$5,546 - $9,580

2012 Volkswagen Golf Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Volkswagen Golf was new.


Performance: 8.3

The Golf’s strong five-cylinder base engine and optional diesel engine that boasts great fuel economy help make the Golf one of the most powerful small cars on the market. These high performance ratings, however, come with a high price tag.

The base model is one of the most expensive cars in the class, and opting for the Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) diesel trim, which gets 30/42 mpg city/highway, means you’ll pay significantly more than the base model. But in terms of performance, reviewers find that the base Golf’s high price tag and low fuel economy ratings are worth it because its performance is almost as good as the Volkswagen GTI’s.

  • "The 2.5 has enough pep for any situation, despite the non-linear nature of its throttle response." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Big fuel economy, sportier suspension tuning than gas-engined Golfs will have you thinking you’re driving a GTI." -- Car and Driver
  • "Regarding the Golf's current lineup, we strongly recommend the TDI model because of its higher level of equipment, strong engine and superior fuel economy. The base engine is powerful for the class, but fuel economy suffers for it." -- Edmunds
  • “Equipped with the sports suspension the MK VI Golf is rock solid at speed, corners with a near complete absence of body roll, changes direction quickly and has very communicative steering for a front-wheel drive car. All that, but it still manages to absorb bumps and ruts like a luxury car." -- Jalopnik

Acceleration and Power

The Golf is one of the most powerful subcompacts on the market. Test drivers love the pep its 2.5-liter, five-cylinder, 170-horsepower base engine provides. That engine power, however, decreases fuel economy. Averaging up to 24/31 mpg city/highway, according to the EPA, the base Golf's fuel economy can’t compare with other class leaders like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent.

Reviewers are most pleased with the TDI diesel trim because it has high fuel economy ratings. It features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 140 horsepower. The EPA says it gets 30/42 mpg city/highway with either a manual or automatic transmission. Even though the TDI diesel trim makes fewer horsepower, test drivers say the gain in torque makes it even more fun to drive than the base model.

  • "Still, the Golf we'd choose would have to be the 2.0 TDI. You simply don't miss those 30 horses, especially when they've been replaced with an extra 59 lb-ft of torque. The car's a blast to drive, and the great fuel economy means you're as close to guilt-free as you can get behind the wheel." -- Popular Mechanics
  • "The Golf's gasoline engine provides smooth power throughout the rev range. Opting for the turbodiesel will get you an abundance of low-end torque and considerable gains in fuel economy without the traditional diesel clatter froyahoom under the hood." -- Edmunds
  • "The manual transmission has short throws and an easy-to-modulate clutch. The conventional 6-speed automatic delvers prompt shifts. TDI's 6-speed automated manual can be finicky around town, but it smooths out at higher speeds." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The Golf is kind of porky for its class, but you’ll never notice. It feels like a GTI, just a bit slower. Either transmission is a delight." -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

The 2012 Volkswagen Golf’s on-road composure is impressive. There’s little body lean, and the brakes are solid. The TDI diesel models have a sport suspension, which reviewers love, but they wish it was available on the base model.

  • "The steering provided adequate feedback when we had the chance to dive-bomb a few corners, a when the occasional delivery van became a rolling roadblock in the left lane, the Golf's brakes - while lacking in feel - were up to the task, easily reigning in the party from 115 to 60 MPH." -- Autoblog
  • "Alternately, you can take it out on a curvy road and the well-weighted steering will inspire confidence." -- Edmunds
  • "All are sporty and agile with little body lean; TDI's sport suspension means even more nimble cornering ability. Braking is smooth and strong in general, though one test car suffered from touchy pedal action in wet conditions." -- Consumer Guide

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