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2021 Volkswagen Golf TSI 1.4T - Review by David Colman +VIDEO

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It's the end of the road, sweetcar

By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL

It’s time to say goodbye to an old and faithful friend. 2021 marks the end of production for the base model VW Golf. Next year the company will only import the two top level versions of an all-new Golf which has been on sale for some time now in Europe. Those two versions, the GTI and the Golf R, will displace the more affordable, less powerful and less heavily optioned Golf TSI we recently drove. It is sometimes difficult to perceive the logic of VW model range choices. For example, current offerings of VW’s Tiguan and Atlas SUVs both seemed underpowered in recent test drives. Yet VW offers no alternative to the base model engines in those vehicles. On the other hand, the exceptionally fuel-efficient base model Golf TSI 1.4, which we found to be adequately powerful, will be dumped in favor of less fuel efficient, higher output models next year. At any rate, we really enjoyed our time behind the wheel of the least expensive ($24,990) and most frugal of all VW sedans currently offered in North America. For the record, the Golf TSI records a 32 MPG overall fuel economy number that ranks 7 out of 10 on the government’s Greenhouse Gas Rating Scale. That’s a number to be proud of, especially in view of VW’s complicity in the recent Diesel emission fraud scandal.

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In its last year of production in Puebla, Mexico, the Golf 1.4T utilizes a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine fitted with double overhead camshafts,16 valves and stop/start technology. This sophisticated all alloy block and head unit produces 147hp which are fed to the front wheels by either a 6-speed manual gearbox, or an 8-speed automatic transmission. Our test Golf, finished in a soothing shade of Silk Blue metallic paint, was equipped with the automatic gearbox. This transmission, which adds $800 to the base price of the 6-speed manual Golf, included diminutive paddles attached to the backside of the steering wheel for manual actuation. For 2021, VW has supplied the base model Golf with standard 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped in all-season Bridgestone Ecopia Plus 422 radials (205/55R16) with a durable treadwear rating of TW 540. When combined with the Golf’s sophisticated fully independent suspension and the intelligent application of power meted out by VW’s XDS Cross Differential System, the base Golf really earned its keep on curved roads. In fact, on a well-banked 180-degree freeway exit ramp, it equaled the highest exit speed (50 mph) of any vehicle we have tested.

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Although we would have preferred to drive the 6-speed manual gearbox Golf, the 8-speed is probably the more sensible choice for 2 reasons. The first is ease of operation in urban traffic, and the second is the addition of 2 extra gear ratios to cope with the engine’s marginal power output. In city traffic, we left the gearbox in the sport gate and manipulated the paddles continuously to extract peak performance from the small displacement turbo motor. When driven this way, the 1.4T is more than up to the task of freeway merges, or sudden bursts of acceleration to perform lane changes in heavy traffic. VW’s electro-mechanical steering has always been a cut above any other manufacturer’s system for precision and accuracy of feedback. Our only reservation applies to the steering wheel itself, which could do with a thicker rim and a less slippery leatherette covering.

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The coming generation of Golfs will replace much of the analog instrumentation of the current generation with what VW optimistically calls their digital “Glass Cockpit.” That’s rather a shame, because the current generation of Golfs utilize an exceptionally sensible layout of legible instruments, clearly marked buttons and switches, all presented with a refreshing clarity and order that is missing from so many of today’s glass cockpits. Our only complaint About the base model Golf centers on the lack of a suitable USB port to dock your smart phone. In perusing the optional items available for the Golf, we came across a special cable, available only at VW dealers, which will connect your phone or other device to the Golf’s system. VW charges $54 for this item, and suggests that you have it professionally installed by a VW technician. When she noticed that our test Golf lacked a SiriusXM hookup, my wife searched in vain for a place to plug in her Apple phone to play her tune list. She was unimpressed with the notion of an optional cable, terming it “nickel and diming.”

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Of course, for the minimal money outlay involved in purchasing this last of the base model Golfs, you can expect a smattering of nickel and diming. Maybe buying a $54 cable won’t look so bad when you have to lay out many thousands more next year to step up to the GTI or R Model Golf. In fact, the current and last ever Golf is so well received by Consumer Reports that it earned a phenomenally high point rating of 86/100 for its overall score. That compares to the current Golf GTI which scored just 63/100. That number puts the base Golf way ahead of the Toyota Corolla hatchback (67/100), the Nissan Kicks and Toyota’s C-HR (both 64/100). With that kind of decisive market dominance, it’s hard to justify killing this stellar product next year.

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    ENGINE: 1.4 L TSI 16-valve DOHC 4 Cylinder with Engine Sop/Start System
    HORSEPOWER: 147hp@5000-6000rpm
    TORQUE: 184lb.-ft.@1600-3500rpm
    FUEL CONSUMPTION: 29MPG City/36 MPG Highway
    PRICE AS TESTED: $24,990

HYPES: Patented VW Fine Handling

GRIPES: Slightly Underpowered

STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10