2018 Volkswagen Golf Family: Ignore That Diesel Behind The Curtain

The Volkswagen Golf has had an eventful 42-year history in the United States. Introduced in 1975 as a Beetle replacement, the renamed-for-the-US VW Rabbit was a front-wheel drive compact German-made hatchback. It was offered at around the same price as its Japanese competition. 

Rabbits started coming off the assembly lines of Volkswagen’s new plant in New Stanton, Pennsylvania in April of 1978. This was the first “foreign car” to be produced in the USA. After experiencing dropping sales and other problems, Volkswagen closed the plant ten years later, having produced over a million cars there.

During the 1979 oil crisis, the Rabbit Diesel, with its 50+ MPG was in great demand by suffering motorists. Long waiting lists and big dealer markups were the order of the day.

In 1984, the Rabbit became the Golf in the US, reverting to its original name. But hatchbacks have never been the preferred body style for American buyers. We prefer sedans with trunks. To cover this need, VW brought out the Jetta, which was basically a lengthened Golf with a trunk. The Jetta has gone on to become VW’s best selling model in the US.

Other extensions of the Golf/Rabbit line over the years have included a pickup truck, a convertible, a station wagon, and the GTI performance model. A large proportion of US Golf sales have been the diesel versions, which provided excellent fuel economy combined with great performance and low emissions. Or so we thought…

The Diesel Disaster

In September 2015, it was revealed that Volkswagen had installed an emissions cheating device on many of its diesel vehicles. This device allowed these VW diesels to pass the strict US diesel emissions tests, but then allowed high levels of pollution when the vehicles were driven on the roads. VW got caught red-handed, and the pain is still being felt. Volkswagen sales tanked, its reputation took a major hit, and there would be no more diesels built for the US market.

The Golf Family’s 5-Step Rehab Program

In an attempt to recover and get sales back on track, Volkswagen introduced the 2018 Golf family at the New York International Auto Show. The 2018 Golf lineup consists of five models:

  • 2018 Golf 
  • 2018 Golf Alltrack 
  • 2018 Golf GTI
  • 2018 Golf SportWagen 
  • 2018 Golf R

The 2018 Golf is a 5-door, front-wheel drive hatchback that comes with a 1.8L four-cylinder, 170-hp turbocharged engine. Transmission choices include a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. Trim levels include S, SE and SEL. An optional Premium Package on the SEL includes Lane Assist, Light Assist, ParkPilot, Park Assist, and LED headlights.

The 2018 Golf Alltrack is a 5-door wagon that comes with the same 1.8L, 170-hp turbocharged engine found in the Golf. It adds standard 4Motion all-wheel drive, Hill Descent Control, and increased ground clearance. Transmission options are a 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG automatic. Alltrack is available in S, SE and SEL trims. Think of the Alltrack as Volkswagen’s answer to the Subaru Outback.  

The 2018 Golf GTI is VW’s tried and true front-wheel drive performance 5-door hatchback, available in S, SE and Autobahn trim levels. Power is generated by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo that makes 220 horsepower in all models. All offer a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG automatic transmissions. Performance upgrades to the SE include full LED headlights, performance brakes from the Golf R and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.

The 2018 Golf SportWagen is a 5-door wagon that is similar to the Alltrack, but without the Hill Descent Control and increased ground clearance. It comes in S, SE and SEL trims. The S is available with either front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel drive, while the SE and SEL come as front-wheel drive only. 

The 2018 Golf R is the most powerful Golf ever sold in the North American market. Its four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter engine produces 292 horsepower, driving all four wheels through its 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Golf R is available with either a six-speed manual or an exclusive seven-speed DSG dual clutch automatic transmission. Standard performance features include 18” alloy wheels, performance monitor, and Drive Mode Select with Race Mode.

Can The Golf Family Survive?

It remains to be seen how much the Golf family will add to Volkswagen’s bottom line in the US. Americans are not crazy about hatchbacks, the performance models don’t sell in great numbers, and wagons are usually overlooked in favor of SUVs. The Alltrack might get some attention, but Subaru’s Outback is well established and has a loyal following. Add this to the stink still remaining from the diesel hangover, and Volkswagen is faced with a serious challenge. Time will tell…


About The Author

Stephen Fogel

Stephen follows the global automotive industry on a daily basis, including new model announcements, new technologies, sales trends, and the latest in "green" cars.