Golf tops among small hatchbacks

Two freshened versions of the Volkswagen Golf scored impressively in Consumer Reports’ most recent tests of small cars. The diesel (TDI) and conventional versions are now CR’s two top-rated vehicles in the small hatchback category.
Small cars are a sensible choice for buyers looking to save on fuel costs, who don’t need a lot of interior space and who want a vehicle that’s easy to park. Most models can fit five adults. While sedans are more popular, hatchbacks add a measure of cargo-carrying versatility.
The 2010 Golf (formerly the Rabbit) feels solid and substantial for its size, and has a high-quality interior. The four-door hatchback layout is practical, and the Golf TDI is equipped with a manual transmission attained an impressive 38 mpg overall.
CR also tested the Nissan Sentra sedan, now available with electronic stability control, as well as the Suzuki SX4 in both sedan and all-wheel-drive hatchback versions. The SX4 received a new engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for 2010.
Prices in the group ranged from $17,519 for the front-wheel-drive sedan version of the Suzuki SX4 to $24,764 for the Volkswagen Golf TDI.
CR recommends all of the vehicles in this test group, as all are predicted to be average or above in reliability. The Rabbit has above-average reliability, and CR predicts the same for the Golf. The similar Jetta TDI’s reliability has been average, and CR expects the same of the Golf TDI.
CR also tested two even smaller sedans head-to-head. The Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris can now be equipped with electronic stability control, a vital safety feature. It’s standard on the Yaris and optional on the Versa.
Those subcompacts carry lower prices than the other cars in the group. The Yaris cost $16,547 and the Versa cost $16,385. But neither sedan is recommended.
CR’s other findings include:
— Volkswagen Golf. The Golf is a premium car, despite being a small hatchback, and its relatively high price is justified. The Golf has a steady, compliant ride. The Volkswagen Golf 2.5 ($20,314, Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price — MSRP — as tested) is powered by a 170-hp, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that provides good performance, but a so-so 24 mpg overall in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The Volkswagen Golf TDI ($24,764, MSRP as tested) is powered by a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that provides decent performance and an excellent 38 mpg overall and 49 mpg on the highway.
— Nissan Sentra. The Sentra is a pleasant and well-rounded small sedan, but it’s not exciting to drive. Handling is sound, but ho-hum. The Nissan Sentra 2.0 SL ($19,530 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that provides good performance and a decent 27 mpg overall.
— Suzuki SX4. The SX4 sedan is a sensible but unexciting car. The SX4 Crossover is a tall hatchback with a versatile design and optional all-wheel drive. Handling is fairly nimble. Both the Suzuki SX4 LE Popular sedan ($17,519 MSRP as tested) and the Suzuki SX4 Crossover Technology AWD ($19,998 MSRP as tested) are powered by a 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that provides average performance. The Crossover AWD 24 mpg overall. The SX4 LE sedan gets 26 mpg overall, mediocre for a small sedan.
— Toyota Yaris. The Yaris has excellent reliability and fuel economy, but a noisy and uncomfortable interior makes it unappealing to live with. The Toyota Yaris ($16,547 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 106-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that provides adequate performance and gets 32 mpg overall.
— Nissan Versa. The Versa feels like a much larger car than the Yaris, easily soaking up road bumps. The Nissan Versa 1.8 S ($16,385 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 122 hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that provides adequate performance and gets 27 mpg overall.

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