What's New for 2013
Other than a minor shuffling of features between trim levels, the 2013 Volkswagen Golf returns unchanged.
In a general sense, hatchbacks attempt to embody the best of all vehicles by incorporating comfort, style, utility, value and performance into one package. And among hatchbacks, the 2013 Volkswagen Golf does this better than just about any other competitor. If you consider that the Golf has been in production since 1974, perhaps this should come as no surprise.
In the 39 years since its inception, Volkswagen has had plenty of time to zero in on its target. The 2013 VW Golf definitely hits the bull's-eye in regard to its interior, with class-leading materials and construction that we're more accustomed to seeing in upscale sister brand Audi. The features list is also quite impressive, along with available options that include premium audio and navigation. Quite frankly, the Golf looks and feels far more upscale than anything else in its class -- even compared to VW's own Jetta sedan.
Out on the open road, the 2013 Volkswagen Golf further proves its worth with confident handling and a comfortable, secure ride quality. The base 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine also adds to the overall experience by providing more power than its rivals, but unfortunately this comes at the expense of fuel economy. Opting for the diesel-powered Golf TDI model will increase mileage up to class-beating levels, but this model represents the range-topping trim and proves considerably more expensive.
Among the VW Golf's competitors, we rate the 2013 Ford Focus right up there with the Golf when it comes to driving demeanor and an upscale interior. Others, like the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT and 2013 Mazda 3 lack the VW's fit and finish, yet are praise-worthy cars nonetheless. Choosing the 2013 Volkswagen Golf will ultimately depend on where power, price, refinement and efficiency rank in your priorities.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Volkswagen Golf is a five-passenger hatchback available in two- and four-door body styles. Each is broken into 2.5L and TDI trim levels, which correspond to engine choice. The high-performance GTI and Golf R are discussed in separate reviews.
Standard equipment on the base 2.5L Golf includes 15-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, front seat adjustable lumbar, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable front center armrest, a trip computer, a cooled glovebox and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Convenience package adds heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The Convenience & Sunroof package adds those aforementioned items plus a sunroof, a multifunction steering wheel, a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an iPod/USB audio interface and a touchscreen audio interface.
The Golf TDI includes all of the above equipment as standard, minus the sunroof. Also included are 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a lower ride height, foglights, heated windshield washer nozzles and ambient lighting. The Sunroof & Navigation package adds the sunroof and a navigation system, but subtracts the compass and auxiliary audio jack. The Tech package includes the Sunroof & Navigation items, plus adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, keyless ignition/entry and a premium Dynaudio sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 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 includes a hill-holder feature, while a six-speed automatic is optional. With the automatic, the Golf 2.5L achieves an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Sticking with the manual improves that to 23/33/26. But either way, that's worse fuel economy than the Golf's primary (though admittedly less powerful) competitors.
To get better fuel economy, we recommend the Golf TDI. It has a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel inline-4 that puts out a modest 140 hp complemented by a robust 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual (DSG) is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a Golf TDI with a manual went from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds -- a quick time for this segment. EPA-estimated fuel economy for either transmission is 30/42/34 mpg, though you are likely to do better in the real world.
Standard safety features for the 2013 Volkswagen Golf include traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a Golf TDI came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet -- a good distance for this segment.
In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Golf received the highest score of "Good" in the 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 just might be enough to convince you that you're in an Audi, and 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 above all others. The Golf's cabin is actually much nicer than that of the recently redesigned VW Jetta sedan.
We're big fans of the standard touchscreen audio interface, which in particular does a nice job of controlling an iPod/iPhone in particular. The optional navigation system is easy to program, but its map size and displayed street names are noticeably hobbled by the small display screen.
Whether you choose the two- or four-door, the Golf's 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 of stuff -- which is about average for other hatchbacks. Dropping the split-folding rear seats bumps that figure up to 46 cubes.
The 2013 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 strong power throughout the rev range, but it sounds unrefined and we're betting most buyers would sacrifice some of that muscle for better fuel economy. Opting for the turbodiesel will achieve that, along with an abundance of low-end torque. The downsides are a higher price, but in general, the Golf TDI is the more appealing model.