11. VW Golf and GTI
Model class and body style: Compact two- and four-door hatchback and four-door wagon
Last full redesign: Model year 2009
Base price range: $18,815-$36,265
Here’s proof a car needn’t be expensive, ultra-powerful, or ostentatious to qualify as one of the world’s best automobiles. Volkswagen’s all-new 2015 Golf is the seventh-generation of a compact hatchback that dates to the mid 1970s, when it came to America as the Rabbit. It’s by far the best example yet of German engineering put to the service of a design that’s both imminently practical and immensely satisfying to drive.
Thanks to an all-new underbody structure designed to underpin a host of new cars and crossovers across the VW empire (including some upscale Audis), even entry-level Golfs glide down the road with composure far beyond their modest price. They come with a terrific turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated 30 mpg city-highway combined with manual transmission, 29 with automatic.
Back for diesel loyalists is the TDI model at 36-mpg combined. And Greenies living in select East Coast and West Coast states can buy the $36,265 all-electric eGolf and travel about 90 miles on a plug-in charge.
Every Golf has smile-generating handling, but the brilliantly balanced GTI versions induce big grins and more zip than their 210 horsepower would suggest; 28 mpg combined is a happy number, too. Coming in early 2015 is the Golf R, with all-wheel drive instead of front-drive, a 292-horsepower version of the GTI’s 2.0-liter turbo four, and a $36,595 starting price.
Rear knee clearance is a bit tight for the long of leg, but these hatchbacks are otherwise very passenger friendly and have a generous 22.8 cubic-feet of storage space behind their rear seats, a wagon-like 52.7 with it folded. There’s also an actual wagon. Added for model-year ’15 is the Golf SportWagen, a defector from the Jetta lineup. It comes in gas and diesel form, completing a roster that deserves to be included on every compact-car shopping list.