2020 Volkswagen Golf TSI new car reviews

After recently test driving the sporty  Golf GTI and Jetta GLI, we sampled the more pedestrian Golf TSI. We do love our performance cars, but would something more “normal” still be rewarding? 

Only one trim is available for the Golf TSI, and it's powered by a turbocharged, 1.4-liter, inline-four engine good for 147 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. For transmissions, you have the choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic.

Our test car came equipped with an automatic transmission and the only other major option available: leatherette seats.

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J.G. Pasterjak JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

We’ve had a lot of VW Golf variants in the press fleet rotation lately. These included the highly-optioned GTI and Jetta GLI, which fit with the theme of press fleet services primarily stocking the most optioned premium models. So when a base model Golf TSI with the 1.4-liter turbocharged base motor showed up, our curiosity was piqued to drive a more basic version of the high-end stuff we normally see.

And I think the takeaway message here is that there’s a lot of value, even at the lower end of the lineup curve where VW is concerned. While the GTI and Jetta GLI have evolved into world-class performance cars, worthy of discussion alongside machinery from their more traditionally high-end German counterparts, the base Golf has quietly developed into a feature-rich, driver-centric machine of its own that delivers a lot for its sub $25,000 sticker price. Our test car was fairly loaded with an automatic and the leatherette interior, which are the only major options available. The rest of the options sheet is dealer level items, most of which are probably available cheaper on the aftermarket, but may be easier to just roll into your loan at the time of purchase.

But what you get with the base Golf feels anything but basic. The 1.4-liter 147hp engine isn’t powerful in the sense of the GTI or GLI, but the turbo produces a nice, rising power curve that makes it feel peppier than the mere numbers would suggest. And what it lacks in power compared to the GTI it delivers back in terms of economy. VW rates the 1.4-liter variant at 32mpg combined, but even with our test car’s 8-speed auto we easily surpassed that figure, even with lots of city driving. It wouldn’t surprise us to hear owners reporting economy figures in the high-30s, approaching the most efficient range of non-hybrid compacts out there at the moment.

And somehow VW has managed to package this economy into a container that does not feel like an “economy” car. While some of the surfaces and materials are clearly less high-end than the GTI and GLI, nothing inside the car feels cheap or compromised. The switches and buttons all operate with a quality heft and feel, and the driving manners are VW typical, which is to say highly engaging with enough feedback to make you feel engaged in the drive, but not so much it becomes exhausting. With a more economy-focused set of tires and a less-aggressive suspension than the GTI, limits are obviously lower, but the typical VW personality remains well intact.

The 7th-gen Golfs will soon be supplanted by the 8th-generation model, but we’ve appreciated the farewell tour we’ve been taking with all these MQB Mk7 models in the press fleet the last couple months. If the Mk8 is better than the Mk7 it will be quite an accomplishment, but in any case, there’s probably going to be some excellent deals available on leftover Mk7 hardware once the new cars hit dealerships.

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