What's New for 2006
The VW Golf continues on its current-generation platform for a partial-year run in 2006. The two-door model has been dropped, and the TDI is now available in GLS trim only. A completely redesigned Golf, renamed Rabbit, will debut in the summer of 2006.
We've always liked the Golf, a fun-to-drive, chunky-but-spunky hatchback that has been a best-seller in Europe for more than two decades. Here in the States, the fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf does battle against a range of compacts, many of them with less impressive credentials. Just what's so likable about this VW car? Well, each one has a lengthy list of standard features; a roomy, solidly constructed cabin furnished in high-quality materials; and though not as sporting as the GTI, offers traditional Germanic handling characteristics -- that is, a nice blend of ride comfort and agility around corners. Compared to newer hatchbacks like the Mazda3 and Mini Cooper, the Golf's reflexes now seem a bit soft and slow, but it's still more fun to drive than many other cars in its class.
Volkswagen's 115-horsepower, base four-cylinder engine is outclassed by just about every other competitor these days. The diesel-fueled engine is no speed demon, either, but it offers better off-the-line acceleration and much better fuel economy, a fact that makes it all the more attractive as fuel prices rise. Overall, we think that there are better choices than the Volkswagen Golf for a small car in the early part of 2006. If you're dead set on this VW car, though, our suggestion would be to wait until midyear for the next-generation car to arrive, at which point dealers will start offering steep discounts on the old model.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Volkswagen Golf is a four-door hatchback offered in GL and GLS trim levels. Standard GL features include air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, a CD player, headrests in all five seating positions, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, driver-seat height adjustment and power windows, locks and mirrors. The GLS trim adds a sunroof, alloy wheels, upgraded upholstery, a premium Monsoon sound system and a front center armrest with storage. The only major option package is a GLS cold weather package that includes heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles.
Powertrains and Performance
The base engine is a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder that makes just 115 horsepower. A better choice is the 1.9-liter diesel four-cylinder (TDI) that's rated for 100 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are available with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Golfs equipped with the 2.0-liter four feel sluggish at highway speeds, and fuel economy is well below average for this class. In contrast, the TDI is a serious fuel miser (up to 44 mpg on the highway) and has adequate torque for passing and merging; it's ideal for commuters.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, side airbags (for front occupants) and head curtain airbags (front and rear) are standard on all Golfs. Stability control is optional. The VW Golf hatchback earned five out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in the NHTSA's frontal-impact crash tests. Four stars were awarded for side-impact protection. The IIHS gave it a "Good" rating in frontal offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the Volkswagen Golf is filled with high-quality materials and assembled with care; at night, you'll get to enjoy VW's signature blue-red cabin illumination. The front seats are roomy, and both are height-adjustable. The rear seat is definitely tight for three people, but the nicely contoured bench can certainly accommodate two adults. With the 60/40-split rear seat in use, the hatch provides 18 cubic feet of capacity; fold the seat and you'll have 41.8 cubes at your disposal.
For the most part, the 2006 Volkswagen Golf provides a pleasant balance between highway comfort and responsive handling. More demanding drivers will likely find the ride a bit floaty with too much body roll when cornering.