Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf Family

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf Family

Story by Jordan Allan, photos courtesy of VW Canada

The Volkswagen Golf has been one of, if not the most successful hatchbacks ever since it was introduced to the worldwide market back in 1974. It is one of the few hatchbacks out there that can do all of the everyday tasks you’d ask of one, but still maintains a fun factor even at its lowest trim. Now in 2018, the Golf has received a mid-cycle update as it enters its latter years of its seventh generation and if you’re familiar with Volkswagen terminology, that means we’ve now moved from Mk7 (Mark 7) into Mk7.5. The update features only minor updates to the Golf and its derivatives including revised headlights and taillights, new bumpers, and a few interior features all of which add even more style to, in my opinion, the best looking Golf there’s ever been.

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to spend some significant time behind the wheel of the Golf and its performance versions, the GTI and Golf R, noticing that although they obviously share many of the same traits and characteristics, each one is unique in its own right bringing something different to the table then its counterparts. I do realize that there are of course a few more variants of the Golf available right now, including the e-Golf, Golf Alltrack, and Golf SportWagen, but for the sake of this article I’m going to stick with the gasoline powered, short wheelbase versions; the Golf, GTI, and Golf R.



First up is the regular Golf, tested in the aptly named Highline trim, and equipped with the same turbocharged 1.8L four-cylinder as 2017 that pushes out 170 horsepower and a respectable 199 lb-ft. of torque. Given that this test came after my tests in both the Golf R and GTI, I naturally expected a bit of a letdown as I moved away from the performance-oriented versions, but quickly realized that it would not come. Although it doesn’t have the power of its counterparts, the Golf still features the same great looks as the others and offers drivability at a high level. The interior is as comfortable as ever, highlighted by our test models 8-in. infotainment touchscreen, with tons of room for passengers and cargo.

As I mentioned, although power is obviously down, the Golf still features a fun factor that is just not found in other entry level hatchbacks. The 199 lb-ft. of torque can definitely be felt when accelerating on to the highway and the entire car itself features an excellent overall balance that provides great handling and sharp responses. In terms of pricing, our tester Highline came in at $33,040 which is a bit on the… high… side, but the entry level Golf Trendline starts at just $19,595 and still has many of the same features found in the Highline.



Years ago I mentioned to a fellow journalist that I had an upcoming test in the GTI (MK6 at the time) and was very excited as I had heard nothing but great things over the years. They told me that I would not be disappointed and even went as far to say that it was probably one of the best handling cars out there not named Porsche. I remember being skeptical about these comments, but soon realized that she was indeed right as it brings with it a sense of balance and control that few other cars can. Now a generation and a half later, the Mk7.5 GTI has continued its success and even got a slight horsepower boost out of its 2.0L turbocharged engine for 2018, bringing the total up to 220 horsepower to go along with a lofty 258 lb-ft of torque which is found at low RPMs, I might add. In terms of looks, the GTI does add a few performance oriented design cues which do make it stand out from regular Golfs, but in general the same overall look is found.

One huge difference between the regular Golf and GTI, is the addition of the 6-speed DSG transmission which brings performance to a whole other level by providing lightning quick shifts that are absolutely unmatched by any normal automatic transmission or even a manual. This along with a sportier suspension gives the GTI the unmistakable feeling of a well-balanced performance car, despite the fact that it is based on a family-oriented hatchback and costs less than $40,000. The car features a comfortable ride at low speeds, but when called upon, the GTI instantly morphs into something that is endlessly fun to drive down a twisty highway. Trust me, I know.

I believe the GTI to be the perfect car if you’re looking for something that is as fun to drive as it is practical and would no doubt be my choice if I were to buy one of these Golfs today. Our test Autobahn model came in at $39,045 but the base GTI can be had from only $30,595 which is a bargain in my eyes.


Golf R

To start off this section, I’m going to immediately contradict something I said last section and say that if money wasn’t a factor, I would 100% choose the Golf R. It offers all of the practicality of the other Golfs I’ve mentioned in this article, but in an even better looking and more performance-oriented package. The same 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder found in the GTI is used in the R, but it has been tuned up to produce a very impressive 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft. of torque power is put to the wheels through Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. The extra power and all-wheel drive are immediately noticeable when driving, and both work together with an already supremely balanced car to make it one of the top 2 or 3 cars I’ve ever driven in terms of fun.

A new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG) option is featured, which still provides amazingly quick shifts and although some will tell you that the 6-speed manual is the way to go, I would argue that the 7-speed DSG is just as fun and most definitely faster. Also added for the R is the Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) adaptive suspension which lets you choose between different drive modes to best suit your current need. In the highest Race setting, the throttle and steering responses are sharper, the suspension is tighter and you feel you’re ready to head out on to the track. In the lowest Eco setting, the Golf R acts like any other normal hatchback would and provides a smooth overall ride that would rival even some luxury vehicles. The interior is up fitted with special Golf R seats, Volkswagen’s new Digital Cockpit instrument cluster and an overall luxurious feel thanks to many R specific features and design cues.

The Golf R starts at just $42,065 but that can quickly climb, as it did for our test model which came in at $48,260. Some may take issue with those kinds of prices and may say that it simply is too much for a Golf, but after driving a few examples of it over the years, I can definitely say that if you are a car person but need something with a decent sized back seat and trunk, there is simply no better vehicle available.



Now this is the hard part, although it may be easy for others; choosing the right Golf for you. As I said, given that I and many others would be under the category of ‘budget-conscious’,  I would choose the GTI. It does everything you could want a hatchback but also moonlights as an entry level sports car. It comes in at a reasonable price and still provides looks that will stand out in traffic.

If (and hopefully when) there comes a time in my life where I’m still in need of a practical vehicle but my budget has undergone a significant increase, I would undoubtedly choose the Golf R. It truly is a sports car wrapped in a family hatchback’s body and will provide endless amounts of fun at any time of the year.

Lastly, if I were a person that wasn’t as in to the performance side of things as I actually am, the Golf is fine choice and is a vehicle that still holds on to some personality in what is becoming a dreary mix of SUV/CUVs that seemingly have little to no soul. It does everything they do, albeit in a smaller package and still can be fun at times.

In short, all of this is to say that Volkswagen has done and continues to work wonders on its Golf lineup and with even more additions like the all-electric e-Golf and versatile Golf Alltrack, there is no reason to believe they won’t enjoy continued success moving forward.

Categories: Driver Plus, Road Tests