Driven: Golf still a spunky Rabbit 45 years later

VW hatchback stays affordable and fun in its middle age

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Volkswagen's Golf is well into its 7th generation with its 2020 model | Larry Edsall photos

If you remember when Volkswagen introduced its Golf hatchback to the American automotive marketplace, you might not want to admit it. That’s because it was 45 years ago, when the hatchback was badged for U.S. distribution as the Rabbit.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Golf is well into its seventh-generation platform update and available in six different versions — Golf, Golf GLI, Golf R, e-Golf, SportWagon and Alltrack. 

Actually, for 2020 that just-plain Golf actually is the Golf TSI and is priced at $23,195 with a 6-speed manual transmission and at $23,995 with an 8-speed automatic.

But as always has been the case with the Rabbit/Golf, the basic version is a spunky little blast to drive. While the 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is small, it also is turbocharged so it provides 147 horsepower and, at just 1,400 rpm, 184 pound-feet of torque. 

About the only choices you have as the buyer involve transmission and color —blue, white, black or gray.

There are no other options, but there are accessories, such as various roof racks or a tablet holder that fits on the back of the front seat. 

But who needs options when the TSI is a lot of fun and affordable as well just the way it is?

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Seats are comfortable and heated up front. There’s a standard power tilt-and-slide sunroof. A push-button starter. Power windows.  Forward collision warning. Blind-spot mirrors. Rear traffic alert. Touchscreen controls for audio, with Bluetooth and VW’s Car-Net and wi-fi, with a Car-Net app for your Apple Watch or Android Wear should you be into such devices. There’s even a way to have the car tell you where off-street parking is available. 

While small in footprint, VW says the 2020 Golf is solid of body, thanks not only to a higher percentage than usual of high-strength, hot-formed steel, but to laser clamp welding that uses a “wobble seam” pattern to maximize weld strength. 

Golf has always had sure-footed and responsive suspension and steering, and the 2020 Golf gets VW’s XDS Cross Differential System, an electronic substitute for a mechanical limited-split setup. Wheels are 16 inches in diameter with 11.3-inch vented discs up front and 10.7-inchers at the rear.

The turbo responds quickly and the steering response may be even quicker. The result is a relatively inexpensive car that is still fun to drive.  

Pity, however, that we couldn’t do more driving. As we were heading out for a long drive that day before the car went back, a start/stop error and engine computer warning lights illuminated on the dashboard. Rather than risk serious damage, our long drive was shorted to less than 10 miles as we returned home. Last we saw, the Golf was being driven to a local VW dealership for service.

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The report from the dealer was that there was nothing wrong, but that sometimes under heavy loads the “electric panel control” warning light illuminates. The day it happened was our first triple-digit temperature day of the year (it hit 104) and I had switched to max a/c as I headed down my street.

2020 Volkswagen Golf TSI

Vehicle type: 5-passenger hatchback, front-wheel drive

Base price: $23,995 Price as tested: $24,915

Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4, 147 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm, 184 pound-feet of torque @ 1,400 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 103.8 inches Overall length/width: 167.6 inches / 70.8 inches

Curb weight: 3,012 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 29 city / 35 highway / 32 combined

Assembled in: Mexico

For more information, visit the Volkswagen website.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

1 COMMENT

  1. I live in Germany and drive a Rabbit. The 1,4 150 hp (turbo charged and Conpresser) has a bad reputation over here sorry, every Mechanic told me to leave my fingers from it. The newer model 2018’s and later also have 150 hp but it’s a 1,5L. That’s what I have. This is a great motor and I drive a Chevelle SS 396 350hp so I was sure surprised how much Torque this litlle 1,5 has. Realy happy with it, goes like heck and in the low rev’s. brings you up a hill without having to shift down. You’d never guess you have a 1,5 under the hood. 0-100 8.1 Sec. Runs on Fumes And they are more reliable. Sorry about you’re 1,4. Fast cars but….

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