Used 2016 Volkswagen Golf Review
Traditional sedans like the Jetta and Passat may be more popular in the United States, but it's the Golf that's Volkswagen's bread and butter throughout the world. Four decades have passed since it debuted on the world stage, and in that time the Golf has become one of the best-selling cars of all time. Like all that came before, last year's all-new Golf followed an evolutionary path that maintained the Golf's traditionally best qualities and ironed out its deficiencies.
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf carries on the evolutionary styling that debuted last year.
One major change VW made was to swap out the old and inefficient five-cylinder engine for a new turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. It's a sweetheart. With a healthy 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque on tap, the Golf handily beats most compact cars in an old-fashioned stoplight duel. The latest Golf feels more stable and energetic when you're driving around turns, too. True, the GTI is still far sportier, but as economy-biased compacts go, the Golf is pretty fun to drive.
Inside, VW gave the Golf a bit more interior room last year, and it still looks and feels more expensive than its competitors. For 2016, a new touchscreen interface on all trims (including the base model) is quicker and more responsive to inputs than the old screen and adds comprehensive Apple and Android smartphone integration. There's finally a real USB port, too, replacing VW's less useful proprietary smartphone/media player plug. Finally, VW has added more features to the Driver Assistance package this year, including new safety features that were notably absent last year.
These changes have certainly boosted the Golf's standing in the small hatchback segment. But it's still a good idea to check out the competition. The 2016 Mazda 3 hatchback lacks the boxy interior space of the Golf, but counters with a fun-to-drive character, fuel-efficient engine and an impressive list of features. The 2016 Ford Focus is another top hatchback with a refined driving experience and interior materials quality that comes closest to the top-drawer VW. And given that the Golf can be one of the more expensive models in this segment, the 2016 Kia Forte SX hatchback is worth a look given its superior value and warranty. But overall, we think the legendary Golf is an excellent choice for a 2016 hatchback.
trim levels & features
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf hatchback is available as a two- or four-door hatchback in four major trim levels: base, S, SE and SEL. The all-electric e-Golf, sporty Golf GTI and high-performance Golf R are similar models, but are reviewed separately.
The base Golf is only offered in the two-door body style. Standard features include 15-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, height-adjustable manual front seats (with manual lumbar adjustment), cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through, hill-hold assist, a cooled glovebox, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 5-inch touchscreen audio interface and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack, a USB port and a media player interface.
The Golf S is available as either a two- or four-door and adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel (with audio controls), a rearview camera, VW's Car-Net emergency telematics system, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen audio interface with satellite and HD radios and enhanced smartphone integration (VW's Car-Net App-Connect that features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink). Four-door models get power reclining front seats, and are available with a sunroof that comes bundled with the automatic transmission.
Most 2016 Golfs come with VW's new touchscreen interface that includes robust smartphone integration.
The SE trim is only available as a four-door with the sunroof and automatic transmission. Added features include 17-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats, "V-Tex" premium vinyl upholstery and a premium nine-speaker Fender audio system.
To that, the range-topping SEL trim adds 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, sport front seats with an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat (with power lumbar), a navigation system and interior LED reading and ambient lighting.
Two options packages are available for the SE and SEL trims. The Lighting package includes xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and cornering lights that shine through turns (the SE's Lighting package also has the LED reading and ambient lights from the SEL). The Driver Assistance package includes adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a forward collision warning and mitigation system, rear cross-traffic alert, a lane-departure warning system, blind-spot monitoring, an automated parallel parking system and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
performance & mpg
Powering the 2016 VW Golf is a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 170 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque with the automatic (the manual is limited to 184 lb-ft). A five-speed manual transmission is offered on base and S models (without a sunroof), while a six-speed automatic is optional. The S (with sunroof), SE and SEL models 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 (25/37) with the manual. On our mixed driving evaluation route, 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 makes it one of the quickest cars in the class.
Normally, the Golf would also offer a diesel-powered engine, the TDI. But for now, the 2016 Golf TDI is on hiatus while VW figures out how to actually make it emissions compliant.
Standard safety features for the 2016 VW Golf include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, a rearview camera (except on the base model), 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. The Driver Assistance package includes front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning, forward collision mitigation with automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, a lane-departure warning system and blind spot monitoring.
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 brake testing, the Golf SEL stopped from 60 mph in 119 feet, which is a good result for this class.
In government crash tests, the two-door Volkswagen Golf earned a perfect rating of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the 2016 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.
With 170 hp on tap from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf feels far more powerful than its contemporaries. The punchy engine makes overtaking cars on the highway uneventful, with smooth, quick downshifts coming from the snappy automatic transmission. Frequent stops reveal one of the only faults with the automatic, as the car tends to lurch from a standstill. The transmission has trouble figuring out which gear it wants to be in during low-speed travel, sometimes leaving the driver in a higher gear than necessary when quick lane changes are needed. The six-speed manual is easy to shift thanks to a light-effort clutch pedal and distinct shift gates.
On a typical commute, the 2016 Golf delivers a comfortable and compliant ride quality that smooths ruts and potholes with ease. Its small footprint and large windows make it an easy car to drive and park in tight spaces. The Golf goes where you point it in tight corners, although quick transitions produce a noticeable amount of body roll. It's an easy and fun car to drive, though competitors like the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus generally feel tighter in this regard.
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf's interior features well-grained plastics that are soft to the touch and a cabin design that is distinctly European, comfortable and sporty. Buttons and switches are placed close to the driver and offer intuitive, simple control. Pun intended, there really isn't that much of a gulf between a well-loaded Golf and entry-level luxury cars like the Acura ILX or Mercedes CLA.
The 2016 Golf's dash is trimmed in upscale materials and eschews fashion for function.
The 5-inch touchscreen on the base car is small compared to other typical systems, but it works well and is easily read at a glance. The extra room afforded by the 6.5-inch screen in S models and above makes the touchscreen far easier to use. The generally unloved proprietary iPhone connector plug has been replaced by a simple USB port, a move that coincides with the introduction of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink functionality. These systems allow you to easily integrate, display and use many of the apps from your smartphone.
Front seats provide ample support and comfort, even during long-distance driving stints, and not at the sacrifice of rear seat passengers. The Golf's ample leg- and shoulder room make the small hatch feel big. There's enough room in back to make the Golf a viable family vehicle, although adults will find the low-mounted rear seat cushions somewhat uncomfortable. 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.