by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - The 2015 Volkswagen GTI will be the first of the Golf lineup to arrive in the U.S. It carries a 210-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine under the hood.
The Volkswagen Golf turns 40 this year. Originally designed as a replacement for the venerable VW Beetle, the Golf (as it was known in Europe) came to America with the Rabbit nameplate. It’s been marketed under both labels at various times through those 40 years, selling over 30 million units worldwide.

In 2014 and early 2015, a new family of Golfs will arrive in the U.S. The 7th generation has been on sale in Europe for some time, but the lineup will start U.S. sales with the sporty GTI model in June, followed by the standard Golf and the diesel TDI in August. Later in 2014 and early 2015 will bring the high-performance Golf R model, the electric E-Golf, and the Golf Sportwagen, which replaces the Jetta Sportwagen.

I recently had the opportunity to test a variety of the new models, including the GTI, Golf, Golf TDI and E-Golf, as well as several past Golf models.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT -  Leading the way on the 2015 GTI are interesting round projector headlights surrounded by angular LED accent lights.
All the new Golfs feature sharper looks than the outgoing model, but the design changes are certainly more evolutionary than groundbreaking. All retain the familiar boxy hatch silhouette that’s been successful since the first Rabbit, with the new models featuring crisper lines and a lower, wider and longer stance than before. They’re about 2 inches longer, .5 inches wider, but lose 1.1 inches in height. That’s a product of VW’s new “MQB” modular architecture, which will form the basic structure of many more of the brand’s models.

The cabin has been pushed back in the design, creating a longer nose and what Volkswagen calls a “cab backward” stance. It also creates greater interior room, especially for rear seat passengers and cargo. The rear seats fold in a 60/40 configuration to a nearly flat load floor, which itself is lower due to the car’s reduced height. Despite the increased width and length, extensive use of high-strength steel has substantially reduced the overall weight of the cars.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - The 2015 E-Golf shares most of it's dash with the rest of the lineup, except for the tachometer that's been replaced with a power meter and energy system pages on the infotainment screen.
Volkswagens are known for their simple, almost Spartan, interior designs. But while the new Golf family echoes that heritage, it does so with a much improved selection of interior materials. It’s no longer a sea of hard plastics, with modern soft-touch materials plentiful. Chrome, aluminum, and piano black accents complete the more upscale environments. Seating is comfortable and supportive, especially in the sport-oriented GTI models. All of the versions driven feature a more natural driving position than before.

The finishes naturally vary greatly over the wide span of trim levels, but all feature a standard 5.8-inch touchscreen information and entertainment interface. That touchscreen uses capacitive-touch technology, rather than the more common, but less versatile, pressure sensitive screens used in many vehicles. Navigation and a quality Fender-branded audio system are available on upper trims.

Bluetooth is standard across the lineup. The vehicles feature hard-wire connection for Apple devices, but inexplicably offer no USB ports for users of other devices.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - C-shaped LED accents, unique wheels, and a blue stripe across the nose distinguish the E-Golf from its counterparts. It's set to arrive later this year.
The new GTI arrives in June, sporting a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cylinder engine under the hood. With 210-horsepower — 10 more than before — the GTI definitely carries on the “hot hatch” tradition that the original GTI pioneered. For just $1,495 more, buyers can opt for a performance package that features engine re-tuning to produce another 10-horsepower, plus an advanced torque-sensing limited-slip differential.

Two gearboxes are available in the GTI including a standard 6-speed manual and an optional lightning-fast shifting 6-speed DSG dual-clutch. With the manual, the GTI records EPA estimated mileage of 25/city and 34 on the highway — 3 mpg higher than the outgoing model, despite the increase in horsepower. Both 2- and 4-door GTI models will be available.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - The Golf Sportwagen will replace the Jetta Sportwagen when it enters the market in early 2015. Both gasoline and diesel engines will be available.
The segment that the GTI plays in is rather competitive, featuring such nameplates as the Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX, Honda Civic Si and Mazda3. It’s hard to pick a single winner from the bunch.

The Golf and diesel Golf TDI are scheduled to arrive in dealerships in August. The Golf carries the brand’s new 1.8-liter TSI turbo that is replacing the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter across the entire VW lineup. It earns EPA estimated mileage that’s about 20 percent (6 mpg) better than the 2.5, with 26 mpg expected in the city and 37 on the highway. A special “launch” edition will be offered for the first year of sales. At $17,995 it will be the most affordable Golf model. The Golf will be offered in both 2- and 4-door models.

Portland touts one of the highest levels of diesel sales for any U.S. market, and the 2015 Golf TDI is set to continue that trend. The Golf features the newest diesel engine in VW’s lineup, a 2.0-liter turbocharged model that touts 10 more horsepower than the outgoing model at 150-horsepower and 40 percent lower emissions. EPA estimated mileage is up a bit to 31/city and 42/highway, but VW’s diesel estimates have always been quite easy to surpass in real-world driving.

The old TDI was pretty awesome, but the new one is even better. Not only is it more powerful with an exceptionally wide peak torque band, but it’s quieter and more refined than the outgoing model. Pair the performance gains with the Golf’s reduced overall weight, and the TDI-equipped Golf handles around town with the nimble performance that buyers are used to with gasoline engines, but with greatly enhanced efficiency.

Unlike previous Golf TDIs, the new diesel powertrain requires exhaust aftertreatment. This necessitates the occasional replenishment of AdBlue, a urea and water solution designed to remove particulates from the exhaust stream.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Powering the 2015 E-Golf is a 115-horsepower electric motor that produces 199 ft-lbs. of torque. Real-world range is expected to be between 70 and 90 miles.

Coming late in the year, will be the newest entrant to the battery-electric vehicle market. Similar to a regular Golf with a few aerodynamic and appearance changes, the E-Golf features an expected 70-90 mile range in a fun-to-drive package. With 199 ft-lbs. of available torque, it’s easy to chirp the tires with the sprightly 4-door. It will be one of the first vehicles on the market to feature a standard “Combined Charging System” fast charging connection. The fast charger will allow the vehicle to be charged to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes.

In early 2015, the Golf Sportwagen will arrive in the U.S. market, replacing the popular Jetta Sportwagen in VW’s lineup. Like all other models in the Golf lineup, it’s expected to be longer and wider than its predecessor, more powerful, and capable of better fuel economy. Both gasoline and diesel variants will be offered.

Also in the first quarter of 2015, the high-performance Golf R will go on sale in American. The Golf R will boast 290-horsepower that it will put to the pavement through a standard 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Volkswagen projects that the Golf R will go from 0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Models: 2- and 4-door Golf, Golf GTI.

4-door Golf TDI, E-Golf, Golf R.

4-door Golf Sportwagen

Base prices: Golf $17,995, Golf TDI $21,995, Golf GTI $24,395 (all plus $820 destination charge)

Prices for other variants yet to be announced.

Type: 2- or 4-door front-wheel drive compact hatchback (Golf R all-wheel drive)

Length: 167.5 inches (base vehicle)

Weight: 2,901 lbs. (base vehicle)

EPA Estimated Mileage: Base manual transmission 26 city/37 highway, TDI manual transmission 31/42

Final Assembly: Puebla, Mexico

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