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2019 Volkswagen Golf 1.4L Review by Thom Cannell - It's E15 Approved

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By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor and Technology Guru
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Bullet Points—Brief observations based on a decade’s experience.

Volkswagen’s Golf crossed the Atlantic 44 years ago as Rabbit, and in the years since 1974 has become one of the world’s best selling compact cars. Originally designed to replace the venerable rear-engine, air-cooled Beetle, it won European Car of the Year in 1992 and 2013 and World Car of the Year in 2009. Plus it has been on Car and Driver’s 10Best many times. Golf has enviable history and broad global appeal.

In 2019, Volkswagen offers only two models S and SE; I drove a base Golf 1.4T S, rather than the somewhat more costly SE. At $23,840 with destination, and likely closer to twenty grand out the door this close to 2020 models being introduced. Golf does everything you could possibly want a small sedan to do, and more. It's roomy—volumetric my notes say—with plenty of seat space for four adults, and with the rear seats down, lots of cargo room. How much room? 22.8 cubic feet in the rear, measured to the roof. With rear seat folded flat-ish, a full-sized bicycle can be stowed, according to VW.

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The engine, a tiny 1.4-liter I-4 (heavens, there are motorcycles with engines this size!) produces 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. VW does small engines impressively well. VW calls the engine TSI, which is Volkswagen’s name for stratified-charge and turbocharged engines. That means the fuel-air mixture is locally rich and quite lean elsewhere in each cylinder. This provides fuel economy, and the turbocharger makes the motor appear twice its displacement in power.

The 2019 Golf’s powerful acceleration is, in part, due to the 8-speed automatic transmission and my test car had paddle shifters, which some drivers will appreciate. I like having controllable torque and power on an on- or off-ramp to govern acceleration, or if the road permits spirited driving. Selectable gears are particularly nice useful in stop-and-go driving, especially when you're changing lanes.

Fuel economy? I was getting 38-40 MPG at 79 MPH. And it accelerates with way more power than you'd ever suspect, given the diminutive engine size.

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Among standard instrument features is Forward Collision Warning with Pedestrian Detection and Autonomous Emergency Braking. Other standard features include Blind Spot Monitoring (those indicators in side mirrors) and Rear Traffic Alert. Altogether they form a robust advanced safety system for drivers, passengers and pedestrian. Plus there was a bright and informative instrument cluster ahead of me. It featured selectable oil temperature, digital speed, and average trip MPG among its many functions.

Controls embedded into the steering wheel were perfect, except for the cruise control button. Its control system is a four-quadrant pad, and Cancel is on the bottom right. I'd prefer Cancel above Set and resume elsewhere as it's slightly harder to find cancel, which I prefer to stepping onto the brake pedal in heavy traffic. Other than that particular nit, controls are well imagined.

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As a moderately priced car, the 2019 Golf had a 6.5-inch infotainment system screen. No navigation, but radio, satellite radio, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net, which let me connect to my iPhone via Apple CarPlay, which I used extensively. That way I had music and my choice of navigation from Apple, Google, or Waze on that screen. I used Apple Maps and Waze; the later to warn me of traffic issue on my regular 100-mile commute. Car-Net includes Android Auto and Mirror Link.

HVAC controls were clear, concise and simple to use, as they are rotary and therefore highly intuitive. The car, surprisingly, had automatic headlights.

Now to the fun stuff. The Golf, built on Volkswagen's global modular platform (it's used by Audi as well) is incredibly supple over those thin asphalt road surface bulges that look like buried pythons. Normally, any suspension is quite upset, but not so with the Golf chassis. It accommodated imperfections with ease.

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This Golf’s interior offered nothing spectacular due to the modest price, yet was pleasing. Trim featured brushed inserts that looked good and avoided looking like fake aluminum. There were multiple colors of panels, all engineered polymers and attractive. Another surprise; one touch up-down windows.

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Everything about this entry-priced vehicle says "Buy me, I'll make you happy". That's as long as you like compact vehicles that are easy to park and fit into your garage leaving room for a lawn mower and snow blower. There are large door bins for drinks, napkins, magazines and whatever’s. There was not a sunroof, though other Golfs are so equipped—at a higher price.

Overall, the 2019 Golf is a handsome car; it delivers pleasurable driving regardless of distance. The suspension is complaint and smooths out road imperfections with surprising sophistication, and the engine has plenty of power.

So, if you are looking for a modestly priced new car, one whose safety is rated highly across the globe, as well as in the USA, Golf is an excellent choice.

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Here’s the Bullet Points

The Good:

  • Overall five-star safety rating with four-and five-star crash and rollover rating.
  • Fuel economy in the high 30’s (EPA rating 29 City/37 Highway/32 Combined) and I typically beat the EPA estimate.
  • Comfortable to drive, something often overlooked.
  • Supple suspension.
  • The seats, though manual, are equipped with lumbar adjustment, as well as rake, height and of course front-rear adjustment.
  • Quiet and very little wind or tire noise transmitted to cabin.

Needs Improvement:

  • My only wish was for a different cruise control layout on the steering wheel, which is extremely personal.

Cool Hacks:

  • Paddle shifters on the steering wheel with selectable manual-shifting mode, often a feature of higher-priced models.
  • Informative Driver Information Center, often unavailable at modest price.
  • Apple CarPlay, Mirror Link and Android Auto