While we rarely skip an opportunity to praise the Volkswagen Golf, our infatuation has never fixated on the hatchback’s price. That’s because while its cost is reasonable, its core competencies—a solid structure, an impeccably finished interior, and comfortable and capable suspension—would be welcome at any price. And value is just one of the main criteria we use to name cars to our 10Best Cars list, the others being satisfying driving dynamics and unparalleled execution of purpose. Because the Golf excels at all three, it has been named a 10Best winner for a decade running.
Even so, we recognize that a vast swath of buyers shop primarily on value. Those shoppers will be pleased by the tweaks VW has made to the Golf lineup for 2017, the last model year before a facelifted edition arrives. The base price is effectively lower than it was last year, and the number of trim levels has been reduced from four to just two, albeit each with more standard features than before. (In other Golf news, the two-door body style has been axed, and by now you’re probably aware of what happened to the diesel-engine option.)
Volkswagen’s adjustments leave the Golf lineup with only the base S and the now top-of-the-line Wolfsburg Edition models, both four-doors with either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic paired with a gasoline-fed turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Other Golf-based derivatives continue, including the longer SportWagen, the semi-rugged Alltrack, the sporty GTI, and the even sportier all-wheel-drive Golf R.
Beyond allowing Volkswagen to save a buck or two printing shorter sales brochures, the changes also dramatically narrow the Golf’s pricing envelope. Previously, the basic Golf range spanned nearly $9000, from the $19,315 two-door Golf to the four-door $28,245 Golf SEL. For 2017, just $2800 separates the least and most expensive Golfs. The ’17 Golf S starts at $20,715, or $280 cheaper than last year’s base four-door Golf, and it includes more standard equipment, such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a more modern 6.5-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
A similarly equipped 2016 Golf would have cost at least $27,540, but what really drives home Volkswagen’s more aggressive pricing is that this Wolfsburg is stocked nearly as fully as our $28,810 2015 Golf SEL long-term test car. That car had 18-inch wheels, navigation, and dual-zone automatic climate control that this one lacks, omissions that are more or less offset in the value equation by the aforementioned blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, and automated braking. Previous Golfs aren’t the only cars undercut by the ’17 Golf—the Wolfsburg Edition, in particular, compares favorably with the prices for similarly equipped hatchbacks such as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze.
New Price, Same Performance
Its lighter price tag has no effect at the test track, of course. The turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder still makes 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, and the six-speed automatic transmission’s ratios are unchanged. The Wolfsburg model tested here reached 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and stopped from 70 mph in 168 feet. Those figures are a shade better than those laid down by our 2015 long-term test car when new. This Wolfsburg’s 0.84-g skidpad grip figure trails that car’s, due to its less grippy tires on 16-inch wheels in place of the older model’s 18-inch rubber.
We’re happy to report that VW has addressed a few shortcomings we noted in our previous 40,000-mile test. The 6.5-inch touchscreen, new for the 2016 model year, is much quicker to respond than the 5.8-inch unit in our long-term Golf and exhibited no untoward or buggy behavior. The graphics on both the touchscreen and the gauge-cluster information display still could use an injection of pixels for a sharper, more modern look, but function over form wins the day here.
Predictably, taking an already good car such as the Golf and pumping up its value quotient only makes it more appealing, and we’re happy that Volkswagen found a way to do so without stripping away the car’s excellence. This approach is having a positive effect.