SAN FRANCISCO -- America has never fallen in love with the hatchback the way Europe has. Volkswagen wants to change that.
With its seventh-generation Golf and Golf GTI, now made for the United States in Puebla, Mexico, rather than Germany, VW had a chance to drive down costs and lower sticker prices in pursuit of market share. But instead, VW reinvested in smooth powertrains and practical-yet-refined interiors that outclass most rivals.
The exception is the diesel-fueled variant, with a roughly $3,000 price cut. A four-door Golf TDI with an automatic transmission will start at $23,915, including shipping; the sticker price was around $27,000 each of the past three years.
The GTI goes on sale in June, followed by the Golf and Golf TDI in August.
The basics: Along with the new Audi A3, the Golf and GTI use VW's new modular architecture for front-wheel-drive cars with transverse-mounted engines. Both models come in two-door and four-door variants, with a choice of manual and automatic transmissions.
The basic Golf gets the same 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline engine used in the Jetta, Passat and Beetle, or VW's new 2-liter EA288 diesel engine, which gets an estimated fuel economy of 32 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway.
The GTI offers only a 2-liter turbocharged gasoline engine, with an optional $1,495 Performance Package that boosts horsepower to 220 from 210. But even the base engine packs a wallop with 258 pounds-feet of torque -- a 25 percent increase over the previous engine.
During a mix of driving on the streets of Berkeley, Calif., and the hilly country roads to the city's east, the GTI proved versatile. Purists might balk at a fwd sports car, but the GTI took curves with none of the fuss or squealing they might expect. Even the basic Golf, which lacks the GTI's sport suspension, felt composed in the corners.