Full 2011 Volkswagen Golf Review
What's New for 2011
Outside of a few features being shuffled around, the Volkswagen Golf remains unchanged for 2011.
Getting more for your money is elusive no matter what you happen to be purchasing. Imagine your Starbucks barista saying, "Thanks for your order. Here's some gold bullion as a token of our gratitude." Or, "Here's your new 2011 Volkswagen Golf; we decided to upgrade you to an Audi free of charge." That latter buying fantasy may not be so far-fetched, however, as the Golf delivers Audi-like refinement, style and versatility without breaking the bank.
Compared to other vehicles in its class, the VW Golf feels positively upscale. Its interior puts others to shame (including VW's own 2011 Jetta) thanks to a sophisticated design, top-notch materials and all-around comfort. Add in optional niceties like a premium Dynaudio stereo and a navigation system and the fairly economical Golf can begin to feel like a near luxury car.
The advantages continue under the hood, with a choice of a punchy 2.5-liter inline-5 engine or a highly fuel-efficient turbodiesel rated at 42 mpg on the highway. The rest of the Golf is up to the task as well, with a solid on-road feel, precise steering and confidence-inspiring handling. Much of the Golf's goodness comes courtesy of a redesign last year.
If you're shopping in this segment, you'll find that the 2011 Mazda 3 offers sharper handling and more cargo capacity, but its interior can't match the Golf in either design or quality. The more affordable 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring is also worthy of consideration given its space, features and sporty leanings, as is the personable 2011 Mini Cooper, though its higher price and lack of space are difficult to ignore. In the end, the 2011 Volkswagen Golf rises to the top by exceeding expectations and delivering that all-so-elusive impression, "more for the money."
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volkswagen Golf is a compact hatchback offered in either two- or four-door configurations and in one of two trim levels: 2.5L or TDI. The base 2.5L includes 15-inch steel wheels, heated outside mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, a trip computer, full power accessories, eight-way manually adjustable front seats, split-folding rear seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, metallic interior trim and an eight-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player.
Besides swapping the gasoline engine for a diesel, the TDI trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels; foglights; a sport suspension; a leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls; floor mats; a leather-wrapped shift knob and brake lever; split-folding rear seats with a center armrest and pass-through; Bluetooth; and an upgraded sound system with touchscreen controls, an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio and an iPod interface. With either trim level, four-door models gain power-reclining front seats.
Options for both models include a Cold Weather package (heated front seats and washer nozzles) and a sunroof. Bluetooth is further optional on the 2.5L. The TDI models can be equipped with adaptive xenon headlights, a premium Dynaudio sound system, a navigation system and (on four-door models) rear seat airbags.
Powertrains and Performance
The base 2011 Volkswagen Golf 2.5L is powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. These Golf models are classified as partial-zero-emissions vehicles (PZEV) when sold in states with California emissions standards. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined for the automatic and 22/30/25 mpg for the manual.
The Golf TDI receives a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel that puts out a modest 140 hp but an impressive 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DSG) is optional. EPA fuel economy estimates come in at an impressive 30/41/34 mpg with the regular manual, while DSG improves highway mileage to 42.
The 2011 VW Golf's standard safety features include antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags. Rear-seat side airbags are unavailable on two-door models, but are optional on four-door models. 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. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Golf with its highest score of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Simply replacing the VW logo on the Golf's steering wheel with four rings would convince you that you were in an Audi. That's how nice the Golf's interior is. Among other compact hatchbacks, the Volkswagen's blend of top-shelf materials, refined design and quality workmanship place it far above all others. The Golf is actually much nicer than the new 2011 VW Jetta sedan.
Whether you choose the two- or four-door route, the Golf's interior passenger space remains the same. For those who plan on shuttling multiple passengers, the four-door is the obvious choice, offering a surprisingly large backseat that's notably more spacious than that of a Mazda 3. Access to the two-door Golf's rear seats is made relatively painless thanks to front seats that slide easily out of the way. Behind the rear seats, the cargo area can hold up to 12.4 cubic feet -- double the capacity of a Mini Cooper, but about average for other hatchbacks. The split-folding rear seats bump that figure up to 46 cubes.
The 2011 Volkswagen Golf's high level of interior refinement is echoed in its composed, solid feel on the road. At highway speeds, the Golf is significantly quieter than other hatchbacks. Alternately, you can take it out on a curvy road and the well-weighted steering will inspire confidence. The Golf's gasoline engine provides smooth power throughout the rev range. Opting for the turbodiesel will get you an abundance of low-end torque and considerable gains in fuel economy without the traditional diesel clatter from under the hood.