much. The dash was trimmed with a nice brushed metal appearance and it all works together very well.
The seats are perfect when it comes to comfort and adjusting to find a good seating position. The cloth material is nice and looks like it is very wear resistant. The interior accommodates taller people very well. German cars often have seats that slide back far enough and allow for enough headroom and the Golf is no exception.
Nice detail is the small triangular glass just in front of the mirrors which enhances the airy feel of the interior. The view to the outside is generally good and there is no guessing where the car ends. Trunk space was good for a small car and you can easily fit a couple of suitcases and other stuff in the back.
This Golf was equipped with the factory navigation system. It all works as expected and was generally easy to use. Connection with an iPhone 4S worked great, even though the cable connector didn’t really lock into the phone causing occasional disconnects. The nice thing is the connection is in a small storage area below the climate controls so the phone can easily be hidden from view.
It was not immediately clear what engine was under the hood in this particular Golf. Petrol engine availability in the Netherlands starts with a 1.2 TSI engine with either 85 or 105 horsepower (63 – 77 kW). The 1.4 liter TSI engine is available with 122, 140, and 150 hp. Some are available with BlueMotion Technology which main purpose is increasing fuel economy. With the 1.4 TSI engine, it shuts down two cylinders when driving at a constant speed and results in a fuel savings of up to 10%.
My best guess is the Golf I rented had a 1.4 engine but it could have been the 1.2 with 105 hp as well. Performance was decent at lower speeds and was ok for everyday use by most people. I did not have an opportunity to test the top speed and acceleration at 100+ km/h wasn’t the greatest. But European car manufacturers mostly focus on fuel economy and emissions and driving fast is frowned upon by governments and environment activists. You’re just not allowed to have any fun while driving anymore. And if you do want to have some fun and have some cash to burn, the GTI or R version is the best way to go.
The manual 6-speed transmission is a joy to use. Shifting is direct with the best feel in the industry. Not that I have driven many other manual cars to compare to but this is the consensus among auto enthusiasts as well. And it really is a good transmission when you want to shift gears yourself and have a bit more control than an automatic. A DSG automatic transmission is optional and, from my brief experience a few years ago, this automatic is nothing to be ashamed about. Even for automobile purists and aficionado’s.
The Golf for the European market is made at VW’s home base in Wolfsburg, Germany. Golfs destined for the North American market used to be made in Wolfsburg as well but manufacturing of this newest generation will be done in Mexico in the same plant where the Jetta and Beetle are made. Hopefully, quality and reliability of the “Hecho en Mexico” Golf will be on par with their German counterparts. There is just something about a Golf made in Wolfsburg but many owners probably don’t care or even know where their car is assembled.
This week-long rental experience with the Golf allowed for about 600 kilometers of highway and city driving. It is pretty much the perfect compact car and was a joy to drive. Competition in this segment is fierce but the Golf is the car I would consider first if I was shopping in this segment. Some are turned off by the popularity of the Golf but I always liked the mass-market appeal and history of this model.
If I lived in Europe, the most desirable Golf would be the GTD but a 2.0 TDI Variant would be fun (and practical) as well. The GTI with 210hp will be available in the US soon and starts at only $24,995. I’ll have the 2.0T SE in Tornado Red with manual transmission, leather seating, premium audio and panoramic sunroof for $27,995.