I actually agree with both my colleagues regarding how this base Golf compares with the TDI and GTI. As Phil Floraday notes, it's somewhat odd that one can't order the nicer interior bits on the base car, but like Joe DeMatio, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the GTI's refined, fun-to-drive character survives the $6000 price cut. Indeed, I wonder if it's this latter point that explains the lack of available feature content. If customers could spec out a five-cylinder Golf with all the luxury accoutrements, how many would spend still more for the GTI? The difference in power (30 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque) is significant but not mind blowing, and I almost prefer the Golf's more relaxed suspension tuning for daily driving. Unless you plan on going to the track, the GTI might not be worth the extra cash.
In all this parsing among the VW hatchback variants, though, we've glossed over the main point, which is simply this: Regardless of trim level, the sixth-generation Golf is now the best small car on the market. Shortly after sampling this test car, I climbed into a Mazda 3 hatchback and was frankly shocked by how inferior it felt in nearly every way. Everything from the suspension tuning to the choice of seat upholstery is just a notch better in the Volkswagen. Keep in mind, the 3 has until now been regarded around here as the standard bearer for the segment, and it has an All-Star award to prove it. I'd say that the new Golf has raised the bar even higher.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor