With another 10Best Cars win for 2018, the Golf is a fixture on our awards circuit. We’re not dispensing the honor out of habit—the Golf is truly excellent. It comes standard with a 170-hp turbo inline-four and a six-speed manual; a six-speed automatic is available. The Golf is responsive, predictable, and genuinely fun to drive. The hatchback makes the Golf practical, its price makes it attainable, and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto serve as sweeteners for the younger crowd.
Marketers are nothing without their jargon. They love to make broad generalizations about your hypothetical car-buying trajectory and the path that leads you into the driver’s seat, simplistically categorizing car shoppers with decisive-sounding heuristics like “purchase funnel” and “customer journey.” And many small cars feel as if they were intended to be a cheap and not very satisfying entry point into a brand’s portfolio, deliberately holding back features and content to lure the buyer into that perfect marketing-prescribed journey toward more profitable models.
The Volkswagen Golf stands in stark contrast to this catch-and-move-up strategy. This is precisely why we’ve honored it with a 10Best Cars award now eight years running, as it truly feels as if VW hasn’t held back any of its vast carmaking know-how, while eschewing nearly all of the obvious cost-cutting measures found in many of its competitors’ compact hatchbacks. If you never drove anything more expensive in the VW (or even Audi) hierarchy, in many ways you’d not miss much—the brand’s character is fully expressed in the Golf. And here’s why it gets so much engineering love: Although a relatively small player in the United States, the Golf is the VW behemoth’s global best-seller (nearly a million were sold last year), making this model as critical to VW as the F-150 pickup is to Ford.