Review: 2015 Golf TSI Auto

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Who buys one of these things instead of the brilliant GTI? Sure, in Europe the Golf is a default-mode transportation device the way the Corolla is in the United States — but that doesn’t change the fact that anybody who buys a German(-branded) hatchback on this side of the Atlantic is trying to make a statement, the same way that anybody who eats “Pocky” in the United States is trying to make a statement.

Perhaps the Mk7 Golf TSI, particularly in the metallic blue exterior/cream interior variant we drove in San Francisco, makes the right kind of statement to the right kind of people. The one that says, “I’m not a GTI racer wannabe, I just want to drive exactly what someone in our perfectly enlightened and cultured and correct mother continent of Europe would drive.” Driving a GTI is kind of like eating a salad with a lot of dressing — there’s a suspicion that you might not be into the spirit of the thing. Driving the TSI, on the other hand, is much like telling everybody that you don’t own a television.

The real-word pricing on these 170hp/200lb-ft tq Golfs is between $19,800 and $28k. On all but the “S” trim, you can get the TDI for an extra grand or so. From a resale and longevity standpoint, it would be wise to do so. Everybody knows that diesel VWs have a very different retained-value profile from gas-powered ones, particularly as they approach their tenth birthday and beyond. As soon as I find my photos of the TDI I’ll do a review on that, but the gist of it will be this: there’s virtually no penalty for the diesel in daily use. In the meantime, let’s go driving this newest 1.8t.

The combination of light upholstery and the extremely convincing metal-look trim in the Golf is just so right for NorCal. It’s hip, fresh, airy, upscale-feeling, and not at all aggressive. The GTI isn’t classy like this; the GTI is try-hard with its piano-black sportlich dash and golf-ball shifter and extra GTI logos and whatnot. Imagine you were taking a user-interface designer for Facebook on a first date: do you want her to see you in a light-blue Golf or a bright-red GTI? Exactly.

Into “D” and the TSI is immediately impressive with plenty of low-end shove that doesn’t completely strangle a nice rush to the redline. This is a sporting motor in execution if not intent and it has a lot of the revvy friendly character that made the old five-valve 1.8t such an unexpected joy in the MkIV Golf GLS four-door. (Removing completely incorrect paragraph about the transmission, brought on by mis-reading my notes — JB)

This being the widest, most spacious, and most rigid Golf in history, it’s no surprise that the TSI is an exceptionally pleasant companion in traffic and on side roads. The space (up front, anyway) and the refinement are easily on par with the Camcord class above it. That’s reasonable, because when you equip it like a Camry SE it kind of costs Camry SE money. So what do you get in exchange for going down a segment at the same price?

Well, you get the exceptionally tasteful interior, although the temperature knobs wobble a bit too much for my taste and some of the plastics around the seat are very obviously hecho in Mexico. You get the “V-Tex” leatherette which is very good and likely to wear pretty well. (Side note: Calling it “V-Tex” is sort of like of me calling my occasional band “Uranium Zeppelin”. If you want to riff on the legends, you’d better come correct. I’m not sure VW has earned the name.) You get a turbo four and twin-clutch transmission that are more responsive than the big-inch one-bar four-bangers in the Camry and friends and considerably more enjoyable to push hard.

You also get a remarkably composed chassis. A run up a few canyon roads revealed that even without the stiff springs and thick swaybars of the GTI, this is an inherently enthusiastic automobile. It likes to turn, it can be steered with the throttle in the midcorner, it reliably swallows bumps on unfamiliar roads. The brakes seemed solid enough but at the top of one hill they exhaled plumes of smoke through the wheels so perhaps that was pushing them too hard. In deference to my predecessor in this E-I-C position, I should also say something about how the MQB chassis didn’t squeak or rustle (true) and how it’s going to take over the world in the next three minutes (not sure about that one). There is a difference between the old Golfs and the new ones; they felt solid but this one is halfway to a Phaeton in the way it refuses to flex under load. And remember: this is a hatchback. Having that big hole in back doesn’t help matters when it comes to stiffness.

Of course, the latest generation of Camcords is also pretty stiff and light and in the case of the Trope Namers they’re both pretty enthusiastic steers with the proper options selected. So not only is it difficult to make a case for the VW over our market defaults based on the numbers, it’s kind of tough to make it based on the intangibles of chassis stiffness or suspension tuning or back-road charisma. True, you need an “SE” or “Sport” version of a Camcord to keep up with this not-explicitly-sporting Golf, but you won’t have to look very hard to find them at your local dealer.

I wouldn’t buy this particular car. I’d buy a GTI, public image be damned. Or I’d buy the manual-transmission version of the TSI, which Volkswagen continues to offer. Or I’d buy a Camry SE, knowing that it’s just as quick and handles just as well and has more room and will last approximately forever and will be worth real money to any CarMax I can roll it down a hill to in ten years.

But I’m not the market for this car. I’m too old, too track-focused, too unhip, too flyover, too everything. The people who are buying these cars don’t care to acknowledge the existence of the Camry SE. They’ll buy this VW because it’s like a tie from Hickoree’s or having Sun Kill Moon on vinyl or using the word “Murica” ironically in conversation: it sends the right signals to the right people. In that respect, the sacrifices one makes to own a Golf over a Camry — in size, in likely durability, in having to endure the VW dealer body, in resale — are positive because they ensure that no stupid mother of two from Iowa is going to accidentally buy the same Golf TSI that you, the San Jose-based social media consultant, have just purchased.

Go ahead and buy one, then. It’s the right car for you. And more than ever, it’s also a pretty good car. Just know this: that distinct feeling of superiority you get when you see some prole in a Fusion… well, you should keep shaded, because it might not stand the light of day.

(Volkswagen provided travel and accommodations for this test.)

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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3 of 151 comments
  • Mslerner2002 Mslerner2002 on Jul 16, 2014

    Jack: Thank you for taking the time to review the new VW Golf. While I think you made some interesting points, I have a couple of my own for your consideration: Point 1: I am surprised that you would suggest cross-shopping a Golf with a Camry. I have owned a Camry and driving dynamics and Toyota Camry are words that never crossed my mind. Grass Roots Motorsports magazine "attempted" to track prep a Camry and all they succeeded in doing was blowing it up. If you want to compare a driver's car with the Golf, next time consider the Honda Civic. Point 2: I think TTAC could be more useful to its readers if there was less of an emphasis on out-and-out performance, ala the GTi and more on driveability. I would venture to guess that most of your readers are not driving on glass smooth roads and would sacrifice a few tenths on the skidpad for a car that didn't have aspirations of coming back in its next life as a go-kart. I have owned my share of cars with sport suspensions and I think it is time to kill the skid-pad and come up with a better metric. The Golf doesn't need to have 18" rims and beefier shocks, springs and swaybars to be an enjoyable daily driver. If you "wanted" to track it, go see how many coilovers are offered for the Golf versus the Camry. Point 3 - As probably mentioned by other responders, the Golf has the Aisin automatic and the GTi has the DSG. While there are people that only want to shift their own gears, there are also plenty of us that are tired of pumping clutch pedals in stop-and-go traffic. I would much prefer the Aisin to the DSG if I were stuck in traffic.

  • ReflexMkVII ReflexMkVII on Nov 12, 2014

    This reviewer is an idiot. The Camry doesn't drive anywhere near to a VW. Camry is cheaply built plastic everything. It has the styling of a toad, it drives like one, has the same powertrain from 10 years ago. The Golf and GTI are quality made and driving. The reason people should and do pay for the Golf and GTI is because it offers something different. It is fun to drive, it will age well because it has a timeless design, VW hasn't been the subject to a rash of recalls like Toyota, it offers as much or more cargo space as any midsize sedan, it has tons of room but is much easier to park or drive in a city, it is built by a company that prides itself on technology, safety and the environment (Toyota's Prius pollutes more than people think because of the amount of enegh it takes to make the batteries and all of the harsh chemicals in them). The Golf gets great fuel economy but is as fast as a Camry V6 that only gets around 30MPG HWY. You can get a manual transmission, a DSG, a diesel, etc... What Camry have you driven that is designed and built to conquer the autobahn on a daily basis? The GTI is what I own and I love it. It has tons of grip, no torque steer or bump steer, is super quiet on the highway but when you mash the throttle it awakens with a growl, it can easily be tuned to increase power, and it doesn't look like something your grandma has. The Golf and Golf GTI/R are all great cars that offer whatever anyone could want. Advanced safety features? Check! Great fuel economy? Check! Lots of power and torque? Check! High quality interior? Check. What more could anyone want?

    • JuniperBug JuniperBug on Mar 18, 2015

      Ah, GTI fanboys. I CONQUER THE AUTOBAHN For what it's worth, I like Golfs/GTIs, and it's the model I'm most likely to buy, new, as my next car. I still find this post funny.

  • James Hendricks The depreciation on the Turbo S is going to be epic!
  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.