If you're interested in a car with a small footprint, economical engine and sizable cargo area, it's a great idea to look at a compact hatchback. Although this segment has numerous entries (most automakers with compact sedans offer a hatchback version), the 2017 Volkswagen Golf is one of the best. Volkswagen has been refining its world-dominating hatch over four decades, and it shows with the Golf's classy cabin and a sophisticated ride quality. And unlike years past, you don't have to pay a hefty premium to get into a well-equipped Golf.
Both Golf trims are less expensive than their 2016 counterparts, in part due to a consolidation of the lineup. VW has discontinued the two-door Golf and reduced the number of trim levels from four to two. The deletion of the two-door and its base trim means the Golf S is the new entry-level model. Last year's SE model has been replaced by the significantly less expensive Wolfsburg Edition trim, with only the SE's Fender audio system and 17-inch wheels not making the transition. The top-range SEL has also been discontinued, as have the eye-catching Lighting and safety-tech-heavy Driver Assistance packages.
It's an odd change for Golf, which, in recent years, we viewed as a slightly more upscale and expensive choice for a hatchback. This 2017 Golf is still quite desirable, but there's less stuff to help it stand out. Some high-end features can still be found on the Mazda 3, which offers sporty styling and handling to boot. Another strong contender is the Honda Civic, which comes in a hatchback version this year. Other smart choices include the new Chevrolet Cruze hatch, the popular Ford Focus and the value-packed Kia Forte. Overall, though, the Golf 's first-class cabin and punchy engine help it stay one of our top picks.
Standard safety features for the 2017 Volkswagen Golf include antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, hill hold assist, a rearview camera, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. 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 Wolfsburg Edition trim includes forward collision warning, forward collision mitigation with automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
Also standard is VW's Car-Net emergency telematics system, 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, a Golf with 18-inch wheels stopped from 60 mph in 119 feet, which is a good result for this class.
In government crash tests, the 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 Golf earned the highest rating of Good in tests for moderate-overlap and small-overlap front-impact tests. It also earned a Good score in the side-impact, roof strength and head restraint (whiplash protection) tests.
trim levels & features
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf four-door hatchback is available in two trim levels: S and Wolfsburg Edition. The all-electric e-Golf, sporty Golf GTI and high-performance Golf R are similar models but are reviewed separately.
Standard features for the Golf S include 15-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a rearview camera, air-conditioning, cruise control, a driver information display, height-adjustable manual front seats (with power recline and manual lumbar adjustment), a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through, a cooled glovebox, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input, a USB port, HD and satellite radio and smartphone integration (VW's Car-Net App-Connect that features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink). Opting for the automatic transmission adds steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Upgrading to the Wolfsburg Edition model adds 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, heated front seats, imitation leather (premium vinyl) upholstery, a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The only option is a set of 18-inch wheels, available for either trim.
Powering the 2017 VW Golf is a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels through either a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic. Rated power output is 170 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque with the automatic. On manual-equipped Golfs, engine torque is limited to 184 lb-ft.
The EPA estimates for this engine are 29 mpg combined (25 city/35 highway) with the automatic. The manual-transmission model also gets 29 mpg combined. These are decent figures, though some top rival hatchbacks do even better. On our mixed driving evaluation route, we managed to achieve an impressive 32 mpg from a loaded Golf with the automatic.
In Edmunds testing, this same Golf accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, making it one of the quicker cars in the small sedan/hatchback class with a base engine.
Thanks to the 170 hp on tap from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf feels more powerful than most other small hatchbacks or sedans. The punchy engine makes overtaking cars on the highway uneventful, with smooth, quick downshifts coming from the snappy automatic transmission. Driving in heavy traffic reveals some faults, though. The car tends to lurch from a standstill, and the transmission has trouble figuring out which gear it wants to be in during low-speed travel. If you don't mind rowing your own, getting the five-speed manual is a solution; it's also easy to shift thanks to a light-effort clutch pedal and distinct shift gates.
On a typical commute, the 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 see out of and park in tight spaces. Around turns, the Golf goes where you point it, but it's not particularly sporty. Competitors such as the Civic, Focus and Mazda 3 feel tauter and are generally more fun to drive with enthusiasm.
The 2017 Volkswagen Golf's interior features attractive 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. Honestly, there isn't much of a difference between a well-loaded Golf and entry-level luxury cars such as the Acura ILX, Mercedes-Benz CLA or Audi A3.
Every Golf comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen as standard. It's a little small by 2017 standards, and the graphics aren't supersharp, but otherwise there's a lot to like. It has an intuitive menu structure and large virtual buttons. Another positive attribute is standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink functionality. These systems allow you to easily integrate, display and use many of the apps from your smartphone, including Spotify and Audible.
Front seats provide ample support and comfort, even during long-distance driving stints, and not at the sacrifice of rear passengers. The Golf's ample legroom 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 substantial 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.