Volkswagen Golf TDI Review

By Jonathan Spira on 1 March 2010
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The Volkswagen Golf, launched as the Rabbit in the United States, has been in the VW lineup since 1974, introduced as the front-wheel-drive replacement for the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle (Käfer).   The name Golf is derived from the German word for the Gulf Stream, in keeping with the company’s convention of naming its cars after prominent winds including the Scirocco, the Passat, and the Jetta.

The 2010 Golf is the sixth generation of the car, debuted at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, and went on sale in Europe in early 2009.  It went on sale in the U.S. last October and has an elegant, more aerodynamic design than its predecessors, somewhat reminiscent of the first Golf.  The streamlined exterior helps contribute to improved fuel economy.

The new front fascia shows off the new Volkswagen look with a wider grill that blends into sporty angled headlamps.  A hatch spoiler integrated with the third brake light and new taillights which echo the front design feature integrated clear turn signals and reverse indicators complete the new look.

The 2010 Golf comes in gasoline- and diesel-powered powered versions and the diesel gets the Bosch common rail direct injection system that replaces the much older Pumpe Düse (PD) unit injector that was in older Golfs.

In the U.S., the Golf TDI comes with a 140-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder that puts out 236 pound-feet of torque, the same engine already available to buyers of the Jetta TDI (unfortunately we don’t get the GTI-inspired GTD with 30 additional horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque).

At one point, Volkswagen marketed its cars with the slogan “Fahrvergnügen” [a made-up German word that means driving enjoyment, which took aim at BMW’s Freude am Fahren (The Joy of Driving) tagline].  While it still has a way to go before it enters the realm of the sports sedan, the sixth-generation Golf is enjoyable to drive, with a responsive suspension and reasonably sharp (but light) steering.  The Golf took tight corners and twisty roads with aplomb and minimal body roll. As is typical of modern diesels, the TDI was happy to rev and exhibited a decent punch off the line.  The six-speed manual transmission exhibited typical Volkswagen quirks such as the need to push down the shifter to get into reverse.

The turbo diesel’s 236 pound-feet of torque was really useful in overtaking on highways and exiting corners and in-gear acceleration was more than adequate.  Fuel economy was, of course, spectacular.  In our tests, which were a variety of in-town and highway driving, we beat the EPA estimates of 30 mpg city and 41 highway.

The TDI comes with alloy wheels, a sport suspension, Bluetooth, and eight-speaker stereo with Volkswagen’s Mobile Device Interface (MDI), which offers support for USB devices and iPod music players.  Sound quality was decent and the MDI’s interface was easy enough to use.

The (optional) touchscreen navigation system features a very readable high-resolution 6.5” display, an integrated 30 GB hard drive with 20 GB reserved for audio and 10 for nav, support for SD memory cards, and a 3.5 mm auxiliary jack in the center console.

The interior is markedly improved over the fifth-generation Golf. Indeed, the level of refinement is simply head-and-shoulders above other cars in its class.  High-quality plastics and brushed metallic trim contrast nicely with the black analog gauges.  Eight-way (manual) seats are standard and quite comfortable; the rear seats have adjustable head rests and fold separately (60/40) to increase cargo space.  The TDI comes standard with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls for the dashboard information display and music.

The 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI has a more upscale feel than the competitors in its price range and the car’s fuel economy makes it a strong competitor to gasoline-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius as well as its more upscale diesel stablemate, the Audi A3 TDI.

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI
Base price/price-as-tested $21,990/$25,914
Drivetrain Front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine 2.0/140 hp/turbocharged I-4
Transmission 6-speed manual
Curb weight (lbs) 2994
Wheelbase (inches) 101.5
Length x width x height (inches) 165.4 x 70.3 x 58.3
0-60 mph (seconds) 8.6
City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 30/41