2017 Volkswagen Golf Driving Impressions

Handling and drivability are the Golf’s top merits. Overall, the Golf’s comportment is more serious than its price structure might suggest. Even the practical but competent base models handle quite well. Though a basic Golf blends comfort with sport, it cannot stay as flat while cornering as a Mazda3. However, VW’s compact feels more at home with everyday driving, yielding an absorbent ride and smoother responses.

Even the base 1.8-liter powertrain performs well, though the long strokes needed to shift the manual transmission sap some of the pleasure. Most drivers are likely to be happy with the automatic. Any turbo lag is essentially imperceptible. Road noise is minimal.

Stepping up in performance and handling, the GTI provides a delightful balance between practicality and fun. Gear changes within the 6-speed automatic are neatly-timed and crisp, while the GTI’s manual gearbox has better feel than the base 5-speed. Progressive steering and a performance-tuned suspension make the GTI more satisfying to drive at higher speeds.

The hot Golf R gets a big boost, to 292 horsepower, along with more aggressive suspension tuning. Excellent road grip with all-wheel drive helps make the Golf R a solid competitor to Subaru’s WRX STI. Four driving modes (Comfort, Normal, Race, and Individual) affect the powertrain, steering, and ride quality.

Both the SportWagen and new Alltrack promise a smooth, polished driving experience. Despite the Alltrack’s slightly higher stance and all-wheel drive, plus an Off-Road Mode, off-pavement ability is only mildly improved.

All Golfs are acceptably fuel-efficient. Models with the base 1.8-liter and manual transmission are EPA-rated at 25/36 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. Automatic drops the highway estimate to 35 mpg.

Wagons with the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic are EPA-rated at 25/34 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. GTI models manage 24/34 mpg City/Highway with manual, and 24/32 mpg with automatic. The Golf R is EPA-rated at 22/31 mpg City/Highway with manual, and 23/30 mpg with automatic.

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