By Frank S. Washington
NNPA Columnist

SAN FRANCISCO – Ready. Set. Golf.

That is the new advertising tag line for the most important car in Volkswagen’s lineup. We came to the City By The Bay to test drive the 2015 Volkswagen Golf.

This car has been around for 40 years, it has sold more than 30 million, it was called the Rabbit for more than a dozen years and it replaced the original Volkswagen Beetle, a true automotive icon.

In a phrase, Volkswagen cannot afford, figuratively and rhetorically, a misfire on the 7th generation of the Golf. The early verdict is the German automaker has done a good job of covering all the bases in the realm of compact cars with the new Golf.

The design was evolutionary. In other words, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf was easily identifiable as a Golf. But the car was longer, wider and lower than the model it replaced. It even had more storage space but less weight. The lines were crisper and there was an angularity that was uniform. The line of the fuel door opening matched the upward sweep of the line of rear door opening.

The grille was narrower, the hood was more sloped, the headlight cluster was sharper, and overall the lines were crisper, sharper, more contemporary. The new Golf was also more slippery with a drag coefficient that was reduced to 0.29 from 0.32 and that improved fuel efficiency.

We’ve always felt that Volkswagen didn’t get enough credit for the execution of its interiors. Fit and finish was great in the new Golf, interior space had been increased; there was plenty of room for a pair of men on the test drive.

The center stack in the new Golf was tilted toward the driver, the driver’s seat was moved back creating more leg room and the white backlit controls gave the car an upscale feel which was Volkswagen’s goal.

Volkswagen said the interior trim featured soft-touch plastic, chrome, aluminum and piano-black finishes; that was plastic, too. But it all worked well and none of it looked or felt cheap in any of the models we test drove.

The new Golf comes in two door or four door models; it can be equipped with either a turbocharged gasoline engine or a turbocharged diesel. Either powerplant can be mated to a six-speed manual or automatic six-speed transmission.

Then there is the GTI. Every engine offered in the Golf lineup had or will have more horsepower, more torque and consume less fuel. First we test drove the new GTI. It had a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that made 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque at an awfully low 1500 rpm. In the performance model, the engine makes 220 horsepower.

The suspension had been stiffened, the dual clutch transmission shifted gears rapidly, body roll was minimized and the car stuck to the narrow twisting two lane roads of East Bay Hills and Tilden Park above Oakland without a tire screech.

The car was quiet and mannerly as we went through the residential neighborhoods of Albany and Berkley that were filled with American Craftsman homes. Once we got to the lunch stop, we switched to a regular Golf.

Powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that made 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, we noticed that car didn’t feel as tight as the GTI and there was more body roll as we were going through the hills of the North Bay area. That’s one of the down sides of test driving the more muscular version of a car first.

Still, the regular Golf performed well. This was a compact car meant to be driven every day, it had plenty of cargo space, up to 52 cu. ft. with the back seats folded, and it could fit four people nicely.

You could imagine the car dirty, inside and out, from mundane usage and the owner coming to think of the Golf as a family member. Which is the feeling shared we think by most owners of late model Golfs.

About the only complaint we had was that Volkswagen again has opted not to put a USB jack in the Golf and that probably will hold true of the rest of VW’s lineup as it switches to the new electronic architecture. However, at least this time round, the in-house iPhone connection is for the latest generation.

We got the chance to take the e-Golf for a short spin. This electric powered e-Golf will go on sale in the fourth quarter of 2014. A 700 lb. lithium-ion battery powered the electric motor.

The 199 pound-feet of torque was immediate in this car. Beyond the relative silence, there was only a slight whine of the electric motor, the car had all the driving characteristics of an internal combustion driven Golf. The e-Golf will have a range of 70 to 90 miles and it will have a standard fast charging capability of 80 percent within 30 minutes. And to lessen what Volkswagen called range anxiety, the e-Golf comes with a roadside assistance plan.

Prices start at $18,815 for the Volkswagen Golf, $22,815 for the Volkswagen Golf TDI (diesel) and $25,215 for the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.

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