What's New for 2010
The Volkswagen Golf is redesigned for 2010, boasting new exterior and interior styling, improved materials and an optional turbodiesel engine. It also reclaims the "Golf" moniker -- the short-lived "Rabbit" renaissance is over.
At first blush, it doesn't make much sense to have a car with the same name as a pricey athletic pastime. Trouble is, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf is ostensibly a modern-day "People's Car," a practical runabout for the masses, whereas the eponymous game tends to be the province of those with ample disposable income. A closer look, however, reveals an interesting commonality. Like the sport, the car costs more than its rivals -- but if you give the Golf a try, you'll likely find it worth the extra investment.
Volkswagen actually re-christened the car "Rabbit" from 2006-'09, evoking the original U.S.-market Rabbit hatchback of a few decades ago, but for 2010 the Golf is back -- and if you'll forgive the cliché, it's better than ever. Perhaps the biggest news is under the hood, where the carryover 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is joined by the excellent "TDI" turbodiesel four-cylinder from the Jetta sedan. Paired with one of two six-speed manuals -- a conventional unit or a dual-clutch automated version (DSG) -- the TDI delivers a punchy 236 pound-feet of torque and an estimated 34 mpg in mixed driving. The sixth-generation Golf also features a redesigned interior with even nicer materials than before, along with subtly altered sheet metal that clearly conveys the car's sophisticated character.
Underneath, the two- or four-door Golf shares its 101.5-inch wheelbase and basic suspension layout with the previous-generation car, but that's fine with us. The Rabbit already had some of the most sophisticated driving dynamics of any compact car, thanks to a stiff body structure, a multilink rear suspension and autobahn-bred confidence on the highway. The Golf TDI enjoys an edge in this department thanks to its standard sport suspension, which improves the base Golf's rather soft stateside tuning. Inside, the TDI also offers a few exclusive optional luxuries, including xenon headlamps, a Dynaudio sound system and a navigation system.
The Golf's principal competitor is the Mazda 3, the only other compact car that offers comparable performance, four doors and a hatchback body style. This race is too close to call -- the Mazda has more responsive handling and a nice interior in its own right, but the Golf counters with its excellent diesel option and superior solidity and refinement. Also of note are the Mini Cooper and its Clubman variant, both stout rivals to the two-door Golf. Other compact sedans may merit consideration due to the Golf's steep price, particularly in TDI trim. But like the sport, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf offers a unique array of virtues that justify its added expense.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf is a compact hatchback available with two or four doors in one of two trim levels -- base or TDI. The base Golf comes standard with the gas-powered 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, 15-inch steel wheels, heated exterior mirrors, a trip computer, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, eight-way manually adjustable front sport seats, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and an eight-speaker CD/MP3 sound system with an auxiliary audio jack.
The TDI adds the turbodiesel four-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a sport-tuned suspension, Bluetooth and a touchscreen sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and an iPod interface.
Options include a sunroof, heated front seats and Bluetooth for the base models. Rear side airbags are available on four-door models only. The TDI is additionally eligible for xenon headlamps, a premium sound system and a hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage. Note that the base car must go without not only these TDI-specific options but also desirable TDI-only standard features like the iPod cable and sport-tuned suspension.
Powertrains and Performance
In base trim, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf is powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces a healthy 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Base Golfs sold in California-emissions states are classified as partial-zero-emissions vehicles (PZEV). A five-speed manual is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. EPA estimates for an automatic-equipped Golf are 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, a competitive rating for compact cars with engines of this size; manual-transmission cars drop to 22/30/25.
The Golf TDI features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel that puts out a modest 140 hp but an impressive 236 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices consist of a six-speed manual (standard) or VW's DSG (optional), a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual that works like an automatic with manual control. EPA fuel economy estimates are an eye-opening 30/41/34 with the regular manual, while DSG improves highway mileage to 42.
The 2010 VW Golf comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags. Rear-seat side airbags are optional on four-door models and unavailable on two-doors. In government crash tests, the four-door Golf with the optional rear side airbags received four stars out of five for frontal impact protection and a perfect five stars for side impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Golf's cabin is quite simply the nicest you'll find in a compact hatchback. High-grade soft-touch materials abound, metallic trim is tastefully employed, and the overall impression is one of premium design and construction. Despite this emphasis on high style, the stereo and climate controls are still straightforward and easy to use.
Eight-way-adjustable front seats are standard and a welcome departure from the relatively featureless chairs common in this class. Two-door Golfs have front seats that slide forward easily to improve rear-seat access, but the four-door is the obvious choice if you plan on carrying additional passengers on a regular basis. Nevertheless, since both two- and four-door Golfs have the same wheelbase, interior volume is comparable.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf drives with a sense of confidence and purpose that no other compact hatchback can match, remaining remarkably composed at all speeds. On the highway, the Golf is unusually quiet, and when the road turns twisty, the precise and nicely weighted steering is appreciated. The gas-powered engine is torquey and refined, but the turbodiesel is worth the extra cost considering its fuel economy and strong torque at low engine speeds.