2018 Volkswagen Golf Driving Impressions

We put more than 700 miles on a 4Motion SportWagen in one week, and didn’t want to leave it. We averaged 30 mpg, most of it on a 70-mph interstate, and the 1.8-liter turbo and paddle-shifting six-speed DSG transmission were flawlessly smooth. They achieved that kind of perfection you want in a car like this: you didn’t know they were there, but they always were there for whatever you needed or wanted. Seamless acceleration with no turbo lag. We can’t remember the last time we drove a four-cylinder that was this smooth and effortless at 75 mph.

The ride, the clear and intuitive instrumentation, there’s nothing we would even nitpick. The SportWagen was an S model with no options, and there was nothing we missed. The infotainment, with satellite radio, was just fine. It lacked navigation, but we had our cellphone with mobile apps.

With any Golf, the handling and drivability match the merits of the powertrain. Maybe the S hatchback won’t corner like a Mazda3, but the GTI will, and the R goes beyond that.

We also got seat time in a Golf with the five-speed manual transmission, whose throws of the lever are rather long. The six-speed manual is stronger than the five-speed, and that sixth gear has a taller ratio, so the revs at freeway speed are lower and the car quieter. But still, the six-speed DSG automatic is so good that it’s our choice.

The sporty GTI is perfectly drivable to the grocery store, even with its firmer suspension and quicker steering. So it’s more fun and satisfying out in the twisties, if you like to play. And again you get those crisp DSG shifts with paddles.

Golf R is for serious players, with its 292 horsepower as opposed to the GTI’s 220 hp, and its aggressive suspension tuning. There are four driving modes (Comfort, Normal, Race, and Individual) that adjust the throttle, transmission and steering response, and the firmness of the ride. The Individual mode allows separate setting of these things. Most people don’t and can’t get that specific, and even if they did, things change with each section of the road. So it seems like Individual mode would really only make sense on the track, and changed with each track.

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