Volkswagen officially killed off the base model Mk7 Golf in January — the iconic hatchback had been reduced to one trim and on life support due to exceedingly poor sales. And that's probably understating it. The e-Golf nearly outsold the base Golf in 2019. The Mk8 version will only be coming to the U.S. in GTI and Golf R form.
The decision makes sense for VW. The incoming Taos crossover may eclipse the base Golf's yearly sales total in a month. But VW putting the Golf out of its American misery still leaves a sour taste. Despite its age, the Mk7 Golf was still perhaps the best cheap car on sale in America, the perfect combination of driving fun, affordability, efficiency and practicality.
I got a chance to drive both outgoing Mk7 Golf models, the purists' 6-speed manual in late 2020 and the still not-so-terrible 8-speed automatic in 2021. And it's a car that I will miss, even if the instrument display got very naggy toward the end.
The Golf Is Fun to Drive
The Golf is a driver’s car on a sub-$25,000 budget. It only has 147 horsepower. But it has a fluid-shifting manual transmission (or the decent eight-speed auto, if you’re into that sort of thing). It puts out 184 lb-ft of torque, which comes on strong enough to make it quick at low speeds. The Golf is not as laser-like as a GTI, but it handles precisely for a cheap car. As far as 1.4-liter four-pots go, it even gives you some decent engine growl.
While driving the manual, I rolled up to a car media event, parked it next to the line of puffed-up Mercs and Maseratis — and realized that I probably had the most fun getting there. I’d even venture to say the manual base Golf's growl reminded me of the 1984 GTI I drove more than the current GTI.
The Golf Is Refined
The Golf is like the Honda Accord, in that Volkswagen started with a great car and has spent nearly years softening the edges and making gradual improvements.
It’s a more elevated driving experience than the price tag would suggest. No, the Golf doesn’t deliver auditory solitude, and you do feel the bumps. But it’s also a $24,000 compact car that can cruise comfortably at 90 mph without you realizing you’re going that fast.
The Golf Is Practical and Efficient
The Golf offers up to 53.7 cubic feet of cargo space. That's not CR-V level, but it’s on par with popular crossovers like the Jeep Cherokee, Audi Q5 and Porsche Macan. It’s also reasonably fuel-efficient without any fancy hybrid tech (just annoying eco-friendly reminders on the dash). The EPA rates the Golf at 28 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined. And as any VW owner could tell you, it may beat that estimate significantly in real driving.
The Golf Has Not Been Outmoded
Buyers are still looking for fun, affordable small cars. It’s why every automaker wants a Hyundai Kona/Kia Seltos/Mazda CX-30 in the lineup. Those cars are — in function if not in form — small hatchbacks trying to fill the Golf’s niche. And the Golf drives better than any of them, probably at a cheaper price point.
Why do they succeed where the Golf fails? It’s down to ride height, cladding, and, perhaps, all-wheel-drive.
Speaking of which, do you know what car converts well to lifting and cladding? The VW Golf, whether it’s an officially sanctioned Steyer-Daimler Puch built concept or a home-built job with a 2000s VW Rabbit. Just saying.