Volkswagen Golf 1.8T(2000)

GolfWe've always liked the Volkswagen Golf. It's a blast to drive, it's practical, well put together and, with a cars.com target price just under $19,000, it's within reach of the average Tom, Ray or Bugsy.

VW completely redesigned the Golf last year, making it a little bit bigger, a little more refined. Now, you can get the VW/Audi 1.8-liter turbocharged engine as an option. The addition of the 1.8T only makes this nice car a little nicer. If you prefer, you can still buy the Golf with the regular 2-liter engine, as a diesel, or, if you spring for the GTI version, a V6. But, the 1.8T is the perfect engine for this car, in our humble opinion--just enough power to be fun, not enough power to be stupid.

Driving Experience

This is a fun car to drive. The engine feels just right, and the suspension provides a nearly ideal combination of comfort and sportiness. Handling is very good.

The Golf is a bit slow off the mark, but we found that once we nudged the engine past 2,000 rpm, it became very responsive. This may be a textbook demonstration of "turbo lag"--that is, when you mash the gas pedal, it takes a moment or two for the exhaust gasses to get the turbo spinning fast enough to boost the intake air pressure, so that something interesting happens. As we say, we noticed it, but it didn't detract from our enjoyment of the car. Shifting up through the gears with the five-speed was fine. The Golf is also available with a four-speed automatic transmission.

The Golf has 4 disc brakes, which were quite effective--maybe too effective? As with other VW-Audi products we've tested lately, we found it took practice to slow the car smoothly. During her first few hours in the car with our Producer, Doug Berman, DCH Canine Zuzu had her snout mashed into the heater controls at least four times. She's now the only dog in Harvard Square with the word "fan," embossed on her nose.

Previous versions of the Golf have been very good in the rain and snow, and we'd expect this one to be no different... although the turbo could make things tricky. So, we'll withhold judgement.
Interior

We found the seats in this car to be nicely firm and supportive. Our car had cloth-covered seats, however, which attracted enormous quantities of dog hair. If dog hair is an issue in your family, go for the optional leather seating--so all that hair will immediately cling to the clothing of the next passenger, instead of the seats.

The Golf and the New Beetle share the same engine options, and the same transmission and suspension. But unlike the New Beetle, the Golf is also available with two rear doors, and there's enough headroom in back to fit two full-grown adults. While legroom and headroom are not copious in the back, an adult would at least have a fighting chance on a long trip, as compared to the Bug. Up front, there's plenty of headroom, even with the sunroof, and ample legroom.

The view out is very good all around, although the headrests in the back do limit visibility a bit. The rearmost pillars are pretty wide, but they don't seem to pose any great impediment to the visibility.

There are a multitude of little nooks and crannies in the Golf, to stash your unpaid parking tickets and Pokemon figures. A sturdy little cupholder pops out of the dashboard.

Cargo capacity is excellent. Planning an abduction of your neighbor's tacky lawn ornament collection? Throw open the hatch, fold down the back seat, and there's no telling how many pink flamingos and garden gnomes you can squeeze in back there. There's plenty of space in the back of the Golf.

The Golf has a plethora of creature comforts, if you want to pay the extra dineros for them. The model we drove had power windows, a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power sunroof, CD player, air conditioning, cruise control, heated outside mirrors, and even tuchus-warmers in the seats. It may be small, but it doesn't have to be Spartan.

The Golf is a relatively safe vehicle, performing very well in NHTSA crash tests. Anti-lock brakes, dual airbags and side airbags are all standard.

Ergonomics

We'll give VW high marks in this department. The heater controls are straightforward, with knobs to control the flow and direction of hot and cold air. Other manufacturers take note: this is Less-Is-More Lesson Number One. May we live to see the day when manufacturers abandon those glitzy touch-screen displays that force you to take your eyes off the road to make the simplest adjustment.

Less-Is-More Lesson No. 2: As with other recent VW products, there's no position on the light switch for illuminating just the parking lights, just all lights on or all lights off. After all, when would you ever use the parking lights these days? If you're driving and it's dark, you use all the lights. And, if you were stopped at the side of the road, you'd use the hazard lights.

We also have to thank VW for avoiding the style-over-function trend of hiding the window control switches. They're obvious and easy to reach.

What's not to like? Well, the radio could be easier to operate, and the switches on the left stalk are so confusing, we think they either control the cruise control or download MP3 files from Napster. We're not sure which.

Styling

Over the years, the Golf has gotten a little bigger and a little more rounded--not unlike many of us, we might add. But, it still looks like a Golf.

In general, though, we liked the styling changes as we have of all of the recent VW's.

Reliability

Golf owners should be a relatively happy lot. The Golf is a time-tested vehicle, and we expect it to be quite reliable. It's not quite at the level of a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, but it's also more fun to drive. So, you're trading a bit of reliability for quite a bit of fun. The turbo is a new twist on the Golf, however, and has only been around for a few years in other VW and Audi products. If you purchase the 1.8T, prepare yourself for a possible turbo rebuild after your Golf heads into six-digit mileage territory.

Maintenance

Servicing is quite straightforward on the Golf. Despite the tight engine compartment, belts and hoses are easy to access. Maintenance costs should be average. You can check our survey results to compare repair and maintenance costs of the Golf to other vehicles.

Overall comments

Remember when hatchbacks were a common sight? They've been dwindling of late, killed off by the popularity of minivans and SUVs. These days, if you want a small, four-door hatchback, your only choices are the Golf and the Subaru Impreza, which is really just a very little station wagon. The Saab 9-3 can be had as a four-door hatchback, but...pricewise, it's not in the Golf's ballpark.

You can count the choices among small, two-door hatchbacks on one hand. There're the Honda Civic, the Hyundai Accent, the Ford Focus, and the Daewoo Lanos. The Civic is the most reliable of this bunch, the Focus is a nice combination of cheap and fun to drive... and the Lanos is the least expensive. The Golf is definitely the most sporty and fun.

Over the years, the Golf has evolved without forgetting its sporty character. Our Producer Dougie Berman thinks it's the spiritual descendent of the old BMW 2002 sedan that he still loves to toodle around in, and he may be right.

If you're in the market for a small car, the Golf has a lot to offer. It's sporty, comfortable, practical, and, for the money, offers lots of standard features. It also has a substantial feel that made us feel safe while we were driving it. Although it's Volkswagen's lowest-priced model, about a grand cheaper than the New Beetle, the Golf is much more than just a car for young folks on a budget. It's worth a look.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


[Test Drive Notes Index]