Not much is new on the Golf for 2014, since it's just a holdover from 2013; the two-door models are no longer available, nor is the top-spec Golf R variant. An all-new Golf is due for the 2015 model year -- it will go on sale in the second half of the 2014 calendar year...
Americans may recall the Volkswagen Rabbit, which was the first North American incarnation of the venerable Golf. While the initial Rabbit may not have hopped off dealership lots when it debuted in 1975, the ensuing six generations of Golf have improved upon the compact hatchback's build quality, great handling, and premium reputation in the U.S. (The Rabbit name was used on the first- and fifth-generation models in the U.S.) The Golf also gave birth to our much-beloved GTI hot hatch, which we've named as an Automobile Magazine All-Star six times: in 1986, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The GTI was also named Automobile of the Year in both 2007 and 2010. For even more power and performance, Volkswagen has offered the high-powered R32 and Golf R models, which traded the Golf and GTI four-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive for uprated V-6 engines mated to all-wheel drive.
The Golf has also helped to spearhead Volkswagen's leadership in mainstream diesel-powered cars. VW has long offered a Golf TDI with a diesel engine, which turns the already-economical hatchback into a mileage champ. Overseas, diesel-powered Golfs are some of the best-selling cars around; the Volkswagen Golf has been the best-selling nameplate in Europe for years. In the U.S., the Golf is more of a bit player compared to the Jetta and Passat sedans -- VW sold just 40,885 Golfs and GTIs here last year.
Volkswagen offers three different Golf models, making between 140 hp and 200 hp; however, for the abbreviated 2014 model year, Volkswagen is offering them in four-door configuration only. All Golfs feature a dynamic chassis and responsive steering that make them a joy to drive. Other common traits include exceptional visibility and a spacious, high-quality interior that compares well with cars costing twice as much. The base five-cylinder engine is sufficiently powerful but can't come close to the 40 mpg achieved by other compact cars. Efficiency-minded buyers will want the diesel-powered TDI, a peppy and refined model that is rated at 30/42 mpg city/highway. The diesel model is pricey, though. The 256-hp Golf R has been discontinued, but we prefer the less powerful front-wheel-drive GTI anyway. The GTI uses a 2.0-liter turbo, a smooth powerplant with linear response and minimal turbo lag. Buyers have a choice of four transmissions. Volkswagen's acclaimed dual-clutch automatic has sophisticated computer programming that mimics the function of a limited-slip differential without adding torque steer. And the GTI's steering is as good as it gets with front-wheel-drive cars. The Golf and the GTI are also safe choices -- they're rated as Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; they have not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Buyers looking for a solid pick in the compact-hatchback class don't have to look much further than the Golf and the GTI, especially given the variety of choices. You can't go wrong with the current Golf, and 2014 is probably the best time to get a good deal on the current, sixth-generation model; the all-new seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is already on the market in Europe and will go on sale in the States in the later part of 2014. We've already driven the European-spec Golf and found the slightly larger model to be even more refined and upscale in its design, build quality, and dynamic capabilities.
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