Many manufacturers are updating or refreshing their lineups. Volkswagen has been busy, it seems, and sent me just about all the cars they make: From compact hatchbacks, to their largest sedan and sometimes several trim levels of the same model.
This week, we’ll start with the smallest car: the Golf.
GOLF SE and GTI
If your needs call for a compact five-door hatch, these two models pretty much have the bases covered.
The Golf SE is practical with a bit of a playful side, especially the 2018 model. 2019 Golf models get a new, smaller engine that’s better for fuel economy but loses some of the pep.
Prices start around $25,000 for the top-of-the-line Golf SE models. Even loaded with options it is still under $28,000.
If you need more spunk and have extra cash, step up to the Golf GTI, the car that pretty much started the term “hot hatch.” With 228 horsepower, this car handles like it’s on rails and is a hoot on back roads.
The pricey $36,000 GTI Autobahn trim level I drove also has an adaptive suspension that lets you set the car up for the type of driving you want to do. Both cars come with manual transmissions as standard equipment with automatics as $1,100 options.
The Golf SE has a regular six-speed automatic that got the job done but wasn’t impressive or overly smooth. The GTI model has the quick shifting DSG automatic that is geared for performance driving but feels more like a manual in operation. Neither car beats you up for having high handling limits; bumps are dealt with better than other compacts.
Fuel economy is solid, 33 mpg for the Golf SE and 34.6 mpg with GTI, thanks to a road trip.
Whether you choose the Golf SE or the sportier GTI, you will have good room for a compact. The inside offers space for passengers in the front and rear, as well as room for cargo in the easy-loading hatch.
The materials are above average for this class with mostly soft-touch materials used. The heated leatherette seats in the Golf SE are look convincing, but if you hop in the GTI you get real leather seats that feel nicer.
The GTI has more flash inside when compared to the cheaper Golf SE, but either is pleasant to spend time in. Unexpectedly, the cabin is large enough for a small family to be comfortable on longer trips.
Both cars come with the larger 8 inch touch screen that is finally much more responsive than in previous Volkswagens. Both cars have Apple CarPlay and AndriodAuto capability and easily connect with a regular USB cable.
The climate control is easy to use. Large knobs and buttons are a welcome relief in a sea of menus and touch screens in other cars.
The Golf and Golf GTI are small cars on the outside that look more boxy than other five-door hatches on the market. The front-end styling has been rounded off when compared to previous Golf models and more modern lighting adds a contemporary look. They are both instantly recognizable as a Golf when you see them.
The Golf SE is finished off with a nice Silk Blue paint that seems to works well with the shape of the body. However, I can’t say I’m a fan of the wheels on the this Golf.
The GTI looks like a much sportier version of the more understated Golf SE. A loud Tornado Red paint color, big wheels, lower body cladding and dual exhaust tips on either end of the rear bumper add the needed flair for the GTI to earn that “hot hatch” look.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by DriveShop, FMI or Motus One for the purpose of this review.