Three tentpole themes define the VW Golf SEL for 2017: its discreetly sporty drive manners, its intense build quality, and how the SEL might be sweet spot of the Golf line. Some clarity into the SEL vs Wolfsburg trims, too.
This post is centered on the very-good performance drive video below. We start outside the car and hop in to floor it down some country roads. Then a right turn into one of the twistiest roads we have here by the Atlantic Ocean here in South Carolina.
Fun to Drive
There we find the Golf's mid-spec 1.8-liter turbo plays very nicely with its Euro-pure steering and handling. Even the brakes feel more than up to the task. We ping the six-speed Aisin-supplied automatic to the redline repeatedly - for your pleasure! The pace to 60-mph feels respectable in the low 7's thanks to the 199-pound-feet of turbo torque that's always there for the taking.
The shift paddles let you pick your own gears in D or Manual mode for the shifter unit. But pull the gearlever past D and you engage S mode -- a respectable energy boost for this high-mileage machine. 35-mpg highway and 29 city are stellar but don't really define the drive. What sticks with you is just how premium and special the Golf handles aggressive driving and challenging roads.
If there was one place where the SEL/Wolfsburg feels slightly less special than the GTI, it is the transmission. While perfectly respectable, this unit feels a bit sloppy in some downshifts and slightly slow on upshifts. Especially versus the industry-leading DSG is available for just a few grand more on the GTI.
High Quality (And High Tech!)
It had better drive great considering how intensely well-built the cabin feels! From the moment you shut the door and press the Start button, this Golf feels like it is in another world versus nearly all American cars these days. Yes, our domestic makes are improving. But back-to-back with the Golf, they all feel loose and like their interiors are barely snapped together. Golf feels like its cabin is all triple-bolted down and simply indestructible.
Very positive cabin impressions, especially as the loaded SEL model with all its CarPlay and Android Auto integration so cleanly in the touchscreen. The leather on the steering wheel makes this feel like a baby Porsche. The lane-keep and active cruise of our tester are impressive in real life, as is the blindspot monitor, backup cam and proximity sensors. Automatic parking and auto highbeams are great to have, too.
One extra cool tech feature? The oversized glass moonroof that opens and slides above the metal of the mid roof section. Looks great in dark-black tint from outside and also makes for a very light cabin feel. Good wind deflector lets you keep it open on the highway.
VW made some tweaks to the US Golf range in the middle of this 2017 modelyear. Golf S, SE and SEL become S and Wolfsburg. They are all four-doors for 2017 too; the Golf two-door has bid us adieu.
The S has the smaller 1.4T as before, while the Wolfsburg is an optimized SE/SEL blend.
Okay, more info on the mid-year update to the 2017 Golf lineup. There are SE and SEL 2017s -- as our car's sticker below shows -- but the transition to S and Wolfsburg strips much of the premium goodies from our $30,810 tester. BUT the S and Wolfsburg both have the 1.8T as standard and the only options being the transmission choice and colors outside and in. The options list appears bare -- with just accessories available to upgrade the Golf Wolfsburg. Things like the SEL's big 18's and LED adaptive bi-xenon lights are no longer available.
Luckily, there are still plenty of 2017 Golf SEL's on dealer lots to choose from. By the time these run out in a few months, Golf S and Golf Wolfsburg will hold out until the Golf Mark 8 arrives, presumably as a 2018 model around September of this year.