The Golf recently marked its 40th anniversary as an affordable overachiever. But the seventh-generation VW has outdone itself, winning worldwide accolades for design, performance, and technology. It all starts with the Modularer Querbaukasten, or MQB, which translates to “Modular Transverse Toolkit.” Consider it a set of building blocks in a single platform that will underpin more than 40 corporate models, from tiny Czech-made Skodas to Audi luxury sedans.
The MQB’s standardized common core allows every imaginable power train—gasoline, diesel, electric, hybrid—to plug and play smoothly in the same front location. The electric version, for example, doesn’t detract a whit from passenger or cargo space. There’s even a compressed-natural-gas Golf.
Start with the turbocharged TDI model, whose clean-diesel technology is familiar in Europe but still rather novel in the States. The TDI clocks in at 5.2 liters per 100 kilometers (45 miles per gallon) on the highway in its federal fuel-economy estimate. But I saw a remarkable 3.9 L/100 km (60 mpg) over a 110-km (68-mile) highway run, eclipsing the Toyota Prius hybrid and setting my own personal record in a U.S.-market car. With its 2.0-liter, 112-kilowatt (150-horsepower) diesel, the Golf sipped fuel at well under 5.6 L/100 km during our test drive while cruising at 110 kilometers per hour.
Gasoline Golf models include the brilliant 157-kW (210-hp) GTI. With a 2.0-L direct-injected four that’s a near twin of the Audi A4’s engine, the GTI hustles to 97 km/h in 5.8 seconds and steers like a junior Porsche—but for just US $26,000 to start. GTI and TDI models get a six-speed, dual-clutch direct-shift gearbox, a seven-speed version of which does duty in the roughly $250,000 Lamborghini Huracán. For zero-emission fans, the e-Golf is the handling standout among affordable plug-ins like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. Ten percent more aerodynamic than the standard Golf, the $35,445 electric VW gets its go from an 85-kW synchronous electric motor that maxes out at 12,000 rpm, driving the front wheels through a single-speed gearbox. The e-Golf does take about 10 seconds to reach 100 km/h, because it’s weighed down by a 318-kilogram, 24.2-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. But VW claims the e-Golf scoots from a standstill to 30 km/h in just 4.2 seconds—faster than the GTI, thanks to a heady 270 newton meters (199 foot-pounds) of torque.