The Real Deal: 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL.
With Volkswagen's green image in tatters from a very nearly year-long diesel emissions cheating scandal that continues to make headlines as VW tries to come up with an owner compensation plan regulators will agree to, automotive journalists, industry analysts and especially dealers are asking "So what is Volkswagen, now?"

It's not the current Beetle,  a niche product that appeals to a shrinking fan base.  Nor is it the Passat or the CC, never strong contenders in the now-evaporating midsize sedan market. SUVs and especially crossovers are hot, but the Touraeg and Tiguan aren't.

Truth be told, at this moment, Volkswagen is the Golf and its sedan sister, the Jetta.

Rear 3/4 view of 2016 Volkwagen Golf TSI SEL
2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL.
And that is fitting, since the Golf, 41 years ago, was intended to be the way forward for Volkswagen from the beloved but outdated original Type 1 Beetle. If you are looking for everything good about VW, you'l find it in the Golf, or if you really need a trunk, the Jetta.

Our test vehicle was the Golf TSI SEL, with a 1.8-liter, 170 horsepower turbocharged engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.  Pickup is good, and so is the fuel economy, with an EPA estimate of 25 city/36 highway.  Handling is exceptional. And the hatch and fold-down rear seats make the Golf the next best thing to the Golf SportWagen in terms of luggage and cargo capacity (though you're limited to two or three people when those split-folding rear seats go down).

Interior view of 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL
2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL interior.
For the base price of $27,425, the Golf TSI SEL comes with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, intelligent crash response system, tire pressure monitoring, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, fog lamps, a power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilting and telescoping multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped brake lever and shift knob, a power driver's seat with power lumbar support, a manual passenger's seat with power recline, heated front seats, a split-folding rear seat with armrest and pass-through, leatherette seating surfaces, ambient interior lighting, carpeted floor mats, a rear-view camera, keyless entry and pushbutton start, a 6.5-inch touchscreen navigation and Fender premium audio system with AM/FM/HD Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth streaming as well as VW's new Car-Net connectivity system.

The only option on our test vehicle was the Driver Assistance Package, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, lane departure warning, park distance control and park steering assist, for $1,495.

With $820 destination charge, the as-tested price came to $29,740.  Not inexpensive, but not out of line for the level of equipment.

Volkswagen's road to redemption has several forks in it---electrics, autonomous vehicles---but a focus on the basics of what they do well should be the foundation.  And that would be the Golf and Jetta.