Charging up the mountain roads east of the coastal city of Porto, hitting the apexes with precision, modulating the throttle delicately: it was a day of elevated driving in a car where it all comes together. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was that we weren’t driving some exotic supercar, but rather the humble (and all-new, eighth-generation) Volkswagen Golf.
Launched in 1974 as the successor to the faithful Beetle, the Golf was the best-selling car in the world for a long time. It pioneered diesel engines in the subcompact segment, spawned the quintessential hot hatch — the GTI — and the Ferdinand-Piëch-inspired fourth-generation Golf introduced unprecedented advanced technologies and workmanship. Clearly, there’s a heritage to live up to.
Looking at it from the outside, you might mistake the eighth-gen car for a mere restyling of the previous generation. Even though not a single panel is carried over, the side view looks deceptively similar to the previous Golf, and the tail end is decidedly evolutionary as well. Only the front end looks sufficiently new, although the design’s friendly smile has proved to be polarizing.
The driving experience was almost, but not quite, as good with the 150-horsepower 1.5-liter e-TSI that utilizes a starter-generator hybrid system, rated at 184 lb-ft. With a 0-62 mph sprint of 8.5 seconds, it is slightly quicker on paper, but in reality, it feels a bit more artificial in its response and less forceful in delivery. The aural experience is a matter of taste: The 1.5 TSI sounds silky and sophisticated, the 2.0 TDI emits a subdued purr.
Down the road, VW will offer a plethora of other engines, beginning with a 90-horsepower 1.0-liter 3-cylinder TSI. Upmarket options will include a 200-horsepower GTD, two plug-in hybrids with the 245-horsepower GTE as the higher trim model, a new GTI that will make close to 250 horsepower, and a Golf R that produces well over 300 horsepower. Good news for enthusiasts: VW is committed to the manual. In fact, the lower versions get an entirely redesigned low-resistance box, while the GTI and the Golf R keep their well-proven units.
For now, Volkswagen has only promised the GTI and the Golf R for the U.S. market; customers of lesser Golfs will be directed to the Jetta. But we hope VW will reconsider: The 2020 Golf is not perfect, but it is the best entry in the segment — and one that will bring a smile to your face, regardless of the power level you choose.