We have a long-term Volkswagen GTI in our fleet, so the prospect of driving a base Golf wasn't that exciting to me. What a surprise, then, when I got into this car last night and was simply blown away by the level of comfort, refinement, quality, and performance in this $18,240 hatchback. The words that come to my mind to describe the Golf are creamy, supple, smooth, fluid, and firm. From the level of tension in the clutch pedal, to the easy-shifting five-speed manual, to the natural feedback in the steering, the Golf just feels right. The ride and handling balance is ideal, and worlds better than that of Golfs from a decade ago, which were far too soft. Its interior also feels good to the touch, as the cabin materials and textures are all exemplary, and the interior design is itself simple yet elegant. Even though our test car is a two-door hatch, there is a decent amount of room in the back seat, and the large rear side windows give rear-seat passengers a good outward view, which should reduce any feelings of claustrophobia.
I even didn't mind our test example's lack of options; by avoiding an automatic transmission and a sunroof, you keep the price well below $20K, yet you shouldn't feel shortchanged, since ABS, stability control, A/C, and a decent radio are all standard equipment. I'm further impressed by the Golf when I realize that the Nissan Versa hatch - albeit a four-door - that we just had in the office stickered at about $1500 more. I know which car I'd rather have: the VW. It just needs a new set of sharp aluminum wheels to replace the plastic wheel covers.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor