VW GTI and Golf R Luggage Test: How much fits in the trunk?

Think of a compact hatchback. If it isn't a Volkswagen Golf, you probably used to own a Mazda3. Perhaps it's more ubiquitous in Europe, but the Golf has long stood as the prime example of a compact hatchback supposedly being more functional than a compact sedan. "Try putting that in a Jetta," you can imagine someone saying after stuffing a TV into the back of a Golf.

But I'm not talking about TVs here, and when it comes to actual cargo volume with the seats in place, I've found that hatchbacks have less space than their sedan counterparts despite having larger on-paper cargo volumes. That's the case with the Mazda3 and the Honda Civic, which is admittedly a rather different type of hatchback. Why? Hatchback cargo volumes are measured to the roof. That's almost always a no-go here at Luggage Test HQ due to visibility and safety, but also, I've found that the space "up there" between the back seat and tailgate is not especially useful for storing bags. Basically, it's the shape of a Toblerone, which is not what many people take with them on airplanes.

So yeah, same situation with the Golf, or rather the Volkswagen GTI and Golf R since the plain-old Golf isn't sold here any more. Neither is the wagon for that matter, but that's another topic. Both the GTI and Golf R are listed as having 19.9 cubic-feet. The Jetta has 14.1, including the GLI. I haven't luggage tested that, and although I'd be shocked if it didn't hold more than the Golf, I'll still be keeping my comparisons to other hatchbacks. Admittedly, the only one that really matters is the Civic Hatchback, since it provides the basis for the Civic Type R. The Si is sedan-only. Meanwhile, a 2024 Mazdaspeed3 doesn't exist and Subaru doesn't sell some sort of bitchin' WRX-powered Crosstrek.

In this picture you can see what I mean about the "up there" portion being triangular. There's also not that much depth here, especially compared to a compact sedan. You'll see why I know that in a sec.

And yes, I used a flash for most of these, which is typically a no-no in car journalism photography circles, but it was raining, I could back 20% of the Golf R into my garage, and I did enough of these suckers in Portland rain over the years that I'm giving myself a pass.

Not that this is surprising, but there's no underfloor storage in the Golf R. There's no spare tire, either, but you do get a big round subwoofer. To see it, Volkswagen makes it super-easy thanks to this little, button-like tab (above left) that props the floor open. You then just pull down a little harder to go through the detent the tab uses to keep the floor in place. Clever engineering, ultimately pointless here, though.

Also not surprising is that the Golf has the sort of rigid cargo cover expected of a hatchback. Well, except the Impreza/Crosstrek has an SUV-like roll-out cover, the Civic has a weirdo side-to-side roll-out cover, and the Mazda3 has a double-articulated rigid cover not unlike those found in certain SUVs. So, I guess this type of cover shouldn't be expected anymore.

Either way, it's there, so I need to test with and without it.

As with every Luggage Test, I use two midsize roller suitcases that would need to be checked in at the airport (26 inches long, 16 wide, 11 deep), two black roll-aboard suitcases that just barely fit in the overhead (24L x 15W x 10D), and one smaller green roll-aboard that fits easily (23L x 15W x 10D). I also include my wife's fancy overnight bag just to spruce things up a bit (21L x 12W x 12D). Also, keep in mind since I'm comparing the Golf with past vehicles, that the green bag equals the old small blue bag.

My bigger bags fit length-wise, but they are too tall to fit on their side under the cover. Also, nothing can fit on top of them when sitting on their bellies. As such, this is the best I could do, which isn't bad. The fancy bag is basically serving as an analog for a fourth medium-sized roll-aboard.

Basically, four roll-aboard suitcases fit in a car best-suited to seat four people. I'm guessing that may not be a coincidence.

OK, now let's chuck the cover.

Honestly, not much of a difference. Despite my best efforts, this mess was the best I could do, and then just barely. This would be the four biggest bags with space leftover for something smaller than the fancy bag or any of my duffel bags in the garage. The space up high really is quite constricting.

You can see above just how much the bags are sticking out and just how close this came to not working.

OK, let's see how this compares to other compact hatchbacks.

This is the Honda Civic Hatchback, which again, is the same as the Civic Type R. Above right, you can see that the four biggest bags fit under its side-to-side roll-out cargo cover, which by the way, doesn't need to be removed from the car. When I loaded above the cover line, I could fit all the bags. So yeah, big win here for Honda. Now, those same bags fit better in the sedan, with the fancy bag most obviously not perched atop the pile, because you know, it can't in a sedan. You can see the full Civic Hatchback luggage test here.

This is the Mazda3 hatchback. It can hold the four biggest bags under its cargo cover, but interestingly, removing the cargo cover didn't make a difference. There's even less triangle space in it. The fancy bag was squashed when I tried to put it in the middle there. Nevertheless, advantage Mazda here, too.

Of course, there is no Mazdaspeed3, so ultimately, advantage Volkswagen.

One more thing. The Mazda3 luggage test includes both the hatchback and sedan. In it, you can see that the sedan's trunk has considerably more length, which is pretty much why it can hold more bags. As the 3 hatchback and Golf seem to have comparable cargo area lengths, this would be how I know a sedan would be better for luggage carrying.

And finally the Subaru Impreza/Crosstrek. It can fit the two biggest bags, one of the medium bags and the smaller blue/green bag without removing its roll-out cargo cover. That's better than the Golf. It can carry all six bags with the cover removed. That puts it in second place behind the Honda with the cover in place and in first with the cover removed.

Golf still last. So yeah, you can see why the Golf wagon still exists in Europe.

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