2019 Volkswagen Golf – old Golf with a new heart

This 2019 Volkswagen Golf may look like any other seventh generation Golf but its secret is under the hood – a new engine. To go with that engine is either a new six-speed manual transmission, which replaces the old five-speed, or a new eight-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the old six-speed slushbox.

So far, so good, right?

This new 1.4-liter turbocharged engine isn’t exactly new. It made its North American debut on the new 2019 Jetta but versions of have been around for a few years in Europe. It makes 147-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. If that may seem low, it’s because it is. The old 1.8-liter turbo made 170-horsepower. When equipped with a manual transmission, the old engine made 199 lb-ft of torque, which is the same as the new engine with either transmission.

If this makes you say hmm…, you’re not alone. Usually when automakers update engines they aim for more power, because more is better. But that’s not the case here. A drop of 23-ponies is substantial. But you’d be fooling yourself if an automaker released this lower power engine and not make the vehicle somehow better in the process. And that’s exactly what happened here.

The new engine is lighter. It spins faster. Turbo-lag is less evident. Coupled with the eight-speed slushbox, it feels a lot more agile than the boat anchor 1.8T. And, most importantly, fuel mileage raises substantially to 37 MPG highway and 29 MPG in the city, up from 33/24 highway/city of the old engine.

My butt dyno doesn’t know if the 1.4 is faster than the 1.8, but it probably isn’t. But the 1.4 feels faster, and the whole car feels better, livelier, probably because the new engine is lighter. No, the basic Golf SE is not approaching GTI limits but it is fun to drive, at least significantly more fun than a similar 2018 Golf with 1.8-liter engine.

Everything else seems to be the same. Literally, I don’t think there are any visual or functional differences between the 2019 and 2018 models. The same goes for the inside, where an addition of another USB port (there is only one) would have been welcome. The seats are the same too, which is unfortunate because they’re not very comfortable. This is especially unfortunate because the GTI seats are superior.

So the 2019 Golf is the pretty much the same as the old Golf. It’s unlikely that the power reduction will be noticed by a casual Golf buyer but the casual buyer will notice the fuel economy improvement and the response of the engine. The next generation of Golf was shown in the European markets but there are no major changes for the North American 2020 model year Golf.

[Disclaimer: Volkswagen provided this Golf SE for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2019]

8 Comments

  1. Personally, I prefer a car to feel fast than to actually be fast. I don’t race my cars, so it’s all about the experience. I’d give up a few horsepower for more fun.

    I don’t understand your comments about torque, though. You say the 1.4L makes 184 lb-ft, but then you say it makes the same as the old 1.8L, which made 199 lb-ft. Am I misreading it?

  2. Wasn’t the 1.4T the base engine in the last couple years of MkVI Jetta, replacing the 2.Slow, was that only a Canadian option, or was it a substantially different 1.4?

    Otherwise, agreed, it’s not necessarily quicker, and I don’t remember the problems you had with the 1.8, but the 1.4 is certainly not a bad change.

  3. Personally, I prefer a car to feel fast than to actually be fast. I don’t race my cars, so it’s all about the experience. I’d give up a few horsepower for more fun.

    I don’t understand your comments about torque, though. You say the 1.4L makes 184 lb-ft, but then you say it makes the same as the old 1.8L, which made 199 lb-ft. Am I misreading it?

    1. I agree with your assessment. I’d rather have the perception of the car being quick. My last commuter car was a hybrid and by all measures was a slow car. But the electric shove from stoplight to stoplight really masked that in most circumstances. I understand why manufacturers are going to forced induction smaller engines. The usable shove is in the lower end where most drivers want it and “feel” it. I don’t care about top speed numbers.

  4. At least it is a better engine than the old twin-charged one where I think reliability was about what you would expect from a super- and turbocharged engine.

  5. On another note VW have announced they will no longer participate in ICE motorsports so it seems the new Golf will have an old heart (no all-new engine to come?)

    1. So the automaker that willingly cheated to get its polluting diesel engines emissions-certified is now taking the high road and abandoning the internal combustion engine altogether? How ironic. That must have been one painful smack on the wrist.

      1. Tens of billions altogether? (No matter the currency)

        Only the VW brand I gather, Audi/Lamborghini/etc will still run GT3, Seat/Cupra still in TCR.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here