The Volkswagen Golf is known for being fun to drive. The 2023 version keeps its reputation as a hot hatch, especially with the standard six-speed manual transmission, and also has a stylish interior with plenty of room for cargo. Drawbacks are some cheap cabin materials and a clunky infotainment system.
Base Price: $39,070
As Tested: $39,335
Mileage: 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined
The Golf is now in its eighth generation. It was first introduced in 1976 in Europe and 1983 in the U.S. The Golf GTI got a makeover for the 2022 model year including new exterior and interior styling, more power and a new infotainment system. For 2023, The Golf GTI gets some minor cosmetic changes and LED headlights and LED fog lights with active cornering lights are now standard.
The 2023 Golf comes in four trims: S, 40th Anniversary Edition, SE, and Autobahn. Starting prices range from $30,530 and $39,870. These prices are a bit high for a compact car, but not so spendy for a performance-oriented car. All have front-wheel drive. There’s room for five passengers in two rows of seating.
All trims are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is available.
Yep, this hot hatch will put a smile on your face. Acceleration is brisk from a stop and there’s plenty of power for merging and passing at freeway speeds. Steering and brakes are responsive and the Golf corners well with little body roll. The suspension has a good Goldilocks blend – not to firm and not too cushy. The six-speed manual shifts easily and smoothly. Visibility is good all the way around. Whether you’re tackling a curvy back road or cruising down the highway, the Golf is a joy to drive!
Fuel efficiency is about average for a compact car. EPA ratings for my tester are 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with a combined rating of 27. I got 27 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving. Models with the automatic transmission do slightly better at 24 mpg city and 34 highway with a combined rating of 28.
The cabin is stylish with a clean design. My tester has attractive plaid upholstery. But there are some cheap materials including hard plastics. Front seats are comfortable even on long drives thanks to supportive bolstering. Front row passengers have good leg- and headroom. Second row passengers have limited legroom but two average-size adults will be fine on shorter trips.
Standard features include pushbutton start, rearview camera, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, heated front sport seats, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, infotainment system with a 8.25-inch touchscreen, seven-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, four USB ports, wireless device charging, ambient LED interior lighting, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Available features include a head-up display, proximity keyless entry, tri-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, infotainment system with 10-inch touchscreen, nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, satellite radio, navigation, voice recognition, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hot spot, adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beams, and a panoramic sunroof.
Standard driver assistance technologies include forward collision warning, forward automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, highway driving assist, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, pedestrian and cyclist detection, front and rear parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Available driver assistance technologies include park assist and traffic-sign recognition.
The infotainment system looks good. Graphics are sharp and the system responds quickly to commands. However, menus aren’t always arranged logically and there are few physical controls – not even a volume knob. Instead, you have to use the touchscreen or small haptic buttons on the dash and steering wheel. So making a simple climate or audio adjustment can be challenging while driving.
Cargo space is great for a compact car. There are 19.9 cubic feet in the hatch with both rows of seating in place and 34.5 cubes with the second row folded. The second row split-folds 60/40, providing flexibility in hauling people and cargo.
Quick and sporty driving dynamics
Fun to drive
Lots of cargo space
Decent list of standard features and tech
Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Clunky infotainment system
Some cheap materials in the cabin
My tester starts at $39,070. Moonstone Gray Metallic paint is $395. There’s a $1,225 credit as standard seating features were replaced with cloth seating surfaces with Scalepaper Plaid inserts; driver’s seat: heated, manual adjustable plus power recline – no power driver’s seat or position memory; and no front seat ventilation. Destination charge is $1,095 bringing the grand total to $39,335.
The 2023 Volkswagen Golf GTI lives up to its hot hatch billing. It’s quick and fun to drive, whether you’re zipping on twisty back roads or cruising on the freeway. The cabin is stylish and there’s lots of cargo space. The only real drawback is the infotainment system which is not very user friendly.