Used 2015 Volkswagen Golf Review
The Volkswagen Golf wasn't the first hatchback invented, but in its 40-year history it has come to define the segment. Like other long-serving German cars, the Golf has evolved over time. Parking all seven generations side by side makes this progression and the traditional Golf formula -- versatility with a dash of performance -- easy to discern. The evolution of the all-new 2015 Volkswagen Golf is so subtle that the casual observer will likely miss the differences.
Reshaped headlights and taillights, and side body panels with slightly sharper creases are the only giveaways that this is a new-generation Golf. The interior is also very similar, with only minor changes and improvements to note.
But underneath that refreshed sheet metal is an all-new body structure and a more powerful, efficient gasoline engine. The underperforming 2.5-liter five-cylinder is gone, a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in its place delivering strong acceleration and respectable fuel economy. If top fuel economy is your priority, diesel power also returns with the Golf TDI, though with only modest gains in power and fuel economy.
Inside, the 2015 Golf looks and feels much like its predecessor, but there's actually more space for passengers and cargo. Materials quality is marginally better, along with a slightly updated infotainment interface, but the Golf oddly lacks some desirable features found in other small cars, such as in-depth smartphone app integration, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Given past success, we can't blame Volkswagen for sticking to the formula, but it does put the Golf at a disadvantage to its competitors.
The Mazda 3 hatchback, for example, lacks the maximum, boxy space of the Golf, but counters with a fun-to-drive character, fuel-efficient engine and an impressive list of technology and safety features unavailable on the Golf. The Ford Focus is another top hatchback with impressive versatility and technology. And in this segment, the Golf (particularly the TDI) can be one of the more expensive models. Contrast this with the turbocharged 2015 Kia Forte SX hatchback, a great car loaded with features that costs much less, and the Golf has its work cut out for it.
Yet the Golf is an undeniable success, and this next evolution of this strong genetic line earns a recommended spot in our 2015 Buying Guide.
trim levels & features
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf hatchback is available as a two- or four-door hatchback in four major trim levels (the all-electric e-Golf is a similar model, but reviewed separately).
The base Golf Launch Edition will have limited availability and is only offered in the two-door body style with a manual transmission. Standard features include 15-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, a front seat center armrest, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split-folding rear seats with a center pass-through, hill-hold assist, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 5.8-inch touchscreen audio interface, satellite radio and iPod connectivity.
The Golf S is available as either a two- or four-door and adds alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery and VW's Car-Net emergency telematics system. Power reclining front seats are also included if the optional automatic transmission and/or sunroof is added.
The SE trim is only available as a four-door with the automatic transmission, sunroof and partial power seats. Added features include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, heated front seats, a rearview camera and a premium Fender audio system. To that, the range-topping SEL trim adds 18-inch wheels, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, sport front seats with a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat (with power lumbar), a navigation system and interior ambient lighting with LED reading lamps.
Also offered are diesel-powered four-door-only TDI models available with either manual or automatic transmissions. The Golf TDI S includes all of the standard Golf SE features but substitutes 16-inch alloy wheels. Stepping up to the Golf TDI S adds 17-inch wheels, while the TDI SEL is appointed identically to its gasoline SEL counterpart.
Two package options are available. The Lighting package includes bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, cornering lights that shine light through turns and the ambient interior and LED reading lights if not already included. The Driver Assistance package includes front and rear parking sensors and a forward collision warning system.
performance & mpg
Powering the conventional gasoline 2015 VW Golf models is a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The Launch Edition trim is only available with a five-speed manual transmission, while the Golf S trim can be optioned with a six-speed automatic. The SE and SEL trims are only offered with the automatic.
The EPA estimates for this engine are 29 mpg combined (25 city/36 highway) with the automatic and 30 mpg combined with the manual. On our mixed driving evaluation loop, we managed to achieve an impressive 32 mpg from a loaded Golf SEL with the automatic.
In Edmunds testing, this same Golf SEL accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, which is quick for its class.
The diesel-powered TDI models receive a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 150 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual transmission (VW's DSG) is optional. The EPA estimates now stand at 36 mpg combined (31 city/43 highway) for the automatic and 36 mpg combined (30/45) for the manual transmission. On our evaluation loop, we were impressed with our own 49 mpg average, easily outperforming the estimate for the manual transmission.
At the test track, we were also impressed with the Golf TDI's acceleration to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, which proves to be an average pace for the compact segment and impressive for a frugal turbodiesel.
Standard safety features for the 2015 VW Golf include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. A post-crash braking system is also standard and automatically applies the brakes after an impact to reduce the likelihood of a secondary crash. Forward collision warning and front and rear parking sensors are optional.
On Golf S models and above, VW's Car-Net emergency telematics is standard with features that include automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers). A Car-Net smartphone app lets owners control many of these functions on the go.
In Edmunds braking tests, both the Golf SEL and the TDI stopped from 60 mph in 119 feet, a good result for this class.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the 2015 Golf earned the highest rating of "Good" in tests for moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned a "Good" score in the side-impact, roof-strength and seats and head restraints (whiplash protection) tests.
Power from either of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf's engines should satisfy most drivers, and the new gas engine is smooth and strong, one of the highest-powered in its class. The diesel TDI, meanwhile, delivers a nice slug of power at low and medium speeds, but the power drops off conspicuously as the engine nears redline. The six-speed automatic paired with the gasoline engine is a bit balky, however, prone to searching for the right gear when accelerating from a stop. Once underway, gearchanges are quick and smooth. The six-speed manual is easy to shift thanks to a light-effort clutch pedal and distinct shift gates.
On a typical commute, the 2015 VW Golf delivers a comfortable and compliant ride quality that irons out ruts and potholes with ease. With a relatively small footprint and excellent overall visibility, it's an easy car to drive and park in tight spaces. On a winding mountain pass, the Golf obediently sticks to its intended path, though there is an abundance of body roll and the steering can seem overly light and dull. Competitors like the Ford Focus or Mazda 3 are generally more fun to drive in this regard.
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf's interior features well-grained materials that are soft to the touch and a cabin design that is, while somewhat austere, comfortable and even sporty, thanks to bold red stitching. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer intuitive, simple control. The 5.8-inch touchscreen is a tad small compared to others, but it works well and is easily read at a glance. But the large iPhone connector plug can require you to remove the phone's case and remains a critical gripe, especially with the ubiquity of simple USB ports. The navigation system also disappoints with its inability to overlay traffic information on the map. Instead, it lists traffic incidents in the vicinity.
Front seats provide ample support and comfort, even during long-distance driving stints, and not at the sacrifice of rear seat passengers. The new Golf's added leg- and shoulder room make the small hatch feel big, although the low-mounted rear seat cushions are best suited to smaller passengers. Up to 22.8 cubic feet of cargo can be accommodated behind the rear seats, while folding the seats flat provides a class-leading 52.7 cubic feet of space.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.