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2021 Volkswagen Golf shifts us back to better times

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf TSI will be discontinued after this model year. So here's a chance to enjoy a last ride in a bare-bones model — stick shift and all.

The familiar 2021 Volkswagen Golf TSI hatchback bids auf wiedersehen to the U.S. market when its 2021 run is done.
The familiar 2021 Volkswagen Golf TSI hatchback bids auf wiedersehen to the U.S. market when its 2021 run is done.Read moreVolkswagen

2021 Volkswagen Golf TSI: Any more primitive and I’d be banging my feet on the ground like Fred Flintstone. But were the good old days really so good?

Price: $24,190. No extra charge for the gray paint, black leatherette interior, or six-speed manual transmission.

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes that it’s “fun to drive with agile handling, impressive refinement with good noise isolation, and a comfortable ride; easy-to-use controls, well-finished interior, hatchback versatility.”

Note that CR cites zero “but nots,” a first in my 10 years of writing Driver’s Seat.

Marketer’s pitch: “Meet the Golf.” Seriously? I believe we’ve met a few times already.

Reality: I’m with CR; the good old days were better than you remember.

What’s new: Not the Golf. It’s old, actually. In its 46th year in the United States, its third year for the seventh generation, the standard Golf faces its final chapter. Cheap, fun, affordable, efficient, and this year the last of its kind — can you say Type I Beetle?

Oh, sure, you’ll be able to get a Golf R or a GTI, and they’re awesome, too. But don’t be ruining my elegy with your details.

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Shifty: A six-speed manual? In a car you’re not going to make anymore? Why would you send me this just before the funeral, Volkswagen? I’m not crying, you’re crying.

American roads would be much safer if everyone had to shift their own gears. You have to pay attention and plan ahead, which is what great driving is all about. And this would weed out many who don’t belong there. (I’d allow for medical exemption, or the Lovely Automatic-Only family members might object.)

On the road: With the stick shift, driving Chester County country roads becomes an athletic event. The handling is not quite superb — upgrade to the GTI or Golf-R for the really fun stuff — but it’s delightful, especially for the price, and for front-wheel drive. Minor downsides include just a little bit of lean, tires that don’t do so well on soggy roads, and some passengerial sloshing about. But they should know to hold on tighter.

Up to speed: The 1.4-liter TSI four-cylinder creates just 147 horsepower. Motor Trend says the 2019 gets to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, a tick faster than the old 1.8-liter four.

One quibble — first gear can pull stumps while second feels like an overdrive. Keeping the torque alive can be difficult, but the payoff comes at the pump.

Driver’s Seat: Volkswagens and comfort do not go together. The seats hold occupants in place and provide support, but I know why Sturgis Kid 1.0 insists they take her Toyota places while leaving Son-in-Law 1.0′s superfun GTI at home.

Friends and stuff: The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat took one look and asked whether this was a station wagon, so the space in the Golf has kept growing over the years.

Testing bears this out. The rear seat is surprisingly spacious. Legroom, headroom, and foot room are all generous.

The seat bottom is a little on the short side, and the back is very straight, though. The middle seat sits like a perch and the hump and console make traveling there tear-jerky.

Cargo space is 17 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 25 with them folded. But that higher number doesn’t reflect the competition — the Kia Soul boasts about 60 cubic feet, and the Golf is certainly not less than half that.

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Play some tunes: Having the Golf delivered right after the Honda Odyssey was like an assault on my ears. (Sneak preview: The Honda’s stereo was the best I’ve heard ever.)

The Golf’s eight-speaker setup, on the other hand, might go down in Driver’s Seat history as one of the worst. (But wait, there’s a Mitsubishi on my schedule. Will advise.) The Golf’s standard-issue system offers abysmal, off, tinny, sad playback. I’ll be generous and say C+.

Bright side, super simple dials handle the volume and tuning, while buttons operate the main menu and the touchscreen handles everything else. Only the up-down arrows in menus cause trouble.

Keeping warm and cool: When I remember the whiz-bang gadgetry of the ID.4, I want to weep for future generations. The Golf has Volkswagen’s three dials — air source, fan speed and temperature. I can adjust any of them safely while performing the craziest driving maneuvers because I know exactly where they are and what they do without having to look.

Night shift: The headlights shine where you want them and not where you don’t. The interior lights are bright but don’t interfere with vision too badly, except on right turns.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 37 mpg while tearing around Chester County, despite my unfortunate manual-transmission habit of pressing the accelerator and clutch with the same force. So this mileage report is up there with the fuel economy of some small hybrids, because most normal people will do even better.

Where it’s built: Puebla, Mexico

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability to be a 5 out of 5, and it was the same for 2019.

In the end: This may be a primitive way to go, but it sure beat the pants off the recently tested ID.4. If that’s the future, take me back.

The Volkswagen tradition: “We’ve really got this nailed; let’s change it.”

And, yes, stay off my lawn.