2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI Highline Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on April 13, 2012

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The best Golf ever, the 2012 TDI Highline is a cut above its competition too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

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Published on April 13, 2012

The Golf looks great in this upscale Vancouver neighbourhood. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

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Published on April 13, 2012

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Published on April 13, 2012

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Premium details abound. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

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Some of the best seats in the class. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 13, 2012

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Gorgeous interior in top-tier Highline trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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Published on April 13, 2012

There's no shortage of cargo space as the Golf swallows up a large Ikea desk. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Published on April 13, 2012

Have you noticed how the lines between "mainstream" and "premium" have blurred in recent years? Brands that used to build nothing but entry-level A to B transportation are coming to market with stylish, powerful, luxury machines that rival premium cars for features and performance yet cost tens of thousands less, while simultaneously the once coveted luxury marques are ever reaching farther down market with cheaper, smaller, cars and crossovers to expand their brands to a larger audience. And then there's the Volkswagen Golf.

It's always been a cut above. Even when it literally created the hatchback market segment back in the '70s it held a loftier position amongst the throngs of rivals that soon arrived to compete against it. Cooler styling, better handling, quicker performance, a nicer interior, and when the diesel arrived, class-leading fuel economy, the Golf (aka Rabbit) has always been a step ahead. It was ahead of the new "mainstream-premium" trend too, with the current Golf so well put together inside and out that it measures up well against compacts from BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Volvo, and dare I say even Audi.

My tester, a turbo-diesel TDI in top-tier Highline trim is exactly how I'd order my Golf if I were buying today, except maybe I'd go one step further and purchase the wagon. Still, with the rear seats lowered the Golf hatchback showed no shortcomings when it came time to haul a rather large Ikea desk to my storage locker. I like the styling of the hatch better too, and its lighter weight results in better handling. Yes, make my choice of the wagon a definite maybe.

Either way the 2.0-litre TDI is powerful off the line thanks to 236 lb-ft of torque available from way down at 1,750 rpm. Passing capability is good enough with 140 horsepower at full boil, but really the TDI is more about fuel economy and to that end its 6.7 L/100km city and 4.6 highway rating with the manual gearbox, or 6.7 / 4.7 with the automatic is superb! I had the latter, which means VW's lightning-quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch sequential automatic box, dubbed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), made life sportier. Due to the low shifting nature of the diesel I left it in Drive most of the time, although manual mode can be actuated via the shift lever; paddle-shifters are not included.

The Golf's suspension is fully independent, made more capable with 17-inch alloys on 225/45R17 all-season rubber that come standard on the Highline. Turn-in is quick and the speed-proportional electromechanical power-assisted rack and pinion steering feels good and responsive, yet the ride is quite compliant for a small car, also due to the Golf's stiff body structure. It really gives you a feeling of solidity, like it's going to last for decades and if by chance you get hit by something larger, it'll keep you safe.

To that end VW packs the Golf full of standard safety features, like dual front, front side-thorax, and side-curtain airbags for all window passengers, plus active front head restraints. To avoid an accident in the first place all Golf models get tire pressure monitoring, traction and stability control, as well as four-wheel discs with ABS and electronic brake force distribution.

Now that we're on the subject of standard, my Highline trimmed tester included such niceties as leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a powered moonroof, a multifunction steering wheel, 6-CD/MP3 audio with Sirius satellite radio, iPod jack, and Bluetooth, and fog lights, while upping safety by adding hydraulic brake assist. It's priced at $28,460 with shipping, and while good for what it is that might be a bit above your budget. The base Golf Trendline starts at a more approachable $21,340 including freight, which believe me is cheap for such a well-made premium-like car.

Along with its impressive materials quality and refinement, not to mention its torque-rich 170-horsepower inline-five engine, the base Golf gets standard auto up/down powered windows, keyless remote access with VW's trademark "switchblade" keyfob, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, 8-way adjustable seats, air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, an intermittent rear wiper, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with aux input, cruise control, and more. Move up to the Golf Comfortline at $24,390 with shipping and a leather-wrapped steering wheel gets the nod, as do heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, larger 16-inch alloys, and with the TDI, fog lights. There's no way to get automatic headlights though, and while they automatically shut themselves off after switching off the ignition the running lights will remain on unless you manual turn them off, something I learned by draining the battery one night (note: you'll need to pry off the slick looking door handle cover to use the key). This is an oversight I'd appreciate seeing VW fix.

So what's the best Golf for you? Keep in mind that VW offers a sportier Golf Sportline too, the still sportier GTI, and sportiest of them all Golf R, plus of course the ultimately practical wagon I mentioned earlier, but rather than go on infinitum about trims and features, know that there's a VW Golf that will likely suit you to a tee, any one of which will be more than capable of hauling a couple of wheeled golf bags to the course, arriving in style, and pasting a smile right across your face in the process.

And you won't look out of place slipping your Golf in between that Bimmer and Merc' in the parking lot either. You'll just look smart, as long as you remember to turn off your lights.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, VW, 2012, Golf, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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