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2019 Volkswagen Golf review: Fun on the cheap

Even VW's most basic Golf is a hatchback worth having. Get one while you still can.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
4 min read

The Golf is a hallmark of Volkswagen's lineup. It's been sold in some form or another since 1974, changing its name to Rabbit on occasion depending on the market. And though our love for this car tends to focus on the hotter GTI and R variants, as well as the electric , a week with the standard version reminds me that even the most basic Golf is still a sprightly and entertaining little car.

2019 Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf

The Good

The 2019 VW Golf offers lots of hatchback practicality in a fun-to-drive package. Starting just under $22,000, it's super affordable, too.

The Bad

The interior looks and feels outdated, and the infotainment tech isn't as robust as what's offered elsewhere in the compact hatch segment.

The Bottom Line

The Golf offers solid value and performance for less than $25,000. Get one before it's gone.

For 2019, the Golf is only available as a five-door hatch (the three-door model was discontinued for the 2017 model year) and you can buy it in base S or upgraded SE trims, the latter of which is pictured here. The old 1.8-liter turbo-four engine has been replaced by a smaller, 1.4-liter turbocharged I4, which is the same one used in the new Jetta sedan. A new, six-speed manual transmission is standard, which is what I'm testing here. An eight-speed automatic is also available for 2019.

2019 Volkswagen Golf is no plain-Jane hatchback

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With 147 horsepower, the 1.4T engine is less powerful than its 1.8T predecessor, but it makes up for that horsepower discrepancy with a healthy 184 pound-feet of torque. Plus, every Golf comes with Volkswagen's XDS cross-differential system, which brakes individual front wheels to better manage power delivery. The XDS reduces understeer and sharpens up the Golf's reflexes, while the light but direct steering allows me to chuck this little guy into a corner. This makes the Golf one of the most fun-to-drive cars you can buy for less than $25,000.

Admittedly, the manual transmission helps with that fun-to-drive factor. You can wring out as much power as you want, keeping the revs high while zipping through traffic. What's more, hooning the Golf won't ruin your fuel economy, either. After a week of spirited driving, I observed 35.4 miles per gallon, which is above the 32-mpg EPA combined rating for the manual-equipped Golf. (With either transmission, the EPA says you'll achieve 29 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined.)

Driver-assistance systems get a big upgrade for 2019: Every Golf comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The blind-spot monitoring feature is a welcome backup, but because outward visibility is so great from inside the Golf, I don't really need it. Spec the SE trim, and an optional package will add adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beams to your Golf. Yes, you can even get adaptive cruise control with the six-speed manual transmission.

2019 Volkswagen Golf
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2019 Volkswagen Golf

The interior design is a little outdated, but everything is easy to use and the Golf is very comfortable.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Moving inside, Volkswagen's MIB II multimedia system handles infotainment tech duties. The base Golf comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, but stepping up to the SE gets you an 8-inch screen with icons that appear as your finger approaches.

The MIB II interface is a little outdated -- as is the rest of the Golf's interior -- but it works well. Drivers can pair two phones over Bluetooth, but note there's a distinct lack of USB ports. While many cars in this class have multiple connection points, the Golf has just one.

The Golf's cabin is a little on the drab side, but it's still perfectly comfortable. Front and rear passengers have plenty of space, and all of the car's controls are easy to find and use.

Where the Golf really excels is in cargo space. Thanks to its squared-off hatch design, there's a wealth of room for carrying all sorts of goods. Volkswagen says the Golf has 53 cubic feet of space with its rear seats folded flat, which bests hatchback rivals such as the , and .

2019 Volkswagen Golf

With 53 cubic feet of cargo space, the Golf is super functional.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

All of this goodness is super affordable, too. The 2019 Golf starts at $21,845, not including $895 for destination. My manual-transmission SE tester comes to $25,040 all in, which feels like a really good value as far as compact hatchbacks are concerned. If you're looking for more performance, I can't recommend the highly enough.

Of course, many competitors offer more stylish choices with more premium interiors and a better set of infotainment tech. The Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla Hybrid immediately come to mind as fresher, more stylish offerings, and they're also pretty darn good to drive. Yet there's still something so charming about the handsome .

Unfortunately, the Golf isn't long for this world -- well, this country, anyway. While Volkswagen is preparing to launch the new Mk8 Golf elsewhere, 2020 is expected to be the base Golf's last model year in the US. Considering how good even this older, Mk7 car is, that seems like a real shame. Get one while you can.

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2019 Volkswagen Golf

2019 Volkswagen Golf

Score Breakdown

Performance 7.5Features 8Design 7Media 7