2015 Volkswagen Golf Driving Impressions

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is both sophisticated and fun, with European road manners that make it pleasurable to drive around town and on the highway.

Though all models now use four-cylinder engines, there is ample power for most driving needs. Golf TSI models use an updated version of VW's 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, good for 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. On our TSI test car with the automatic transmission, acceleration was smooth and shifts were timely. There is a brief moment of hesitation at tip-in, followed by ample thrust. But we wouldn't call it turbo lag; this is typical for all newer cars tuned to maximize fuel economy. In sport mode, the transmission holds gears longer, providing plenty of thrust during our test drive through the hilly roads of Northern California.

In TSI models, the ride is firmly sprung, but not uncomfortable. Rebound is smooth and quick when going over train tracks and potholes. Over rougher road, a rear multi-link suspension helps to keep everything in check.

Fuel economy is a fairly admirable 25/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, according to EPA estimates.

Golf TDI models use a revised version of VW's turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injected inline-4, which makes 150 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. We found our TDI test car exceptionally quiet on startup, and the clattering typical of a diesel engine was only obvious when driving at low-to-moderate speeds on demanding roads.

Our Golf TDI model was equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission. Clutch engagement is smooth and shift throws are comfortable, but like all cars that now use cable linkage, it feels soft compared to stick shifts of old. In most situations the transmission responds just as it should, though we'd often have to downshift to first gear at parking-lot speeds, where in many cars second would suffice. We also felt caught between second and third gears at moderate speeds through winding uphill roads: the engine whirred along at the top of its limits in second, but failed to provide enough oomph in third. As a result, we found ourselves shifting back and forth around nearly every turn. If you like the driver engagement of a manual, this car will give you that and then some. If not, stick to the automatic.

To create more trunk space (and perhaps to cut costs), Golf TDI models no longer have the sportier and more expensive multi-link rear suspension found on other Golf models, and instead use a less sophisticated torsion beam rear setup. Driving around town, the difference was negligible, but we found the car became unsettled and was much less composed around hard corners and on uneven, undulating surfaces.

While it may not deliver the best ride quality of the lineup, the Golf TDI excels in fuel economy, with 31/45 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.

On both models, the Golf's brakes work well. On the previous generation Golf, we dug into the brake pedal repeatedly on Germany's Autobahn to slow down from triple-digit speeds. This time, though our drive was at much lower speeds, we felt just as confident. Pedal feel is solid, and braking feels stable.

The 2015 Golf GTI is sporty yet still refined, with its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 210 hp and a hearty 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Not only is the GTI more powerful than before, it's also about 80 pounds lighter, which makes the GTI feel plenty zippy around town and on the highway. Suspension in the GTI is firmer and feels flatter through the corners than the standard Golf, which also makes it more comfortable for aggressive driving.

An optional Performance Package for the GTI boosts power to 220 horsepower and adds bigger brakes and a new torque-sensing electronically controlled limited-slip differential. As its description suggests, the limited-slip differential improves stability and grip via electronic, rather than mechanical, means.

The electric steering in the GTI feels heavy, which will satisfy those who equate high steering effort with sportiness. Though our opinion, artificially creating a heavy steering feel isn't necessary to enjoy a jaunt around town or some weekend canyon carving.

The exhaust note on the GTI is satisfying, and one can hear it adequately through the cabin, though it has quite a bit of competition in the form of road and tire noise. In fact, we found the GTI so noisy at highway speeds, we had to considerably raise our voices (or the volume of the stereo system) to hear anything.

Fuel economy for the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is rated at 25/34 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.

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