2021 Volkswagen Golf nears end of life cycle, continues to be steady performer

This photo provided by Volkswagen shows the 2021 Golf, a practical hatchback with lots of storage space and a comfortable ride. (Volkswagen of America via AP)
This photo provided by Volkswagen shows the 2021 Golf, a practical hatchback with lots of storage space and a comfortable ride. (Volkswagen of America via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

I’ll be completely forthright and honest here (I always am!). We automotive journalists are an entitled bunch. Spoiled might be a better word. I get about 60 vehicles to drive per year. That means you get a slew of memorable and not-so-memorable vehicles. There’s usually only a handful that stand out, truly.

Then there’s the rest. These are the vehicles that most people would buy. That most people could afford. These are the vehicles that get you from home to work and back just fine but doesn’t generate the goosebumps or offer you’re the massaging seats that some of us have grown accustomed to.

All of that being said, it doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate an affordable car when I have one. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t be fair and critical of one when it doesn’t have enough. This week’s tester will demonstrate that I can both appreciate an inexpensive car but also be fair in my criticism. Watch how it’s done.

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The 2021 Volkswagen Golf is at the end of its current iteration. This is the seventh generation of the Golf and final year under this setup. As such, it has no major changes for the 2021 model year. And sadly it feels unchanged – for several years (see that’s the critical part). But, for a car with a starting price under $24,000, it has a lot going for it (this is the fair portion of my insight).

The Golf has hatchback-like looks, although there’s a Sportswagen version that has more sex appeal and would be more my preference. However, despite lacking any stylistic updates this model year, the Golf still doesn’t look so old that it feels outdated, but certainly could use some refreshes and more modern amenities (inside).

From the outside it’s a car with some personality with a pointy front end with squinty head lights. Indents that start right at the head lights lead up the A-pillar and toward the side panels to give a complete look. The back end still feels like a hatchback and even has a small spoiler on top to give it a little bit of a sporty look. There’s a bit of an old-school vibe that I can’t quite put my finger on for the rest of the back side of the Golf.

It feels like an old Volkswagen rather than a new one and I kind of like that. The chromed-out exhaust pipes also add to the sports appeal. Even though it’s in need of a refresh, it also has distinction and for that I can appreciate it.

I generally like small, turbocharged engines. And usually these turbo four bangers over perform their output numbers. That’s not the case this time with the Golf which lacks any amount of excitement and gets 147 horsepower, and not one horse more. It’s poky off the line and seems to take its time getting up to speed. This is where the Golf could really use some updating as the rest of the competition have passed it by.

The eight-speed automatic transmission is a saving grace for this powertrain but can’t save the doldrums created from this engine.

The turning radius is outstanding and it drives small, which is a good thing. For an underpowered vehicle it doesn’t feel heavy and has responsive steering to help redeem it further.

The interior is a mixed bag of impressive and outdated, to match much of the rest of the Golf’s persona. The touchpoints are good and surpass some of the other Volkswagen brand vehicles that have some harder materials. The Golf has higher quality touchpoints that feel like a car priced much higher than $24,000. Likewise, the cargo room is outstanding.

There’s 22.8 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row seat. The hatch-like styling is conducive for that cargo haul. Fold down the second row seat and the cargo area increases to 52.7 cubic feet. You won’t find much better cargo room in a compact car than this.

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The infotainment system is where the Golf shows its age. The outdated infotainment system is cumbersome and lacks much impressive technology. This is where me, the spoiled auto writer, feels most entitled and where I get most critical. I want easy-to-use infotainment systems with tons of technology. The Golf has barely enough technology that would’ve appeased me five years ago, and certainly doesn’t appease me now.

So I look forward to what Volkswagen will do with the Golf as they’ve got great technology in their vehicles. The Golf just desperately needs that upgrade.

The small engine is good for fuel economy as the Golf has an EPA rating of 29 mpg/city and 36 mpg/highway. I averaged nearly 34 mpg in mixed suburban driving. Since it felt poky, I didn’t throttle hard, thus helping it achieve better fuel economy.

My tester was the Golf TSI which was priced at $23,995. That is one of the top 15 lowest-priced vehicles I’ve driven this year, offering a lot of value.

As I type this last paragraph of this review I will likely forget all about the Golf, but that doesn’t mean it lacks merit. Just take it for what it is, and don’t expect it to be something it’s not. That’s what I try to do every week with my car reviews and hope I don’t come off too much like an elitist.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at jimmydinsmore73@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2021 Volkswagen Golf TSI

  • Price/As tested price................................................ $23,995/23,995$
  • Mileage.......................................... 29 mpg/city; 36 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 1.4-liter four-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 147 hp/184 lbs./ft.
  • Transmission................................. Eight-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ Front-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Puebla, Mexico

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