Test Drive: 2019 Volkswagen Golf

This is a handsome car.

This is a car that’s always been known as a driver’s machine within the segment, and Volkswagen continues that tradition here.

Handsome.

It’s the sort of compliment charitable moms pay to their sons to console a broken heart.

Well, my mom says I’m handsome!

It’s also a term bestowed upon recipients with a dignified and sophisticated appearance, and it’s this version that suits the 2019 Volkswagen Golf so well.

Volkswagen has long draped its modest compact hatchback in sheet metal that’s far from flamboyant (the wacky 1996 Harlequin Edition notwithstanding), yet always recognizable as a VW, and yes, subtly handsome. While this seventh-generation Golf enters its final year (a new Golf is rumoured for 2020), it’s impressive how well its square-ish, two-box design has held up, receiving only subtle updates over the past few years.

Where many of the Golf’s competitors appear to have been designed by stylists who failed out of origami school, VW benefits from relative agelessness, furthered here by the unassuming Platinum Grey Metallic paint.

At front, the simple thin chrome line reaches from headlight to headlight (adaptive LED ones, of course), crossing under the prominent VW nose badge. The LED taillights point toward the VW logo cleverly used to serve as the hatchback handle and hide the back-up camera from weather and road grime.

The Golf’s interior subscribes to the same design sensibility with a classic, Teutonic style, featuring knobs and buttons, and a pair of big, round primary gauges. There’s a fluid heft to the operation of all the controls, and everything is placed where logic suggests it should be. You won’t need to go searching through endless menu screens to figure out how the seat heaters turn on – there’s a straight-forward, three-stage button for that.

The 8-inch infotainment system screen is flanked by knobs for volume and tuning, as well as a handful of main menu buttons, ensuring movement between major operations can be accomplished with little attention paid by the driver. And the Fender-tuned sound system is arguably the best audio system available in a non-premium brand. Its sound is powerful, clear, and rich.

The digital display between the speedometer and tachometer is a simplistic, pixel-text affair without any race-themed or growing-leaf design motifs. It just delivers information clearly, thank you very much.

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Our Execline-trim test car wore beige leather on the seats and a light fabric shade over the huge sunroof creating a very bright cabin for passengers. In fact, even at night the cabin was bathed in luminance thanks to a pair of overhead lights that would not go out no matter what button I pushed or setting I adjusted. So mysterious were these lights that I even consulted the owners’ manual and still couldn’t get them to shut off.

That was the only sign that the build quality of our Mexican-made hatchback was anything less than top-shelf.

Ingress and egress are both easy thanks to wide openings for the doors. The seats are supportive and should accommodate a wide range of body types with ease. They are stuffed with firm foam, however, and when coupled with a suspension that tends to the stiff side, it does make the Golf feel a little rigid over bumps.

Still, that firmness means the driving dynamics of the Golf are quite engaging, with handling chops sufficient to make the small VW feel fun and sporty when hustled in the corners. The steering is quick and well-weighted, and there’s just enough feedback – even with our test car sporting Continental winter rubber – to report what’s happening at the pavement level with decent accuracy.

For anyone who’s driven a Golf in the past few years, you’ll know none of this is new information. This is a car that’s always been known as a driver’s machine within the segment, and Volkswagen continues that tradition here.

What is new for 2019 is an engine transplant, with last year’s celebrated 1.8-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder now replaced by the 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from the Jetta sedan. Not only is power down from last year’s highly competitive 170 horsepower to a modest 147, but it now puts the Golf behind its major competitors from Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mazda.

On paper, the power deficit looks concerning, but the reality is this little four-banger generates more torque than any of those other little hatchbacks, and it’s this force of twist that driver’s actually feel in daily driving. While Volkswagen still offers the Golf with a driver’s choice of six-speed manual (hooray!) or eight-speed automatic, it’s the latter that was fitted here. I’d prefer to drive a stick-shift, of course, but VW’s Tiptronic automatic is a very good box, and when driven in manual mode, is far more fun than the CVT transmissions of some of the competitors’ cars. The eight-speed does a very good job of keeping the little engine in the sweet spot of its power band, helping to make it feel downright peppy.

There is a little turbo lag which, coming away from a stop can give a millisecond pause before getting underway – sometimes giving the front tires a chirp as the torque comes on a little suddenly. Highway speed passing requires a multi-gear drop to get any appreciable motivation, but those (like me) who lamented the shift from 1.8 to 1.4 litres of displacement, needn’t have worried, with the only downside noticeable to most folks will be the slightly harsher sounds it emits, particularly at start-up.

Besides, the sportier Golf GTI starts at just over $30,000 – or slightly less than the sticker on my test car here – and has a spritely, turbocharged 2.0-litre, if you really want a quicker Golf.

There is a very obvious upside to the 1.4-litre engine and that is an improvement in fuel efficiency which drops consumption rates by about 1 L/100 km in normal (combined highway and city) driving. Fuel savings are made easier still by the implementation of the auto stop-start function on automatic transmission cars.

Despite cars playing second fiddle to sport utility vehicles these days, machines like the Golf serve to reward the dwindling car-buying public with a fun-to-drive, yet still practical car that doesn’t have to be jacked up to never go off-road. The Golf has some heady competition in the compact hatchback segment, especially as it nears the end of this generation’s lifecycle. Many of those other offerings are pretty flamboyant, catering to the whims of designers and whatever trends du jour tickle their fancy. The Volkswagen appears a far more timeless choice, by comparison.

Besides, handsomeness transcends trendiness anyway.

2019 Volkswagen Golf Execline Tiptronic
Engine Displacement: 1.4L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 147 hp
Peak Torque: 184 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 8.1/6.4/7.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 1,521 L
2019 Volkswagen Golf Execline Tiptronic
Base Price $31,420
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,685
Price as Tested $34,955
Optional Equipment $1,750 – Driver Assistance Plus Package $1,750
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
7 Styling
7 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value