Such a feelin’s comin’ over me
There is wonder in most everything I see
Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes
And I won’t be surprised if it’s a dream
It’s 9:45 a.m., local time. I’m standing at one of what must be a hundred overlooks in Wildcat Canyon Park, looking down on, well, everything. If you’ve never been to the Bay area (as I had not until this point), there’s no way for me to describe to you the view before me—one that photography has no hope of doing justice. There’s so much going on, yet it’s all encapsulated in a way. One could easily convince a child that the entire world exists within the geography visible from this vantage point. That goes a long way toward explaining the mindset of the average resident, I think.
Twenty-four hours ago, I was boarding a plane in Baltimore. In another 24, I should be landing there again. Neither mind nor body has caught up to the change of venue (not to mention the change in time). No point in trying to adjust now, I suppose.
“That car is hot,” remarks my co-driver, breaking my reverie.
“It’s hot. Can you smell it?”
Indeed, the Golf smells strongly of friction material. Whether it’s from the brakes or the transmission, I can’t quite tell. But my companion has a point. We’ve only done maybe half a mile of non-abusive, uphill canyon driving to this point. There’s no reason for the car to be in any sort of distress. We both chew on the observation for another minute or two, try in vain to snap a smartphone picture that could do the view justice, and then hop back into the car.
The new 1.8L Golf TSI may look like a baby GTI on paper. On the road, it’s a different story. Our tester is a four-door “S” model with the sunroof package and six-speed automatic. You have to upgrade to the “SE” trim for 17-inch alloys or “SEL” for 18-inchers. Consequently, our tester is a bit more prone to lean than some of the others may have been. The ride is still quite composed and the handling sharp enough for a little hustling, but the car likes to push and squeal a bit when the corners get tight.
On the inside, the 2015 is still 100% Golf. The layout is simple and attractive. The plastics are of reasonable quality and the aluminum (Aluminum? Aluminum-look? Alum-enough, regardless) trim is tasteful and judiciously applied. I have only two gripes here. First off, the knobs and other switchgear are still a bit so-so. The HVAC knobs and such don’t feel particularly robust, for example, and as the former owner of a fourth-generation Passat whose radio knob and center console lid lasted all of a month, such things draw my attention. Secondly, what does it take to get a simple USB port in a Volkswagen product?
It’s also worth mentioning as well that VW’s competitors are rapidly catching up. The new Mazda3, for example, is easily the VW’s equal. It feels strange to say it, but that makes it no less true. The VW’s cabin is quieter, but the Mazda’s feedback more granular. A wash on paper, maybe, but that’s the sort of thing that can sway a buying decision, depending on the customer.
On the bright side, the 1.8L TSI engine is an excellent companion. The small turbocharger means quick spools for excellent response all over the rev range, and since the engine isn’t spun very high, it pulls nicely pretty much all the way to redline. It’s a great package for a daily driver, and while those of us who prefer naturally aspirated engines may miss the character of the old inline-five, the new turbo mill delivers 20% better highway fuel economy without the ridiculously tall gearing of the most recent 2.5L-equipped cars. It’s hard to argue with gaining 6 mpg, especially if you’re in marketing.
After lunch, we grab a TDI for the drive back to the hotel. The route will take us across the Bay from Richmond to San Rafael, then south on 101, crossing the Golden Gate on the way back into town.
Unlike the TSI, the TDI is just a new shell around the same driving experience. The new, two-liter engine is up 10 horsepower from the previous generation. Volkswagen claims it offers a one-mile-per-gallon improvement in both city and mixed driving, but the towering streets of downtown San Francisco are hardly the venue to substantiate that. The TDI is incredibly quiet, punchy and well-suited to highway slogs, and it’s the car to get if you’re the type to travel long distances at constant speeds.
It’s no surprise to anybody that the new Golf lineup is stuffed with excellent vehicles; these cars have never suffered from negative critical reception. Where they typically suffer is in value proposition, and to their credit, Volkswagen has made an effort to rectify that.
Most significantly, the TDI now starts at $21,995. That’s a nice drop from its previous starting MSRP, but at the expense of options. You’ll have to jump up to the $25,495 TDI “SE” if you want a car equipped comparably to the entry-level MkVI. This is a strategy VW has seen success with in the Jetta lineup, and I expect it will do equally well here.
On the TSI side, there are no dramatic price shifts, but some options have been re-bundled to make the lower-level trims a better value compared to their outgoing equivalents. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it should help bring more eyes to the showroom, which is exactly what Volkswagen needs if they’re going to reverse the past year’s sales trends. The Golf’s a winner; that should be no surprise. Whether it’s enough to keep VW’s sales numbers afloat while they work to plug the holes in their lineup still remains to be seen.