Few compact hatchbacks are better than the 2021 Volkswagen Golf, but one that is happens to share the same showroom: the sporty GTI (reviewed separately). Apart from the standard Golf’s lower asking price and higher fuel efficiency, it isn’t as desirable as its more powerful, better-equipped sibling. While that’s partly why VW will only offer the next-generation GTI and high-performance Golf R on our shores, it doesn’t diminish that the regular version remains a terrific value in its final year. Despite a small and underpowered turbo-four engine, it boasts an excellent six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. It has a great chassis that provides athletic handling and a composed ride. And it offers a surprisingly roomy interior along with a large cargo hold. The boxy Golf isn’t as eye-catching or feature-laden as many compact rivals, but overall it’s much more gratifying than meets the eye.
What’s New for 2021?
With VW preparing to switch to a GTI-and-Golf R lineup, the 2021 model year marks the end of the regular version in the U.S. It glides out bringing a smattering of newly standard features. The list includes 16-inch wheels, passive hands-free entry and push-button start, leatherette upholstery, and a panoramic sunroof.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Volkswagen has essentially turned the regular Golf into a one-size-fits-all shopping experience. The only tough decision buyers face is whether to stick with the standard manual transmission or spend an extra $800 on the optional eight-speed automatic. Those who don’t know how to play the three-pedal shuffle will obviously choose the latter, but people who want maximum engagement will appreciate the manual. Other than that and a handful of dealer-installed accessories, the Golf is easy to outfit.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Golf’s turbocharged inline-four engine provides the right amount of power to adequately propel this small hatch and it’s refined and reliable. Around town, the Golf never wants for power. Only when attempting high-speed passing maneuvers on the highway does the driver notice the engine runs out of breath. Unlike its sportier fraternal twin—the zippy GTI—the regular Golf boasts a compliant ride that won’t grow tiresome during long drives or on rough pavement. This doesn’t mean that it’s a slouch around corners. It hugs the road tightly and imparts an athletic feel to the driver that encourages back-road antics. The Golf’s steering is unerring and uncharacteristically quick for this class. This responsive helm is one of the features that makes this affordable, utilitarian car so enjoyable to drive.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates the 2021 Golf will earn 29 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway with the standard stick-shift transmission. With the optional automatic, it has ratings of 29 mpg city and 33 highway. The last version we ran on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, returned an impressive 43 mpg. Still, the Golf doesn’t set the standard in this class: the Honda Civic hatchback delivered an identical result.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Plain but comfortable and functional, the Golf’s interior perfectly embodies VW’s design ethos. You’ll never feel pampered but you won’t be subjected to any ill-conceived design themes, either. The Golf’s interior employs clean, straight lines; a sedate color palette; and an emphasis on openness. Despite the airy atmosphere, some competitors tested here have slightly more space than the Golf. We found the Golf’s rear seat to be relatively comfortable, and it’s suitable for adults even on longer drives. The comfortable back seat is attributable to the height of the bottom cushion, which prevents the knees-in-the-nose problem that plagues many small cars. The Golf holds the same number of carry-on bags (five) behind its back seat as many of its rivals. But unlike sedan competitors, the Golf’s cargo area can accommodate taller items with ease. We squeezed 15 carry-on suitcases inside with the rear seat folded.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Golf’s infotainment system delivers lazy response times to your inputs, but standard features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and USB connectivity are strong counterpoints to that shortcoming. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard, and it boasts menu buttons running along the edges of the display as well as a physical volume knob.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Golf earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the last version that was evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) wasn’t named a Top Safety Pick. While the hatch no longer offers adaptive cruise control, it does come with some common driver-assistance equipment. Key safety features include:
- Standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Volkswagen provides an above-average limited warranty, but its powertrain protective is below average compared with Honda and Toyota. VW does include two years of regularly scheduled maintenance, though.
- Limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 20,000 miles
More Features and Specs