Wow, this clutch is vastly superior to our departed Four Seasons Jetta TDI’s. There’s good feel, although I could do without the pulsating sensation that comes through the pedal all the time, and it’s easy to take off smoothly, which was never the case with our Jetta.
Before I drove the Golf TDI, I thought it would be the ideal hatchback for me. I like the idea of a five-door car with a diesel engine and a manual transmission, but the night before I drove the Golf TDI I was driving our Automobile of the Year winning GTI. Both cars have 2.0-liter engines with turbochargers and direct injection. Going the diesel route nets you 236 lb-ft of torque to the gas engine’s 207 lb-ft, but the diesel’s mere 140 hp is far less satisfying than the gas engine’s 200 hp, especially since the diesel has a much narrower power band. For some people, the extra 9 mpg (EPA combined rating) will make the TDI a great choice. With my (mostly highway) driving habits, the difference between 41 and 31 mpg is pretty minor compared with the amount of fun I have behind the wheel of a GTI.
The great part about the Golf, though, is how versatile the platform is. You can choose from a frugal diesel engine, a high-revving gasoline engine with a turbo and direct injection, or a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that costs quite a bit less than either of the turbo choices. No matter which powertrain you choose, you get a great interior, good packaging, and the feeling that you’re buying into a well-built car instead of a bargain-bin compact.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
The Golf TDI in its pleasing blue paint was a nice car to have waiting for me at the Detroit airport when I flew home from driving the Buick Regal in Germany. There were three of us in the car heading back to Ann Arbor, and we were all impressed by the ride quality and the quiet cabin. It’s easy to stall this car; as Phil mentions, there’s a narrow powerband and you have to modulate the accelerator pedal carefully.
Would I choose the TDI over one of the other available engines in the Golf? Only if I regularly made long highway trips; for that purpose, it’s a champ. But if most of my driving was urban and on two-lane roads, I’d join Phil in getting myself a GTI. For diesel fans, though, this Golf TDI is a big winner.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I have long had a fondness for Volkswagen hatchbacks, dating back to the diesel Rabbit I bought in 1981 that was the first car I ever purchased. Even though that car wasn’t exactly the paramount of performance or reliability, its hatchback body style was extremely versatile – and it gave 50-plus mpg on the freeway.
Fast forward to the 2010 Golf TDI. Today’s Golf has the same basic body architecture that the Rabbit/Golf has had for more than three decades, which is a testament to its ultimate practicality. But the diesel engine is where VW has made the greatest strides. Granted, you likely won’t see the same 50-plus mpg I got in my old Rabbit, but today’s diesel engines are light-years ahead of where they were three decades ago in both refinement and reliability. The Golf TDI is a vehicle I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to someone who wants a practical, efficient vehicle that will also provide some amount of driving satisfaction.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The Volkswagen Golf TDI combines two of the best automotive niches: hatchbacks and diesels. Separately, these two segments account for a tiny fraction of U.S. auto sales. Combined, though, they really make a lot of sense. Both diesel engines and hatchback bodies are all about efficiency. Someone who’s placing a priority on fuel efficiency also likely appreciates a vehicle that has better space efficiency than the typical sedan. I don’t expect the Golf TDI to create a rush for diesels or hatchbacks, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it outsell the diesel Jetta sedan.
At $27,690, the price of this particular Golf TDI induces cringes. However, the starting price of $23,340 for a four-door TDI is palatable and includes the essentials as standard equipment. As a comfortable, affordable, reliable, and reasonably involving vehicle, a Golf TDI would be on my short list for a personal purchase. My only gripe is that the touch-screen navigation and radio interface was slow to respond. The same head unit minus the navigation software seems to operate much more fluidly in our long-term GTI.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
As several editors have already noted, we’ve spent a lot of time with the latest generation VW hatchback, mostly with our Four Seasons GTI and now with this TDI. They each have their own unique advantages and trade-offs, but the most important thing one gathers is that they’re both very, very good small cars. Every detail, from the bright LCD touch screens to the attractive, high quality feel to the seat upholstery — hound’s-tooth on the GTI, striped on the TDI — is a notch above what you’ll find in other cars this size. They also both drive very well. The TDI, as one would expect, is a bit more laid back than the GTI, but it’s still plenty powerful and handles well. Most buyers will likely prefer to let VW’s excellent dual-clutch automatic gearbox manage the diesel’s narrow power band, but I actually enjoy the challenge of the manual, made easier by the precise, if somewhat notchy shifter.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
As small cars go, it’s pretty hard to beat the Volkswagen Golf. And the addition of a turbo-diesel engine to the options list makes it that much more enticing. I’m not going to say that I prefer driving the TDI to the GTI, but if I were trying to decide between buying one or the other, it would be very tempting to sign up for the four-door TDI, with its $1300 cheaper price and much-improved fuel economy (30/41 mpg city/highway versus 21/31 mpg for the GTI).
The Golf TDI offers a smooth ride (“soft” when compared with the GTI), but the Golf is still a reasonably willing dance partner on curvy back roads. The turbo-diesel engine offers plenty of passing power, too, so long as you work that pleasant manual gearbox (which, I agree with my colleagues, seems to be better calibrated here than in our Four Seasons Jetta TDI). I managed to average an indicated 38 mpg on my non-highway commute, without really trying hard. Not bad!
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I was not surprised to see the average mpg function cued up on the display screen when I hopped into the Golf TDI. This car puts up some pretty impressive fuel economy numbers, and it’s natural to want to see just how well your doing. (For the record, I got just under 30 mpg on my short drive through town, and then 39 mpg the next day on an Interstate cruise out to the airport.)
For anyone with a long commute who is looking to get really great fuel economy, the Golf TDI has to be a top choice. It starts with the innate goodness of the Golf: superb chassis tuning, comfortable cabin, excellent packaging. Then add the excellent drivability of the 2.0-liter TDI engine, with its robust, easily accessible torque, and seamlessly integrated turbo. The only issue is that, as we discovered with our long-term Jetta TDI, the clutch take-up and throttle calibration mean you have to work to keep from stalling the TDI; the dual-clutch gearbox (despite its extra $1100) is really the way to go, unless your driving is all highway.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI 4-door
Base price (with destination): $23,340
Price as tested: $27,690
2.0-liter turbodiesel engine
6-speed manual transmission
Electro-mechanical power steering
Electronic stabilization program (ESP)
Anti-slip regulation (ASR)
Four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS)
17-inch alloy wheels
Tire pressure monitoring system
Front and rear disc brakes
Power & heated outside mirrors
Leather wrapped steering wheel/shift knob/e-brake handle
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Touch screen AM/FM radio with in-dash 6-CD changer
Auxiliary input/iPod adapter
Sirius satellite radio
Remote keyless entry
Front and rear carpeted floor mats
Options on this vehicle:
Touch screen navigation system $1750
Power sunroof $1000
Bi-Xenon HID headlamps $700
Dynaudio sound system $476
Cold weather package $225
– Heated front seats and washer nozzles
Bluetooth connectivity $199
Key options not on vehicle:
DSG 6-speed automatic transmission $1100
30 / 41 / 34 mpg
Size: 2.0L turbodiesel I-4
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750-2500 rpm
Curb weight: 2994 lb
17-inch aluminum wheels
225/45R17 94H Continental ContiProContact all-season tires