VW’s smallest diesel scores a hole in one
summit daily auto writer
Could the appeal of a readily and easily attainable 40 miles per gallon help overcome the longstanding unsexiness of diesel, among the car-buying public?
In one particular instance, the Volkswagen Golf TDi, sure. However, given that many other carmakers have now entirely dropped their plans for diesel-engined automobiles in their future North American offerings, the heady rattle of the VW may be consumer-level diesel’s last stand.
As I have stated many times, that’s a shame because, unlike the continuingly convoluted and increasingly expensive iterations of hybrid and alternative fuelled machines, diesel’s here – everything in your house is brought to you by diesel-powered trucks, trains and boats – and it’s probably going to stick around for a while. And, what is it about 40 miles per gallon that’s unappealing, unless you own a lot of Exxon stock?
In the case of the sixth-generation Golf, a heady 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder will earn you at least a verifiable, EPA-measured 41 mpg on the highway, with more than enough torque to tackle the passes.
Golf is the new, old name for VW’s little two- or four-door automobile; hoping to revive some nostalgic spirit, the car got the Rabbit name in the U.S. for a few years but … it’s those memories of the slow and smelly diesel Rabbits of the 1970s, rattling like washing machines full of ball bearings, that the new TDi setup hopes to completely eradicate.
Admittedly, the very clean, low-sulfur diesel powerplant in the Golf feels just a tad more obvious (ie. “sounds a tad more obvious”) than the engine in the larger Jetta; on a cold morning start or at idle, there’s a palpable clatter, although that’s mostly imperceptible from the sound-deadened interior.
Non-car-enthusiast types (or those who’ve never driven an F-250 diesel) will still complain of the smell, but to me it was not an issue.
The output may only be 140 horses but with 236 lb.-ft. of torque, takeoffs are easy, passing is a snap and you’ll practically eat up the Eisenhower Tunnel. And, unless you drive like a madman, you’ll get the 44 mpg I averaged over a cold week, and perhaps more.
Beyond that, the Golf packs all of its typical, aesthetically pleasing if not somewhat austere leanings, meaning that it’s an attractive, solid hatchback with clean lines and contemporary design.
Interior design is also smooth, clean and understated, with a simple, two-barrel instrument cluster, the newest variation on VW’s touchscreen navigation and entertainment system and an oversized shifter for the six-speed manual (a six-speed, automatic direct shift gearbox is also an option).
My main gripe with the Golf was the very child seat-styled, overly sporty front seats. They are positioned unusually high and are so aggressively bolstered on the thighs and thorax that I had to slide the seat a full two feet back to gracelessly climb aboard, and then skootch myself forward two feet to even be able to reach the pedals.
I am, by the way, not shaped like Danny DeVito, so those required gymnastics seemed a little annoying. My final seating position also put my head right in the middle of a large B-pillar, so shoulder checking was also more of a challenge.
Accessing the rear seat also involves sliding the front seats forward two feet, swinging in like an orangutan and then planting yourself in a highly elevated but essentially flat-bottomed bench seat.
Under way (and ignoring the slight clatter), the Golf TDi remains good fun. It’s Germanically solid with slightly heavy steering, but capable of some entertaining careening on twisty roads. The size and weight balance also enabled me to travel without problems, even on plain vanilla all-seasons, through the snow that totally consumed other vehicles.
As I mentioned, VW’s newest navigation and entertainment system is yet another improvement over past systems, with 3D and terrain mapping, Sirius satellite radio and great sound. A new, external, ceiling-mounted Bluetooth was also fully functional.
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