The sixth-generation of the fabled Volkswagen Golf, shown here in a German publicity photo.Enlarge Photo
While most US car coverage was focused on the Chicago Auto Show--a yawner--our neighbors to the north actually got a couple of sneak previews at the Toronto Auto Show that few sites noticed.
First among them was the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI. It's the sixth generation of VW's legendary economy hatchback, first introduced in 1975. It's grown a lot since then, and the latest edition is sleeker, more comfortable inside, and designed under the skin to be a lot less expensive to build.
This one's a mid-cycle refresh, so while the car has a new "face" and redesigned taillights, the basic shape is easily recognized. Similarly, engines are carried over too: It'll have the 140-horsepower 2.0-liter TDI that's now used in the 2009 Jetta TDI (and its Sportwagen variant). The Jetta TDI, by the way, just added "Best of the Year" in the MotorWeek Driver's Choice Award to its list of laurels. Last fall at the Los Angeles Auto Show, it was named Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. In 2010 Golf previews last fall in Iceland, that engine was mated to a six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), giving the little oil-burner a sporty VW character.
But wait a second, you say. Golfs became Rabbits for North America with the 2006 model! Well, that may be, but the 2010 diesel in Toronto was called a Golf--and VW Canada's website clearly previews the 2010 Golf. (Even weirder, the URL has "Routan" in it--the VW-badged, Canadian-built, Chrysler-based minivan whose sales have been just as bad as the reception to its TV ads. Gawd, this is confusing.)
It's hard to imagine VW dumping the Rabbit name it relaunched for the States just four model years ago. But the Volkswagen lineup is more complicated in Canada, as there's also a Canada-only car called the "City Golf" priced 20 percent lower than the 2009 Rabbit. What's a City Golf, you ask? It's the previous (fourth-generation) Golf with some restyling. With fewer features and paid-up tooling, it's the economy alternative to the current car.
[LATER UPDATE: Six weeks after we published this piece, guess what? VW decided that the 2010 Volkswagen Golf won't be a Rabbit after all! Golly. We're going to be charitable and assume that VW spokesman Steve Keyes just missed that e-mail. Otherwise, we'd have to assume that VW changed its mind about the model name of its highest-volume model just two weeks before launching it ?!?!?]
[UPDATE: Steve Keyes of Volkswagen writes, Canada decided not to follow the US nomenclature decision when we reintroduced the "Rabbit" with the the 5th-generation model. Consequently, the Canadian Golf does not signify any change in our US naming strategy. We'll introduce the 6th-generation Rabbit and GTI at a press conference during the New York Auto Show.]
In fact, the Canadian car market differs from ours more than most people recognize. Gasoline has always cost more there (it's sold in liters t00), and Canadians in general take home less pay than US residents. So they drive smaller cars and a lot fewer trucks and SUVs.
The most popular car in Canada has been the Mazda3, and in fact, Mazda garners a full 5 percent of Canadian car sales (against 2 percent in the States). So it made sense that the Toronto Show also saw the launch of the restyled Mazda CX-7 crossover. No, that one's not particularly green, but we're fond of Mazdas in general--so there you are.