Stick Shift: 2016 VW Golf GTI

Here in the states, the Volkswagen Jetta or Passat might top the sales charts, but everywhere else, the undisputed king from VW is the Golf. Naturally, it’s back for another round in 2016, with subtle changes to a vehicle that’s already well rounded and globally popular for a reason. While the diesel model I reviewed last year is on hiatus until VW works on making it honestly and truly emissions compliant, there’s still an expansive range of Golf models to chose from in 2016. From the Eco-conscious e-Golf, to the sporty GTI and rip roaring Golf R. Lastly we have my model this week, the SEL. Falling somewhere in the middle, it’s not too edgy and not too tame.

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The top trim SEL Golf boasts beautiful 18″ wheels, dual-zone climate control, sporty front seats, navigation, interior LED lighting and more. The cabin is handsomely arranged and due to be a big hit if you’re a fan of the color black. Volkswagen creates a sense of variety amidst the complete absence of any color by using different textures and finishes on the interior pieces. From glossy panels to leatherette seats and dark faux carbon-fiber trim, the result is an impressive level of refinement and polish.

A thick, flat-bottom steering wheel with tucked away paddle shifters help to add a sporty element, while the new touchscreen boasts the latest smartphone integration system. Just plug in the newest i6 Galaxy Z10 something or other and you’ll be fully connected and ready to go. Overall look and feel remains on a higher level than many competitors, and the back seat still offers enough leg room for the average sized humanoid.

Nothing has been radically changed on the outside either. The design direction of this generation Golf takes a subtle, sensible approach, though the R model will definitely turn up the heat. This new body style is longer, wider and more practical than past entries. Up front the lines are tighter and the headlamps are set wider, maturing the look. A long power sunroof and gray metallic paint round off a final product that falls somewhere between practical and provocative.

A major change we do get is Volkswagens decision to dump the old, inefficient engine for a 1.8L turbo-4. This little charmer makes 170 hp and manages 29 mpg combined in the process. It’s a lively engine, out-accelerating most other compact cars at stop-light throw downs. Naturally, the GTI and R are sportier, but the SEL is still full of character and corners flat and tight thanks in part to its four-wheel independent suspension. While the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 will attack the twists and turns with more control and confidence, the new Golf has the advantage of being more at ease under normal driving conditions. More absorbent and less abrupt than its sportier peers, soaking up road imperfections and riding super smooth and quite, especially at highway speeds.

The 2016 VW Golf SEL adds a necessary pinch of salt to an already delicious dish. We get updated tech to help our smartphones control even more facets of our life, a much needed true USB port and loads of great driving aides like lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, automated parallel parking and a back-up camera. It’s no wonder the Golf has been one of the best selling cars globally since horse hoofs got traded in for tires. And with a growing family now including hatchbacks, wagons, hybrids and high performers, each fun, affordable and remarkably polished, their really is something for everyone.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $29,740.00

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