2018 Volkswagen Golf Highline

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, colour this Golf tickled pink

Words by: Adam Allen

 

Who’s trying to copy the Golf?

Answer: pretty much everyone. The compact marketplace is chock full of outstanding entries, and competitors are always keeping a leery eye on the Golf because of its perennial excellence. It has captured the hearts of the motoring press for years which in turn allows it to capture the most prestigious awards in the business, including 2015 AJAC Canadian Best Small car. The others keep getting better, but the Golf remains hard to beat for best-in-class honors.

Did you find it difficult to get excited about driving this Golf after flogging the R model mere weeks ago?

While the Golf R is intoxicatingly good and we thoroughly enjoyed it, you might think we’d have to stifle making the ‘icky’ face as we walked up to the homely Golf. It is true that our tester, despite being furnished in wonderful Peacock Green paint, was far more toned down than the mighty R with its retina searing livery and purposeful 19” wheels. Despite being a comparative introvert, it was an unqualified joy to drive- just for different reasons. Whereas sportier Golfs will gleefully hunt for apexes and offer prodigious acceleration, the Golf Highline we tested excelled in areas that the average motorist contend with on an everyday basis- near perfect suspension calibration, a comfortable and hushed interior and a praiseworthy degree of efficiency. And even though it wouldn’t be your first choice for a day of open lapping, it’s shocking how well it can dance despite its unsporting pretentions and much less aggressive rolling stock. It even has VW’s trick XDS electronic differential as standard equipment.

It’s refreshingly honest, isn’t it?

So many cars these days have an almost desperate “look at me” air about them, or try to be something they’re not (No, Toyota Sienna SE, you are not ‘sporty’.) The Golf simply goes about its business and seems to enjoy doing whatever you ask of it. For 2018, it does get a slight refresh and its commendably long list of standard kit grows too: there’s very slick LED lighting fore and aft, the facias get a mild rework and you can now have VW’s excellent 8” infotainment system at your fingertips. It’s one of those cars that asks little and delivers a lot. The best analogy we can think of the Golf experience is one that came to us while we were enjoying a bit of fine dining. Having a deconstructed Salmon crudo with a wasabi soufflé is nice, but sometimes all you need to achieve flavor nirvana is an expertly fried halibut and a side of crispy chips. See what we mean by honest and unpretentious… not to mention delicious?

The interior looks more expensive than its $33K price tag.

You’ll be more comfortable and spoiled inside a Golf than you would inside some cars who command a much higher price. First, the material and build quality are first rate. There is nary an offensive touch point or panel gap that you’ll see. There is an unmistakable air of quality, that everything is screwed together with pride and it’s quiet, too.  The seats are all day comfortable and drivers of wildly varying statures will have no problem finding a comfortable driving position. Once that’s done, everything is where you’d expect it to be and wholly intuitive to use. Furthermore, outside sightlines are terrific making this an easy car to place on the road and to tuck into a tight parking space- although a wonderfully crisp rear-view camera that sees a great deal of real estate behind you makes things even easier. We particularly enjoyed the powerful Fender audio system as well. If you have a nagging Ikea and/or Costco obsession, folding down the rear seats yields a hugely commodious space to get whatever necessary or downright frivolous purchases back home.

With all these positive attributes, there’s no way it drives as well as it does everything else.

Hah! Wrong. It drives so well that we couldn’t find a situation that fazed it or exposed any shortcomings in its impeccable engineering. Although it makes less horsepower that its sportier stablemates, the chassis of our tester kind of felt like a 7/10ths GTI. Its smaller wheels and tires do much to preserve a cosseting ride and while it might not keep up with a GTI on a winding road it certainly wold not embarrass itself. The 1.8 litre engine churns out 170 horses and 199 foot pounds of torque that don’t make it a fast car, but those numbers are perfectly adequate for 99.9% of any driving contexts you tend to find yourself in. It doesn’t matter if you commute along traffic clogged urban arteries or a long highway slog, the Golf is just as happy in either scenario. It has a feeling of quiet confidence that seems to say, “don’t worry, I got this.” That, folks, is an extremely elusive thing to experience in so many cars these days. We’d sum up the Golf’s driving experience as being way better than ought to at everything.

What might go wrong?

There aren’t many things that will cause concern for prospective Golf owners, and the ones we found should not be classified as deal breakers. The transmission, which behaves itself admirably under most conditions and offers a snappy manual shift mode (sorry, no paddle shifters) sometimes appears flummoxed in low speed driving. This affliction will most likely not be noticed by a vast amount of people who will buy this car, but we did notice the behaviour here and there. Actually, we’d much prefer a manual gearbox but you can’t fault our tester for that. The only other thing we’d complain about- and this is highly pedantic- the fake exhaust trim bits on the rear bumper are fully closed off and are in no way actual exhaust exits. The real ones reside under the bumper tucked away out of view. Who says we aren’t nit pickers? (Honestly? No one.)

Should I buy a Golf?

This is a hotly contested segment- buyers who’ll shop for their next vehicle here are truly spoiled for choice. We particularly enjoy the Mazda3 and Honda Civic, both of which offer a compelling blend of value, quality and most importantly, a healthy fun to drive factor. That said, the Golf offers a level of fit and finish and refinement that the others have a tough time matching; Volkswagen has had many years to consistently improve the breed and it shows. Every time we slide behind the wheel of a Golf we are always wowed by its general excellence- we think you will be, too.

 

2018 Volkswagen Golf Highline — Specifications

  • Price as tested: $33,040
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger hatchback
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Engine:  1.8 litre turbocharged inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  170 @ 4,500 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 199 @ 1,600 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,371 kg (3,023 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 9.3 L/100km (25 mpg)