2015 VW Golf TSI: Putting the Fun in Functional Nearly 40 years ago, VW’s Humpty Dumpty egg-shaped empire builder, the Beetle, had a big crackup. Its sales dived. Unlike the nursery rhyme, Volkswagen reassembled itself creating the Golf (Rabbit), an archetypal subcompact hatchback. A new institution was born; it’s been the brand’s mainstay ever since. For 2015, VW hatched yet another winner: the seventh-generation Golf family built with the firm’s MQB modular toolkit. I sampled the lower, longer, wider, lighter TSI: the “S” model with 1.8-liter 170-hp gas engine version that’s the starter in a lineup that includes diesels (TDI), electric (eGolf) and two high performance thrillers—GTI and R. There’s also a handy SportWagen. Currently, the TDI mill is off limits and some TSI engines are problematic due to camshaft failures.Thus VW's new Golf has glitches. The front-drive (of course) S is a sweet deal: an automotive Kalinda Sharma (AKA Leela Tahiri, AKA Archie Panjabi). Like the chameleon-like detective on CBS’s “Good Wife,” it’s a seductively well-sleuthed compact car. It’s as if VW spied on Golf drivers eyeing what they wanted in their next Golf. Want space, it’s got it; lower fuel consumption, it does that too; well-tuned ride, done; and a modest price, try $20,115 delivered. It’s nicely equipped with perks like a Kalinda-approved leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel with switchgear. The Golf's profile pleases this hatchback fan. The car’s new look still says Golf with the rear side-window kinks and chunky “C” pillars—echoes of the 1970s original. Cab-back styling, wider hips and a sleeker roofline are handsomely executed with gem-like faceted body panels. The only downside: it’s bigger. A dewy-fresh platform resides under the familiar silhouette. Some underbody pieces are similar to the last two generations of VW’s worldwide bestseller, but differences abound. The front sub-frame is now stamped steel rather than alloy, the rear suspension pieces have been massaged, and a finned underbelly panel manages airflow at the rear axle. Under the hood, there’s a complete makeover. The horsepower is the same as the outgoing inline five-cylinder gas mill, but this time it’s an up-to-date turbo four with direct injection, cast in-head exhaust manifold, variable intake valve timing, and several friction-reducing techniques. For routine servicing the oil filter and oil dipstick reside at the engine’s top front, nearby you’ll see the electrical connections for the intake cam-tweaking device that ups the engine’s power band. Torque is abundant at almost any engine speed, plus, this engine sounds good when pushed. Balance shafts calm the mill’s quivers. VW says the engine’s timing chains are easier to service. There’s a honeycomb-ribbed plastic oil pan with sensors for oil level and temp tucked neatly below the cast-iron engine block. Attached to the output side: a long-geared five-speed manual transmission. Its ratios won’t thrill a sports car driver (the GTI’s six-speed does that), but they produce outstanding fuel economy. We’re talking a 3.39:1 final drive and .66:1 fifth gear. That means diesel-like low highway engine rpm: about 2,200 at 70 mph. I netted 42 mpg on the highway, 34 mpg overall. This was pleasantly achieved following the instrument cluster’s info screen. The shift program shows selected forward gear. It indicates whether to upshift or downshift and shows which cog number. That info screen also pops up fuel economy tips such as coasting toward stop while in gear (the fuel injectors don’t squirt during deceleration, when the engine’s above idle speed), rolling up windows at highway velocities, the impact of the A/C and a reminder to shift into fifth (fourth gear is also overdrive). Follow the shift program; the Golf is a smooth operator. Don’t and the car protests with thrumming. Those moving from earlier Golfs will note this one rolls at 20-30 mph in second gear; fifth gear isn’t ideal below 45 mpg. EPA mpg numbers: 25 city, 37 highway, 30 combined. The Golf’s manual transmission has a soft feel both at the shift lever and the clutch pedal; fifth and reverse gear detents are subtle, same for the clutch pedal. Yet, the car never stalled, gear engagement: accurate. Modestly Priced Classy Car Get inside. Close the doors. Notice the solid whump. Manual controls adjust either front seat for rake, height, lumbar and the like. Legroom is generous. VW instrumentation is sensibly sane with purposeful analogue-style gauges. Deploy the key. The switchblade fob unfolds differently than before. Inserting the key into the column slot feels awkward. Yet, the engine lights with hardly a whimper. In motion, the car is a quieter than most compacts with some road buzz on coarse pavement. Never heard a squeak either; its demeanor is what you’d expect in a more expensive auto. VW’s reputation for quality materials is largely maintained. Those up front get the royal treatment. Soft-touch dash and door panels, canted center stack with brushed metal-look inserts, leather-clad direction finder with glossy black hub with matte-metal-like trim. There’s the adjustable center armrest with rear face vents. Cubbies: abundant including a below-the-driver’s seat tray—a perk previously reserved for top-shelf models. And the overhead eyeglass holder ingests both specs and their cases. The infotainment system is new too. It’s a 5.8-inch touch screen device with proximity sensor that summons touch points, when your hand approaches. There’s an AM/FM/HD/Sat tuner plus CD and SD card inputs too. The latter two are in the air-conditioned glove box. An Apple-device interface is employed rather than USB ports (the latter arrives in 2016). Bluetooth paring works well with intuitive cell phone operation. It displays phone charge and signal strength with easy access to contact list. You can summon phone friends via voice operation. Just press the steering wheel’s button. This unit does more. It graphically presents the Golf’s miles-to-empty. Unlike previous Golfs, this one isn’t a Teutonic timekeeper. Clock displays are doused until the ignition is turned on. Previously, the clockwork was visible whenever a door opened. Lamborghini-hexagonal low-beam lighting is exceptionally even. Headlights shut off with the ignition switch, as do parking lights. Door locks can be programmed to unlock one or all doors—handy. Power points: the 12-volt socket is near the shift lever rather than on the center stack, a nuisance. A socket in the bin below the silky climate controls is preferred. Rear guests find ample seating with a center armrest or pass through for skis and the like. Side panels are hard plastic, but inserts and armrests are pliable. Besides cup holders in the armrest, there are two molded into the plastic seat surround. Both front seat backs have map pockets. Cargo gets first-class treatment. Nearly every surface is carpeted, even underneath the spare tire. Aft seatbacks fold nearly flat and can be released from the seats themselves or with cargo-bay levers. The cargo floor is adjustable and can be removed for greater stowage height. In motion, the Golf TSI is comfortable and composed. The man-machine interface is among the best in this class imparting much of the goodness that makes the Audi A3 desirable. Steering effort is well-weighted, directional stability tops and the standard 15-inch alloy wheels and tires offer a compliant ride. Those seeking sharper steering response: opt for 16-inch or 17-inch wheels with lower profile tires. Tall gearing means second gear does 20-30 mph without touching the throttle. Thus, you’ll upshift a bit later than you’d expect. Stick-shift drivers will like the standard hill assist, which clamps the brakes for a few seconds after you release the foot brake. Brake pedal effort is firm. Brake action: slightly grabby. In sum, the winsome new Golf is a good egg.