As we’re steaming down the road in the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI, compact sport-utility vehicles surround us. Hardly anyone spares a glance for the Golf, and yet this is the very thing for which they’ve been looking -- an affordable, fuel-efficient utility vehicle.

In the midst of observing the 60th anniversary of this and the 50th anniversary of that, we’ve forgotten that 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the Volkswagen Golf’s arrival in the United States. And it turns out that when Giorgetto Giugiaro and VW collaborated on the two-box hatchback shape for the Golf back in the 1970s, they established a formula for the utility car that is perfect for today.

Right in front of your face

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is built with VW’s MQB architecture, a platform from which many of the company’s vehicles will be derived in the future. You’ll recognize the seventh-generation Golf because it looks more like a car and less like the box it came in. The shape is longer, lower, and wider than before, as if the spirit of GM’s Harley Earl had possessed the VW design studio.

But in the spirit of designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, you’ll best understand 2015 Golf by measuring it from the inside, not the outside. Interior passenger volume now measures 93.5 cubic feet, though this is only a fractional increase over the previous car’s 92.9 cubic feet, because headroom has decreased about an inch even as shoulder room front and rear have increased about the same amount. Just as you’d expect from a utility-shape box, the Golf can carry stuff. The opening into the cargo area is 1.9 inches wider than before, and you find an adjustable-height cargo floor and a lower liftover height. Behind the rear seat, there’s 13.7 cubic feet of storage up to the height of the package shelf, then 52.7 cubic feet of storage capacity once you flip down the 60/40-split folding rear seat.

Drives like a car, a very nice car

Because the Golf is a car and not an SUV, consumers expect the Golf to have a small price tag, not a large one. But when they pay just $18,995 for the two-door Golf S, they complain that it doesn’t match a compact SUV for features. In the process, they conveniently ignore the fact that you can’t get much of an SUV at this price point either.

But once you step up to the $27,815 Golf SEL, you’ll be amazed that paying the price of a typical compact SUV brings you a package that combines the practicality of the blessed box with the personality of the 2015 GTI. The interior is spacious, the driving position is superb, and everything looks great. Even better, the standard 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine has an extraordinarily broad powerband even as it delivers 26/36 mpg city/highway. Plus, this chassis with its independent rear suspension steers, stops, and corners like a car, not a packing crate on a rollaway dolly.

As Americans shrink their SUVs into smaller and smaller shapes in order to find the sweet spot of passenger comfort, practical everyday utility, and good fuel economy, what they are instinctively searching for is actually the 2015 Volkswagen Golf. Sadly, the Golf generally makes up only 10 percent of the VW’s U.S. sales. But with such exclusivity, maybe it’s OK to flash headlights at other Golfs as a way of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the beloved box.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI SEL Specifications

On Sale:Now

Base Price:$27,815

Engine:1.8-liter turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/170 hp @ 4,500 rpm, 200 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm

Transmission:6-speed automatic

Layout:4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback

EPA Mileage:25/36/29 mpg (city/highway/combined)

L x W x H:167.5 x 70.8 x 57.2 in

Wheelbase:103.8 in

Weight:3,023 lb

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