2014, Nov - Dec

Golf Lessons: Three new models charge up hatchback lineup 

By Cliff Leppke

Golf models were in full swing at Volkswagen's Full Line Event in Middleburg Va., in August. Golf TSI, e-Golf and the GTI are examples of VW's much-discussed MQB toolkit. These models are built stronger with "wobble seam" welds. The wavy pattern produces four times the strength of a traditional spot weld.

Since our last issue, VW cut Wolfsburg plant production hours. During these pauses, VW says it will address production difficulties that have lowered Golf output. Most Golfs sold in the USA will be built in Mexico.

My first sample: the e-Golf. This electric-motor vehicle is well integrated into VW's new architecture, as the idea from square one was a platform that would seamlessly accept an electric drive system.

The electric VW's range is 70 to 90 miles, 100 miles in Eco+. The exterior sports further aerodynamic refinements such as wind-cheating wheels. Rather than an elaborate instrument scheme, VW modified its gas-car gauge cluster. The fuel gauge, for example, is now the charge level; the tachometer is now a power indicator. You select reverse or drive with VW's familiar Tiptronic automatic shift lever.

You can pick regenerative braking for none or maximum effect. With the regenerative brakes off, this Golf drives like a Golf, a very quiet Golf. Selectable drive modes let you optimize range by limiting acceleration and top speed. If you mash the "throttle," full motor power (115 hp) is summoned regardless of mode. In city use, it's quick; it takes about 10 seconds to reach 60 mph. A heat pump is designed to warm vital components and perhaps toast occupants toes.

This Golf is the first VW sold in the States that has LED headlights. LED running lamps form "C" like front-bumper gills that signify the "volts" wagen. Handsome, but don't tap a curb.

Interior room is the same as a regular Golf. The cargo bay is slightly smaller, as VW jettisoned the spare tire and under floor stowage. Otherwise this car drives like a heavy Golf. VW says the AC motor develops 199 lb.-ft. of torque. Its 24.2 kWh battery has 264 prismatic cells. There's an onboard charger that brings the battery to 80 percent of its full state in 30 minutes at fast charging stations. A partnership with Bosch (home wall box unit) and ChargePoint with 18,000 charging stations means those in California, which has a zero tailpipe emission mandate, have many plug-in places. VW offers range-anxiety reducing roadside assistance.

This versatile vehicle lists for $35,445. At launch, only the SEL Premium is available. Rather not buy? No problem. Lease it for $299 a month.

"GET READY TO PLAY, GOLF OR GTI: Splendid solidity describes the Golf 1.8-liter (TSI) I drove. Classy. The driver-canted dashboard fascia looks rich. The launch edition starts at $17,995. A 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard. VW claims improved affordability. The content adjusted pricing: $2,200 lower for the TSI, down $700 GTI and like the Jetta, a lower trim TDI is $3,500 less expensive. EPA highway rating is 37 mpg (TSI) 45 mpg (TDI). That's up six mpg for the TSI vs. the old 2.5-liter. The TDI is up three. And the GTI's high number is also up three at 34. In the city, the GTI added four at 25. That's impressive.

I tried two GTI's: one with the DSG; the other a base two-door six-speed manual. VW's new turbo engine, another TSI that displaces 2.0 liters, has more power (10/20 hp) and torque (51 lb.-ft). This upped output (210-hp; 258 lb.-ft) is effectively dispatched. What's more, the soundtrack is playful, sometimes a staccato Italian beat, and other times a turbo woosh, but lay off the thrill pedal a bit and it's a subtle hummer. You can motor in it to all of the nation's racetracks, go through their paces and emerge unruffled.

VW's rep recommended that I select a special scenic route. Holy corkscrews! The six-speed manual red GTI digs Virginia's wine country. It behaved as though it could foresee every rock-lined twist. The "progressive" power steering, which reduces wheel winding, felt natural. A driver selectable sport mode tweaks steering effort and throttle response. Lock-to-lock is only 2.1 rotations of the directing wheel. Teeth are spaced tightly near center (low ratio) and wider at the outer sides (high ratio). This means quick response off center, easier steering effort, when parking.

The DSG's shifter has been revised. When you pull the lever rearward it slides into drive, if you tap the lever rearward again, it selects sport, tap it back again and it returns to drive.

Other changes include the steering wheel's switchgear. The previous four-way rocker has been replaced with one that moves laterally. The up-down selecting feature now resides on a separate rocker switch. My take: the old design worked well but many drivers didn't understand it. So this time, clearly labeled buttons conform to industry practice.

The same goes for the cruise control. VW reps tell me that they've taken a ding in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey due to, say, former Honda Civic drivers who didn't understand its turn-signal stalk's cruise control switches. For some time, VW put an on/off switch atop the lever and a rocker switch at its tip. While the switch atop the lever was goofy, the rocker tip was sweet. Even with your hands on the wheel, your fingers could tap the lever to increase or decrease cruising speed at 1 or 5 mph increments.

So expect to see cruise control buttons on the already crowded space atop the steering wheel spokes. That's where other carmakers put them.

Another change: a floating throttle pedal.

Other Quality bits: Trahan tells the Autoist that VW's warranty claims are down 49 percent since 2010. That's a real improvement and a fair assessment, as VW's basic warranty has been the same since 2010. Yet, VW's J.D. Power IQS scores are below average. One thing that bit VW was an unspecified supplier goof that made its way through its vehicles. Mark Gillies calls this a "process problem." VW has further shortened the time it requires to identify troubles.

One thing that constantly puts VW on the defensive is brake dust. Anyone who has owned a VW knows that the OEM pads generate black filth. But VW claims these are the only pads that meet its engineering team's brake performance goal. FYI, the new Golf's brakes impart a more solid feel to the foot-something the squishy old ones didn't.

Another Golf update is the info screen. It's now color and fits in the space between the main gauges. The graphics ape an electronic Rolodex. It's more intuitive to operate than VW's former info screen; you can see its menu structure.

New signal stalks feel good, feature clear labels.

The Golf's canted dashboard is nicely trimmed with a metallic-like treatment on some models. Switches worked smoothly too. And the forward-compartment materials are what you'd expect in a top-tier Teutonic ride.

But things change toward the vehicle's rear compartment. The rear seat is surrounded by hard plastic. Armrests are nicely padded, though. The rear pillars are no longer cloth covered. The hatch hinges are stamped rather than forged.

Golfs, as do most other VW models for 2015, come with one-year/10,000 mile Carefree Maintenance. This represents another reduction in former three-year/36,000 mile plan (2009 model year) that reduces a VW's operating cost.

VW says its cars are not more expensive to operate than competitive models. Its one free-oil change is an industry norm.

But the overall driving sensation is tops. The GTI really shines: bright accents inside and a lusty engine that can hit 60 mph in second gear. VWCA

Cliff Leppke | leppke.cliff@gmail.net


* AUDI A3: Think obtainable luxury with sophisticates electronic technology.
* VW-FEST: A new dealer site for the NIVA club's event creates a spectacular gathering.
* CONVENTION 2015: Milestones galore as the VWCA heads toward its "60th."


* Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
* Frontdriver - Richard G. Van Treuren
* VolksWoman - Lois Grace
* Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
* Retro Autoist - From the archives
* Parting Shot - Photo feature
* VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski



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