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2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI Review

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2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI


2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

If your last experience with a diesel-powered Volkswagen was with a slow, smoky Rabbit Diesel back in the 70s or 80s, times have changed. Considerably. Diesel is not what it once was - massive technical changes analogous to what happened to gasoline engines from the late 1960s through today have eliminated the smoke, and turbocharging has eliminated the slow. Contemporary diesels, with Volkswagen's as the poster child, are environmentally clean and fuel-frugal. The Golf TDI goes further on a gallon of fuel than most hybrids, especially on the highway - and it's also fast and fun to drive.

First introduced in last year's Jetta TDI, VW's newest 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection diesel is 50-state legal thanks to electronic control of fuel injection and the turbo, catalytic converters, and particulate traps -- and the availability of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel that allows use of the cat and trap in the same manner that unleaded gasoline is required for catalytic converters in gasoline-powered vehicles.

It the TDI's 140 horsepower doesn't sound too exciting, as the old saying goes "horsepower is what you brag about, torque is what you feel". And what you feel with the TDI is 236 lb-ft -- noticeably more than the 207 lb-ft from cousin GTI's 2.0-liter gasoline turbo -- from 1750 through 2500 rpm. As in the Jetta, the Golf's front wheels are driven through either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automated twin-clutch manual transmission.

The 2010 Golf gets more change than merely the addition of the TDI engine. It also gets a new look and an upgraded interior. As before, the Golf is a two- or four-door hatchback, with gasoline power supplied by a 2.5-liter, 170-hp inline five-cylinder engine. Want the 2.0-liter, 200-hp turbo? Then it's called a GTI.

There is one other difference between the TDI and gasoline Golf, suspension tuning. The TDI gets a firmer tuning to its fully-independent suspension, much in the vein of the GTI. Sport diesel? Believe it. It's already happened in Europe, where there is a more-powerful TDI called the GTD, as in GTI + TDI.

I've just spent an all-too-short week with a four-door TDI with the DSG transmission. The Golf has grown in both size and place in the automotive hierarchy over the years, and is far from being a cramped, bare-bones entry-level subcompact. Call it an upscale compact. I can't recall another car that I've ever driven that offers such a great combination of economical functionality and entertaining performance, and I've driven most of what has been available in the past 20 years. It's hard to beat a four-door hatchback for maximum interior space on a minimum footprint with maximum access to that space for either passengers or cargo. And it's hard to beat a torquey turbodiesel for quick acceleration, especially at the low and medium speeds that are the norm in everyday life, and excellent fuel economy. EPA ratings with the DSG are 30 mpg city, 42 highway. At the end of its stay, with 225 miles on the trip meter, the TDI had two-thirds of a tank left - for an average of 35 mpg in mostly city and enthusiastic secondary road driving. That's as good as any mid-size and most compact hybrids, and the Golf TDI is fun to drive and even more economical on the highway. Clean diesel rocks!

APPEARANCE: Welcome to the new look at Volkswagen. It's sleeker and better-defined, but still instantly identifiable. At the front, the bumper fascia, headlights, and grille are all new and ever so slightly restyled for a leaner look. There's slightly less overhang at the front, and the TDI gets foglamps at the edges of the lower intake. The sides benefit from prominent full-length shoulder line that removes the softness of the previous version further enhancing the look of fitness. The rear view is topped off by a small spoiler at the rear of the roof which incorporates the stop light, and revised taillights that echo the shape of the headlights.

COMFORT: The new Golf's interior has more in common with its upscale cousins at Audi than it does with any Oriental competitors. No surprise there, and a reminder that it's been a long time since VW was an "entry-level" brand. The design motif is Teutonic simplicity, and form follows function with no egregious video-game influences. Aluminum-bezeled instruments and vents add a high-class touch, as does the aluminum trim around the shift lever. Materials and fit and finish are first-rate. As expected at its level, the TDI offers power windows, mirrors, and locks with remote entry as standard equipment. Seats are cloth and manually-adjustable, including driver's cushion height, with a very good degree of comfort. Three-level seat heaters are part of the cold-weather package, and work quickly. The steering wheel is manually adjustable for both tilt and reach, and features a leather-wrapped rim and trip computer and auxiliary audio controls. Manual-shift paddles are found behind the horizontal spokes, downshift on the left and up to the right. The available navigation system uses a simple modified touch-screen interface, easily reached by the driver or front passenger. The standard audio system includes AM, FM, and Sirius satellite radio, plus CD and an auxiliary input jack at the front of the center console and USB port inside, next to a power point. Rear passenger space is very good for the Golf's relatively small size, although the high central tunnel makes it best for two. Both a ski-passthrough and 60/40 seatback fold enhance versatility -- and four-door access is hard to beat for both passengers and cargo.

SAFETY: The forty different features of Volkswagen's "Prevent and Preserve Safety System" work together to protect the Golf's occupants. Included are, among other things, a full complement of airbags, with available rear-seat side airbags for four-door models, optimized front seat headrests and seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters. Active safety, the ability to avoid an incident, is enhanced by responsive handling and four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, brake assist, electronic brake-pressure distribution, and the ESP stability enhancement system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Although the exterior sheetmetal is mostly new, the 2010 Golf's underlying structure is familiar. And that is no problem at all. It's a rigid, laser-welded (in Wolfsburg, Germany) structure that provides a fine anchorage for the MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension. Which, in the TDI, is tuned a touch more firmly than in the gasoline Golf. There is no diminishment of ride comfort, but noticeably less body roll than with a regular VW suspension when cornering enthusiastically -- which is an activity definitely in the TDI's repertoire.

PERFORMANCE: Quick acceleration, no smokescreen, and 35+ mpg? Must be a modern clean diesel! The long-stroke 16-valve single overhead cam four-cylinder turbodiesel benefits from electronically-controlled common-rail fuel injection with piezoelectric direct injectors, and exhaust treatment from particulate filtration, diesel oxidation, NOx storage, and hydrogen sulfide slip catalysts make it clean enough to even please the California Air Resources Board. Which means that it's 50-state legal. Only on a very cold morning does the TDI require any noticeable length of glow-plug warmup time. If the 140 horsepower (at 4000 rpm) output seems weak, diesels are all about torque, and this one makes 236 lb-ft between 1750 and 2500 rpm, with plenty of urge after that. Enough, in fact, that with the stick or in manual-shift mode, the engine will easily and quickly spin to the rev limiter although power does begin to drop off above 4500. That should come as no surprise -- after all, its cousin over in the Audi R10 has been rather successful in endurance racing in the past few years. The electronically-controlled six-speed DSG twin-clutch automated manual gearbox works very well as the automatic choice, as it shifts better than most torque-converter automatics in D. There is also a Sport automatic mode, which holds gears longer and shifts at higher engine speeds. Manual mode is great for playing, but since all but the tightest corners can easily be done in third gear and shifting is mostly unnecessary, mode rarely matters. Torque is good!

CONCLUSIONS: It's fun to drive, roomy, comfortable, quick, and incredibly fuel efficient. What's not to like about the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI?

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Base Price			$ 22,590
Price As Tested			$ 26,614
Engine Type			single overhead cam 16-valve
				 turbocharged diesel with common-rail
				 direct piezoelectric fuel injection.
Engine Size			2.0 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 4000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1750 - 2500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed DSG twin-clutch
				 automated manual (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		101.5 in. / 165.4 in.
Curb Weight			3041 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.7
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		ultra-low sulfur diesel
Tires				225/45R17 91H Conti Pro Contact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid discs,
				 ABS, EBD, ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		30 / 42 / 35
0 to 60 mph				8.6 sec

Touchscreen Navigation System			$ 1,750
6-speed DSG transmission with Tiptronic®	$ 1,100
Cold-weather package - includes:
  heated seats and washer nozzles		$   225
Bluetooth® connectivity				$   199