2018 Volkswagen Golf S Review - Make Commuting Fun Again

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2018 Volkswagen Golf S

1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (170 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm; 199 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm)
Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
25 city / 34 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.3 city, 6.9 highway, 8.2 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$20,910 (U.S) / $22,295 (Canada)
As Tested
$21,805 (U.S.) / $24,080 (Canada)
Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,785 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 volkswagen golf s review make commuting fun again

Commuting sucks.

It’s especially bad at speeds below “parking lot.” Foot off brake, crawl, foot on brake, repeat. It’s even worse when you’re piloting a stick – shift to first, release clutch pedal, roll, brake, clutch in, shift to neutral. And repeat.

Not all commuting is that slow, of course. There’s also the block-to-block drag race. First to the next stop sign or stoplight wins. If you’re lucky, you’ll hit 30 mph and get to third gear before doing it all over again.

If you’re gonna spend a lot of your time behind the wheel, working up to a measly 30 mph and hitting third gear right before you hit the brakes, there’s worse cars to do it in the than the 2018 Volkswagen Golf S.

As the value trim in the great Golf line – remember, this is the car upon which the vaunted GTI and hallowed Golf R stand – the S trim is one of those vehicles that used to roam the streets en masse during my childhood but has now mostly died off. I speak, of course, of the compact stick-shift sport hatch that offers few frills, a no-bullshit driving experience, plenty of grins, and little in the way of cash outlay.

If you don’t know from memory what engine motivates this level of Golf, it’s a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. It drives the front wheels, and the manual transmission that comes standard on this car is of the five-speed variety.

It’s a quick little thing, and the gearbox is a joy to row. It doesn’t hurt that you don’t have to the rev the hell out of it to get to peak torque or even horsepower. Turning the car is also fun – handling is fairly sharp, even when riding on 15-inch wheels. True, it’s no GTI, but if you can’t swing anything much over $20K, you’re going to have a fun little car that makes getting from point A to point B much less monotonous. Even the slightly stiff ride isn’t too much of a penalty to pay.

Where you do suffer, of course, is on the content side. That, and in the sound arena – the S isn’t quiet. And that is the downside here – cheap commuting is fine, but you’re gonna give up some goods. Worse, there’s only one other trim level available on the regular Golf, and it (the SE) will only cost you about $3K more. So if you want a larger infotainment screen, a panoramic sunroof, 16-inch wheels, navigation, and blind-spot monitoring (among other goodies), you’ll have to pony up. But you can still get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, USB, and Bluetooth at the bargain basement price.

Power windows with one-touch up/down, partial power front seats, rearview camera, A/C, cruise control, and leather shift knob and e-brake wrapping is also standard.

Both Golf trims were refreshed for 2018, and 2019 brings a new engine. Meaning if you’re a fan of the 1.8, you should grab it before it’s gone.

[Get new and used Volkswagen Golf pricing here!]

It’s cliché at this point for auto journos to write about their love for the GTI and Golf R, as they really are that good. Even their value counterpart is a worthwhile drive, and it won’t break the bank.

Sure, it’s a little flawed. It’s noisy, it’s stripped in terms of content and it doesn’t take much more dough to get a lot more, and the typical all-black VW interior appears particularly plain and utilitarian in base form.

But it’s a blast to drive, and it gives the grins without grabbing a big hunk of wallet. That’s a recipe for making the commute fun again.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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2 of 77 comments
  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Jan 01, 2019

    I have had my Night Blue/Beige interior '17 Golf Wolfsburg with a 5 speed for a bit over a year and only 9000 miles. I drove a GTI and wanted a GTI, but I didn't want to pay for it. I call my Golf a "3/4 GTI". The aftermarket is there if I want to do stuff to it, but probably not. The only equipment it lacks that I personally would like is auto climate control and HID or LED headlamps. Yes, the V-tex interior is not leather, but you'd never know since the leather in this class of car is barely that. I personally prefer leather (or leatherette) to cloth interiors. I use the 16 inch alloy wheels it came with as snow wheels and bought a set of inexpensive 17" "R look" wheels with Michelin Pilots. It's still not a GTI, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The 1.8 is strong enough and fairly flexible, but it is tuned for low-end power. I live with plenty of hills and the car encourages my leadfoot and I still average 28 mpg. My previous car was a leased '16 Cruze LT. That car carried the same window sticker as my VW and did not have heated seats, a moonroof and still didn't feel as solid as my VW, nor was it any fun to drive. Mine was just under 20k out the door. A shame the 1.4 will replace the 1.8, taking some character from the car. Maybe too many folks found the 1.8 enough and was stealing from GTI sales, who knows? Any way, this is my second VW and if they'd bring a minivan here, I'd certainly get one of those. Yes, the diesel scandal sucks and the coverup was bulls*t. But they aren't the first company to lie about their products and cover it up. Doesn't make it right, it just is.

  • Spookiness Spookiness on May 02, 2019

    Old post, but I drove a MY 2016 automatic last night. Considering a 2019 (yes different engine and trans now) but Zipcar has these as rentals so I used it as an extended test drive. Hardly any engine noise, except on acceleration. Otherwise fairly quiet and drama-free. Soaked up road imperfections very well. Felt light, yet solid. A/C was ice cold. Impressive acceleration and I did get it up to 90 on the highway for a moment. Love the visibility and ergonomics. Two minor complaints. The steering feels quite light and overboosted for my taste. The suspension seemed to overwhelm the base 16" tires. I made them squeel in corners without trying very hard. They appeared to be OEM ContiProContacts. Car had 36k miles on it. This car was fun, GTI must be a blast.

  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.