In the old days, a basic compact car would feature hubcaps, a vinyl bench seat, and if you were lucky, an AM radio. Forget air-conditioning. But those days are distant memories as today’s basic cars usually come with power windows, A/C, alloy wheels, and bucket seats as standard. Buy a 2019 Volkswagen Golf SE and you’ll get much more than that. To be completely truthful, our Golf is a slightly upscale edition that comes with the standard engine and leatherette seats, but punches above its status as a compact hatchback in driving refinement and interior comforts.
I could just call it a Golf and skip the exterior analysis, but that would serve a handsome car short thrift. The Golf’s iconic two- box shape remains, but sleeker lines keep it current. LED running lights and taillights plus 17” wheels, a step up from standard 16” alloys, add a sense of sportiness. And, nobody creases sheetmetal like Volkswagen – every line is precisely formed. The rear looks Euro handsome, but the dual exhaust outlets are fake.
Slide inside and slam the tomb-solid doors for a feeling of security not experienced since mom displaced you from her womb. Fwomp! Only the steering wheel is leather-wrapped, but heated leatherette seats are firmly bolstered and all-day supportive in the German tradition. There’s no navigation or Fender audio, but the 6-speaker system with Bluetooth and USB inputs sounds fine. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allow you to connect devices, making access to your map app super simple.
Manual climate controls conjure an arctic wind in summer and Sahara heat in winter. Got gear? Flip down the seats and throw it through the wide hatch. Open the power sunroof and enjoy. And, what about safety? No car in the old basic era would have come with a full suite of tech that includes adaptive cruise, forward collision warning with auto brake, lane keep assist, and blind spot warning. There’s also a rear view camera, rain-sensing wipers, and rear traffic alert. Times have changed.
I’d have no complaints about the standard 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which routes 147 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, if I didn’t know better. It’s smooth, peppy, and achieves 29/37-MPG city/highway. I know better because I enjoyed last year’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 170 horsepower, which is considerably better – especially when matched with the manual transmission. The current model will cruise effortlessly at highway speeds, but the old engine craved fast left lanes. Taken in balance, the latest edition ticks up the MPGs a few points.
Fortunately, nobody saw a need to dumb down the chassis. The four-wheel independent suspension system is firm in corners, but glides over rough pavement like a much larger and more expensive car. It seemingly streams the road to your nervous system, engaging your inner driver like not other practical commuter car. Out on the highway, it soaks up wide expanses of asphalt like a champ. Steering is light, but direct. I could drive it cross-country with little complaint.
So, what’s the downside to this somewhat basic VW? It’s time for a redesign, which is coming during 2020. Interior materials look upscale, but are mostly rubber and hard plastic (especially the rear doors). And, then there’s the price. The Golf starts at $21,845, but came to $27,435 as-tested. That’s a tad dear, but for all it offers, seems fair against competitors like the Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla hatches.
Contact Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com; follow him on YouTube @AutoCasey.