Eric's Autos: 2018 VW Golf
Every successful car company has a sell -- something that defines it, makes its cars different. Volkswagen's main sell is that it's a German brand, like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It's also related to Audi, which is a German luxury brand.
This means that VW models like the 2018 Golf have much in common with Audi models like the A3. Well, except for their window stickers!
What It Is
The Golf is VW's entry-level model that shares its underlying platform -- it's basic chassis -- with the Audi A3.
The VW version is stubbier and taller, but it has almost exactly the same legroom and significantly more headroom for passengers in both rows. It also has more than four times the cargo space.
Both cars come standard with very similar turbocharged four-cylinder engines that have about the same power. But the VW's can still be paired with a manual transmission, while the Audi's only comes with an automatic.
Base price for an S trim Golf hatchback with manual transmission is $20,910. A top-of-the-line SE trim with VW's six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission lists for $24,755.
For reference, the Audi A3 sedan starts at $31,950 for the front-wheel-drive version; a top-of-the-line Prestige trim with Quattro all-wheel drive and automatic transmission lists for $43,700.
In addition to a slight cosmetic refresh, including Audi-esque LED headlights and taillights for all trims, the really big news is VW's new bumper-to-bumper warranty, which almost doubles to six years/72,000 miles.
It has an Audi DNA with a VW Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price.
There's more head (and cargo) room than its A3 sibling.
Manual transmission is available.
What's Not So Good
There's no more two-door hatchback layout.
There's no more diesel engine option.
AWD is not available in the hatchback or the Sportwagen.
Under the Hood
All Golf trims use the same 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. It has 170 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 199 foot-pounds of torque at 1,600 rpm. That's very close to the output of the Audi's A3's standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which has 186 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 221 foot-pounds of torque. The slightly larger 2.0-liter four cylinder has exactly the same 1,600 RPM for the Audi's slightly larger 2.0 liter four.
They're fraternal twins, remember?
The major mechanical differences come further down the line. With the Golf, you can go manual (five-speed) or automatic (six-speed), whereas the A3 is not offered with a manual transmission but has two automated manuals -- and the option to go all-wheel drive without going to the wagon.
On the Road
The output of the Golf's turbocharged four-cylinder engine is comparable that of six-cylinder engines that are about 25 percent larger, and it produces peak torque almost as soon as you push the Start button, at just 1,600 rpm. So it accelerates as if it has a larger engine but lacks the flat spot or lag that was once characteristic of turbocharged engines. This has been accomplished via the use of smaller "sequential" turbos that build boost pressure almost immediately.
The VW is also fun to drive -- especially compared with its Audi twin -- because it can be ordered with a manual transmission. The Audi is technically quicker, and its available AWD gives it a traction advantage in the curves as well as in the snow -- but that's not the same thing as more fun.
At the Curb
The Golf and A3 are shaped differently -- the Golf being a stubbier and taller five-door hatchback and the A3 being a sleek and low sedan -- but the interior dimensions are nearly identical.
Well, some of them are.
Both cars have exactly the same 41.2 inches of legroom for the driver and front-seat passenger and nearly the same backseat legroom (35.6 inches for the VW and 35.4 inches for the Audi).
But the Golf, being a hatchback, has vastly more space for carrying things in addition to people: 22.8 cubic feet behind its second row and 52.7 cubic feet with the second row folded. You can also raise or lower the Golf's cargo floor almost 4 inches to adjust for various cargo shapes.
The A3, being a sedan, has 10 cubic feet of trunk that don't adjust, and you can't lay the second row flat.
The Golf also has a higher roofline and, therefore, has much more headroom in both its rows: 38.4 inches up front and 38.1 inches in the back versus the Audi's 36.5 inches up front and 36.1 inches in the back.
Its more compact overall dimensions -- 167.4 inches in length versus 175.5 for the A3 -- make it more friendly for tight parking spots.
The A3's strong suit is its sexier exterior styling, but that doesn't mean the Golf is frowsy -- particularly in terms of its handsome interior design and high-end amenities, which include a glass (not plastic) faced 8-inch Composition Media touch screen in the SE trims, as well as standard rain-sensing wipers in both trims.
The Bottom Line
There are lots of compact hatchbacks out there. The Golf is the only one with the pedigree of a German luxury car.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate, Inc.