6 Reasons VW Golf Is a Great First Car (+Golf GTI & Golf R)

The standard Volkswagen Golf is an excellent first car as its hatchback body style is perfect for ease of maneuverability and practicality.

However, several shortcomings in the VW Golf may impact your decision-making.

Plus, what about the Golf GTI and Golf R as first cars?

are the volkswagen golf, golf gti and golf r good first cars

The 6 Reasons that Make Volkswagen Golf a Great First Car

#1 High Fuel Efficiency (Model-Dependent)

The Golf is reasonably fuel thrifty compared to segment rivals.

VW Golfs up to 2018 average high-20s mpg in combined driving.

However, the 2019 Golf onwards return significantly improved fuel economy – 29 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined.

The consumption is on par with compact car segment leaders like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

 Fuel Economy (Cty/Hwy/Combined)
VW Golf29/36/32
Honda Civic30/38/33
Toyota Corolla30/38/33
W Golf fuel economy comparison with Civic and Corolla.

#2 Perfect Size for New Drivers

Hatchbacks are some of the best car body styles for daily commute in the city.

The Golf’s compact dimensions enable easy maneuverability in urban traffic.

Plus, parking a Golf is one less challenge facing new drivers.

#3 Good Visibility

Outward vision is paramount for inexperienced drivers navigating tight and busy urban roads.

Upright styling with generous-sized windows, slim windshield pillars, and large side door mirrors make it easy to see out of the Golf.

The rear pillars get relatively thick, creating blind spots towards the back.

The Golf may not provide an SUV’s elevated ride height, but overall, the VW Golf makes driving safely easier for teens.

#4 Practicality of a Roomy Hatchback

The Golf has a squarish cargo door, which is helpful when loading oversized items.

As typical in hatchbacks, folding the rear seats expands the cargo area for larger boxes and longer equipment.

The Golf has sufficient room for two suitcases with those seats up, so a road trip for four adults is a non-issue.

Further, the four-door layout is ideal for a daily driver and passenger car.

#5 Satisfactory Crash Safety

NHTSA awarded the latest-gen (7th) Volkswagen Golf 5 out of 5 stars overall.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the Golf ‘Good’ (the highest grade) for all but one test – front small overlap, passenger-side.

Competing Japanese and Korean compacts performed marginally better in crash tests.

But the difference is minor and shouldn’t worry you.

Safety aids, such as collision, blind spot, cross-traffic warning systems, AEB, ABS, and traction control, are standard in most Golf models.

#6 Roomy, Comfortable, and Quiet Cabin

Other VW Golf qualities include excellent ride comfort and a commendably quiet interior that make it a small car that’s equally suitable for long-distance drives and road trips.

Agile handling helps the Golf scoot through daily traffic with ease.

It absorbs moderate road imperfections adeptly and remains composed at highway speeds.

Think of the VW Golf not as an economy model but as a premium car in a small package.

VW Golf’s Drawbacks You Should Note

These are essential cost factors.

Still, consistent upkeep of your vehicle is the surest way to avoid an expensive breakdown.

Above-Average Upkeep Cost

Volkswagens typically cost above their respective segment average to maintain.

The regular VW Golf costs $630 annually, compared to $526 for compact cars.

These are VW models’ annual maintenance costs, according to RepairPal:

Maint. Costs
VW Beetle$612
VW Golf$630
VW Golf GTI$791
VW Jetta$609
VW Passat$639
VW Tiguan$730
Volkswagen models annual maintenance cost.

Subpar Reliability

Most Volkswagens, including the Golf, have middling reliability.

Consumer Reports ranked the automaker #24 out of 28 brands in their 2021 reliability survey.

But as long as you can verify the vehicle’s service history and conditions with a trusted mechanic before buying, you do not need to worry about your Golf.

Plus, regular upkeep is key to a healthy car.

Best VW Golf Year for Your First Car

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaints
2021 Golf3.8/45/529/36/3274/1001
2020 Golf3.8/45/529/35/32NA1
2019 Golf3.8/45/529/37/3278/100
2018 Golf3.8/45/524/33/2878/1003
2017 Golf3.8/45/525/35/2976/10018
2016 Golf3.8/45/525/36/2976/10010
2015 Golf3.8/4NA25/36/2979/10018
2014 GolfNANA25/33/2677/1005
2013 GolfNANA24/31/2680/10013
2012 GolfNANA24/31/2682/1007
2011 GolfNANA24/31/2778/10012
2010 GolfNANA23/30/2677/10014
2006 GolfNANA21/27/24NA4
2005 GolfNANA21/28/24NA12
2004 GolfNANA21/28/24NA2
2003 GolfNANA20/27/23NA3
2002 GolfNANA20/27/23NA9
2001 GolfNANA20/26/22NA16
2000 GolfNANA21/28/24NA5
VW Golf model years comparison.

The VW Golfs are generally safe vehicles – IIHS rated it ‘Good’ in all the crash tests, except for ‘Acceptable’ in the Front Small Overlap passenger-side test.

The VW Golf’s fuel economy is segment-competitive and varies according to the model.

However, the turbodiesel VW Golf (available between 2001 and 2015 model years) returns an impressive 34-36 mpg in combined driving.

A 4-year, 50,000-mile manufacturer warranty is standard for brand-new Golfs.

Aim for a used Golf within four years old to enjoy the warranty, or purchase an extended coverage to avoid paying large sums for repairs.

As far as fuel efficiency goes, 2019, 2020, and 2021 VW Golf (last generation in the US – MK7) are the best Volkswagen for a first car.

On the other hand, significantly older VW Golfs like the MK1, MK2, and MK3 are unsuitable for first cars due to their advancing age, poor reliability, and the lack of safety features.

VW Golf Compared with Similar First Cars

The latest Golf generation launched in 2015 retains its old charms, but many of its rivals have evolved and advanced.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
VW Golf29/36/3276/100$6303.8/45/5Good
Kia Rio33/41/3683/100$4343.8/4NAExcellent
Toyota Corolla Hatchback32/41/3583/100$3624/45/5Good
Honda Civic Hatchback31/40/3482/100$3684/45/5Good
Honda Civic30/38/3382/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla30/38/3383/100$3624/45/5Good
Hyundai Elantra33/43/3781/100$4524/45/5Good
Mazda Mazda 328/36/3180/100$4334/45/5Average
Kia Forte31/41/3583/100$4514/45/5Good
Nissan Sentra29/37/3283/100$4914/45/5Good
VW Golf comparison with similar first cars.

The VW Golf had a premium interior when it launched, but if upscale cabin matters to you, opt for the Mazda 3.

The Mazda 3 is available as a sedan or hatchback – both have engaging handling and are fun to drive.

The Honda Civic sedan or hatchback offers high fuel economy, sharp handling, a roomy backseat, and a slew of safety features – excellent qualities you want in your first car.

Alternatively, the Toyota Corolla hatchback is one of the best first cars if you prefer the body style over the longer sedan.

It is thoroughly inexpensive to maintain – a little more than half what you’d pay for the standard VW Golf.

Is a VW Golf GTI a Good First Car?

volkswagen golf good first car

The considerable power increase turns the Golf GTI from a hatchback to a hot hatch.

A long journey covering several generations has turned the GTI into a capable, refined, and sophisticated piece of machinery.

However, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, with added horsepower over the regular Golf, moves it into the average first car category:

  • Moderately powerful for first cars – between 210 hp and 228 hp, depending on the model year.
  • Average fuel consumption – averaging 20 mpg in combined driving.
  • Relatively costly upkeep – approx. $791 annually, which is $100-plus higher than the standard Golf.

The standard Golf’s first car traits still exist in the GTI, such as the compact size that suits inexperienced drivers and a hatchback’s practicality with its ability to increase cargo space with folded rear seats.

Plus, it’s a front-wheel-drive vehicle – higher-performance cars typically adopt the rear-wheel-drive system.

The GTI remains one of the most practical and easy-to-live-with choices among sporty cars.

The four-cylinder engine’s power, just north of 200 hp, can still be a reasonable first car in the hands of drivers who can keep their enthusiasm in check.

Precise handling in the GTI provides great feedback, making driving safer as you feel the connection between steering input and car behavior.

The eight-generation GTI receives a bump up to 241 horsepower and is unsuitable for most freshly-licensed teenagers.

Insuring a VW Golf GTI

Sports and sporty cars invite higher insurance premiums, especially for teen drivers.

Good news: GTI is one of the least inexpensive to insure for teenagers.

According to ValuePenguin, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is the third cheapest to insure for an 18-year-old, after the MX-5 Miata (roadster) and Subaru Outback (station wagon/SUV).

Insurance costs vary according to vehicle model, driver’s age, and location, so you will need to research and request quotes to be sure.

VW Golf GTI Compared with Similar First Cars

Perhaps a car with less horsepower may suit you better?

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg combined (manual).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 HorsepowerFuel Econ.Maint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
VW GTI210-228 hp27$7913.8/45/5Good
Subaru BRZ205-228 hp24$6723.8/4NAGood
Mazda Miata116-181 hp29$429NANAAverage
Hyundai Veloster138-147 hp31 auto$4933.4/4NAAverage
Honda Civic Si197-205 hp30$368+4/45/5Good
VW GTI comparison with better first cars.

The Subaru BRZ (or its Toyota 86 twin) has similar power output as the VW GTI and, like the latter, borders the performance limit of a first car.

If you intend to have a first car that’s also fun to drive, consider the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Honda Civic Si, or the standard Hyundai Veloster – less potent than the VW GTI but return higher mpg.

Plus, the upkeep costs less.

The Civic Si maintains the practical four-door layout and good visibility as the VW GTI but with added trunk space.

Honda as a brand is more dependable than Volkswagen.

Is a VW Golf R a Good First Car?

The Golf R is a through and through hot hatch.

Over the past decade, the Golf R has adopted the GTI’s superior driving qualities and dialed up the performance and capability to the max.

The Golf R is a superb driving machine, but a terrible first car:

  • Monstrous power for a hatchback – between 256 hp in older models and 315 hp in the newer Golf R.
  • All-wheel-drive – provides extra traction in tricky conditions, but most teen drivers will do just fine on the cheaper FWD.
  • Relatively high fuel consumption – low-20s mpg combined is respectable for hot hatchbacks but poor for a teen’s first ride.
  • Hefty premium for a first car – a ten-year-old Golf R still costs above $20,000.

Other specifications aside, the power that the various Golf models produce is the primary determining factor in choosing or rejecting them as first cars:

VW Golf140-170 hp
VW Golf GTI210-228 hp
VW Golf R256-315 hp
VW Golf models hp comparison.

The Golf R accelerates like a champ.

Still, the enormous torque at relatively low rpm makes it such a potent hatchback.

It is beyond most new drivers’ ability to drive safely.

You’ll be in a better position to appreciate the Golf R after clocking a few years of driving experience.

Do VW Golf Models Hold Value Well?

Most vehicles lose between 50% and 60% of their value after the initial five-year ownership.

Brand-new standard Golf and Golf GTI lose about 54% after five years, an average value retention.

They depreciate the most in the first year (23%), followed by the second year (12%), and the decline steadies after that at approx. 4% to 6% per year up to the eight-year mark.

Comparing that to a Honda Civic, one of the best first cars with excellent value retention, should give you an idea of where the VW Golf stands.

 5-yr Depreciation10-yr Depreciation
VW Golf54%77%
VW Golf GTI54%77%
Honda Civic39%71%
VW Golf, Golf GTI, and Civic value depreciation.

You consider these makes and models before deciding:

  1. Kia – Rio, Forte.
  2. Honda – Civic hatchback, Civic, Civic Si.
  3. Toyota – Corolla hatchback, Corolla.
  4. Hyundai – Elantra, Veloster.
  5. MazdaMazda 3, MX-5 Miata.
  6. Nissan – Sentra.
  7. FordFiesta, Focus.