2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI: First Drive

The Golf TDI is back, but is it as good as we’d hoped it would be?

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI: First Drive
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TDI. Three letters that, if spoken to the right person, will elicit grandiose claims of “miles per gallon,” “liters per 100 kilometers,” and, “I knew a guy who got (insert unbelievable number) miles to a tank with one of those.” I’m here to tell you that, unlike most urban legends: It’s all true.

FAST FACTS

1. The Golf TDI returns to North America for 2010, after being absent since 2006.

2. The turbo-diesel engine makes 140-hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque.

3. The TDI is offered in 3 and 5-door trim, starting from $22,189.

4. Fuel economy is rated at 30/42 mpg (city/hwy) with the DSG automatic, although testing has shown that real world fuel economy may be higher.

Yes, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI will do at least 41 mpg on the highway, and 1 mpg better with the fitment of the DSG dual-clutch transmission. That gives this German frügalwagen a range of about 700 miles (1100 km)…more on that “range” later.

LET’S TALK ABOUT DIESEL

How can a 2.0-liter dino juice-burning engine get mileage comparable to the (slightly less expensive) Toyota Prius? Actually, the TDI is, again, at least the equal of that Toyota hybrid. On the highway, in real-world conditions, people have been known to get upwards of 50 mpg in the V-Dub.

Of course, the Volkswagen has one big advantage: one unit of diesel fuel contains more energy than a unit of gasoline. Since you’re getting more energy (147,000 British Thermal Units per gallon of diesel versus 125,000 BTU of gasoline), you shouldn’t complain all that much when the price of diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline.

Even though you may be paying more for fuel, diesels make lots of sense if you’re traveling long distances as their range means you’ll be stopping less often for fuel.

THE MARK VI

Volkswagen calls its latest Golf its sixth generation, or in Internet forum speak, the MkVI. It still uses the same basic platform as last year’s Rabbit. There will be no Rabbit or Jetta Sportwagen models moving forward — they’ve been replaced by the Golf and Golf Wagon, respectively. Of note, the Golf Wagon is basically a refreshed Jetta Sportwagen.

Back to the changes. Up front, new fascias and chiseled lines denote the “new” face of Volkswagen. In the rear, more square tail lamps move the car much closer to what you’d expect from a branch of the Golf family tree.

Inside, an available touchscreen audio interface and other niceties abound. While other manufacturers try and emulate the look and especially “feel” of the Golf, it’s like trying to hit a moving target. This German hatch is that nice.

Available in both three and five door versions costing from $22,189, standard features include a multi-function steering wheel, leather shift knob, Bluetooth phone prep, air conditioning, cruise control, touchscreen sound system and in-dash CD player, six month of Sirius satellite radio, pollen filter, power locks, power (heated!) mirrors, power windows, fog lights, six airbags, and a full suite of electronic prevent-you-from-crashing aids. You know, like ABS, traction control, ESP, etc.

Options? Heated washer nozzles and seats ($225), sunroof ($1000), xenon headlights ($700), roof spoiler ($380), DVD-based navigation system ($1750), and Dynaudio speakers ($476).

Fully loaded — with the “Sport Styling Kit” and optional 18-inch wheels — you’ll be out the door in a 5-door for a shade under $32,000.

With the Rabbit, aspects of the interior felt tinny and lacking polish. The new Golf? Well, in top trim it’s basically what you’d expect from a lower-priced Audi.

APPLES TO BANANAS

About that “lower-priced Audi”: the Audi A3 TDI starts at $29,950. A Golf TDI equipped with a DSG transmission costs $24,639. Sure, the Audi comes with leather and a few other luxury touches you can’t get on the Golf — still, fully-loaded, the V-Dub will save you about $1000.

Most will compare the Golf TDI to a Prius or Honda Insight, and the verdict is simple: if you want a conventional car and do mostly highway driving that you’ll keep for several years, the Golf wins every time.

If you drive mostly in stop-and-go traffic and lease your vehicles — but still care about your fuel consumption — a hybrid is best. An outside pick, especially if you’ve got a family, is the sweet-handling and very impressive Ford Fusion Hybrid, from $27,625.

PERFORMANCE

A Golf TDI is among the most relaxing cars I’ve driven. In traffic, with the DSG, the immense torque (236 ft-lbs between 1750 – 2500 RPM) mean it’s hardly ever revving hard. More revs equal more noise — sure, at idle a modern diesel is slightly louder than a gasoline motor — but when are you sitting in an idling car?

That torque translates into relaxed in-town performance and a good push for getting up to speed on the highway. Passing performance is good, despite what you’d think from only 140 horsepower.

Handling is balanced, predictable, and solid — exactly what you’d expect from a Volkswagen. The added weight of the diesel motor up front isn’t a detriment to performance, either. Overall, it drives like a much larger car.

Back to those range numbers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests every vehicle sold in the US and provides official fuel consumption figures of 30 mpg city and 42 mpg highway (with the DSG.) But using Canadian or European testing, those numbers jump to 35 mpg city and 50 mpg highway — a 15 per cent difference.

Real-world experience has shown that the latter figures seem to be more accurate, too. And that’s without what hybrid owners call “hypermiling.”

THE VERDICT

Simply put: The new Golf TDI is a class-leading hatchback with a class-leading engine. The added cost of a diesel motor pays for itself quickly in highway driving, and the car’s refinement is hard to match.

If you’re concerned about reducing the country’s need for fossil fuels, you know using less fuel is the answer. The car’s impressive mileage, coupled with driving dynamics and practicality of a normal car mean the Golf TDI is an unapologetic way to make some organic cupcakes…and eat them, too.

LOVE IT
  • Near-perfect mix of power and fuel efficiency
  • Pricing is good if you’re not concerned about options
  • Interior look, feel; build quality
LEAVE IT
  • Pricey compared with Prius and Honda Insight Hybrids
  • The gotta-have DSG transmission is an optional extra
  • Diesel fuel is still scarce in some parts of the country

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