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2015 Volkswagen Golf combines fun and affordability

The 2015 Golf maintains a familiar look that

The 2015 Golf maintains a familiar look that began with the first Golfs, which replaced the original Beetle in 1975. Credit: VW

Name your need and Volkswagen can likely serve up just the right Golf.

The seventh-generation of VW's small hatchback really does have what it takes, whether that means carrying you great distances on a single tank of fuel, hauling your personal effects to college or on camping trips, or allowing you to zip through traffic on your way to work, Speed Racer-style.

In Europe, the latest Golf has been around since the 2013 model year, however North Americans won't get a crack at it until this August when the cars arrive from Volkswagen's factory in Mexico. A new Golf wagon and electric-powered e-Golf will follow a few months later.

The 2015 model maintains a familiar look that began with the first Golfs, which replaced the original Beetle for 1975. Over the years, the sheet metal has become more stylish, of course, with the new model looking particularly handsome ahead of the front doors. It's also cheats the wind a little better.

The Golf has also been stretched by about two inches overall - most of it between the front and rear wheels -with width increased by about half an inch. The hatchback's elongated appearance is more pronounced due to a one-inch reduction in body height between the rocker panels and the roofline. Regardless, interior volume has increased, both for passengers and stowage.

A peek inside reveals an impressive cabin layout that's devoid of any hint of low-rent cost cutting. The front seats are well bolstered and the soft-touch dashboard and angled-toward-the-driver control panel have an upscale-ness commonly reserved for more expensive German-designed brands. In addition, all Golfs come with a 5.8-inch touch-screen infotainment system that responds to swiping and pinch-zooming/expanding, just like most smart phones.

More treats are in store between the front fenders. The base Golf runs with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. It replaces the previous non-turbo 2.5-liter five-cylinder that also pumped out 170 ponies, but had only 177 pound-feet of torque. Additionally, the lighter turbo-four helps the latest Golf weigh in at about 100 pounds less than the outgoing version.

Die-hard turbo-diesel fans will be pleased that the returning Golf TDI's 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces150 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque (a gain of 10 horsepower but the same torque rating from the previous TDI).

The base 1.8 can be ordered with a five-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic, while the TDI shifts with a six-speed manual or extra-cost six-speed automated manual.

Fuel economy has improved for both models, but it's most apparent with the 1.8-liter gas engine that earns an estimated 26 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway with the manual transmission, up from 23/33 from the previous 2.5.

Moving up to the Golf GTI gets you an improved turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 210 horsepower (a gain of 10) and 258 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices mirror those on the TDI: a six-speed manual; or optional six-speed automated manual.

If you move quickly, you can snag a limited-availability two-door Golf Launch Edition for $18,800, which includes air conditioning and the usual power-operated accessories. Otherwise the starting point is the two- or four-door Golf S that starts at $19,800 and adds alloy wheels, faux leather seating and cruise control.

Both the SE and SEL pile on the content, including 17-inch wheels (16-inchers come with lesser trims), panoramic sunroof, Fender-brand premium sound package, push-button start plus backup- and forward-collision warning systems.

Meanwhile the $25,200 GTI looks sharp with its unique 18-inch wheels, sport front seats, fog lamps, adaptive headlights (that pivot in the same direction as the car when turning) and ambient interior lighting.

Golfs sold in North America will no longer originate from Germany, but that move might keep prices low and content levels high. And varied. That's how you get the just-the-right Golf.

What you should know: 2015 Volkswagen Golf
Type: Two- /four-door, front-wheel-drive compact hatchback
Engines (hp): 1.8-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (170); 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbo-diesel (150); 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (210).
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.); six-speed manual
(std. TDI and GTI); six-speed automated manual (opt. TDI and GTI).
Market position: Volkswagen practically invented the small hatch market 40 years ago and continues to perfect the genre by improving style and space, upping the performance quotient and keeping prices affordable.
Points: Iconic hatchback is the best-looking, roomiest yet; All-turbocharged engine lineup a breakthrough in compact segment; Upgraded interior in a class by itself; Across-the-board fuel-economy improvements makes for a more enticing buy; GTI model remains a popular choice for enthusiast drivers who don't have the budget for a BMW 3-series.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG: (city/hwy) 26/37 (1.8, MT)
Base price (incl. destination): $18,800

By comparison

• Ford Focus hatchback
Base price: $19,450
Roominess and,fuel economy in a fun-to-drive package. ST model impresses.

• Kia Forte5
Base price: $20,500
High-style, spacious hatch offers more powerful engine than sedan.

• Mazda3 5-Door
Base price: $19,750
Great fuel economy in a hatchback that drives more like a sports car.

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