The 2011 Volkswagen Golf has really been around since 1974. In 2007, it was called the Rabbit, but in 2010 reverted to the Golf name after a major renovation of the design. These changes carry into 2011, making this model a stand-out in the affordable small car class for its diesel engine option and almost luxurious cabin. The choice to offer a diesel does boost the MSRP into a range of $17,995 to $24,985, but the return is 23 mpg city and 33 highway along with exceptional performance and reliability.
Of course, the diesel option does create a considerable performance divide within the line. Buyers who go for the Golf TDI with the diesel engine will pay $4,734 more. Those who stick with the gasoline base model aren't going to get outstanding mileage. This creates a lot of decision-making back and forth before even considering the competition, which is mainly represented by the Honda Fit at $2,500 less (28/35 on fuel economy), and the Ford Fiesta at $3,669 less (28/37.) It is worth noting that the Golf was named World Car of the Year in 2010 and Kiplinger named the four-door variant Best-in-Class for Cars under $20,000 and Best New Model under $20,000.
The Golf is available in two and four-door hatchback configurations with 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines or in the TDI trim, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel. Either way, this is a sub-compact with power. It's fun to drive and although perfect for hopping around town, it's no slouch on the highway where passing is not a problem. Standard mechanicals include anti-lock brakes, traction control, and VW's Electronic Stability Program. Considering the size, the exterior styling is subdued, but crisp with a two-car grille and expanded wheel arches.
Inside, buyers will find a best-in-class interior with really excellent build quality. The seats are comfortable, and when you move up to the TDI trim, you get a touch-screen sound system and Bluetooth. There are far too many options that can easily send the sticker price through the roof, but this is still an exceptional cabin. The backseat is cramped, which is expected in this class. If you routinely drive with three grown-ups, go for the four-door. Standard features include cruise control, an auxiliary audio jack, power mirrors, power windows, and power locks. Navigation is available on the TDI trim only.
Even if it is a little on the pricey side, the 2011 Volkswagen Golf is a winner among affordable small cars. If you can come up with the cash, the diesel offers excellent fuel economy. If not, drive the top contenders before you make a choice. But be forewarned. Once you sit in the Golf's cabin, everything else pretty much pales in comparison.