Driven: 2010 Volkswagen Golf

With either two or four doors, the gasoline-powered Golf is fastest to 60 mph. VW estimates 7.8 seconds with the five-speed manual and 8.1 seconds for the six-speed Tiptronic automatic, versus 8.6 seconds for the diesel with either the standard six-speed manual or the dual-clutch, paddle-smacking DSG automatic.

The diesel-only DSG and six-speed are the first clues to VW's marketing mind-set: All the good stuff to flatter VW's diesel loyalists but none for the little piggies who pump gasoline, with the EPA estimating city/highway mileage at 23/30 mpg for the automatic 2.5 and 30/42 mpg for the DSG diesel. For the two-door diesel, which starts at $22,690 (add $1100 for DSG), an all-or-nothing equipment level is reminiscent of some Lexus hybrids -- dangling the fuel-saving carrot only to beat prospects with a pricey stick of features that not all will want.

Buyers of the Golf 2.5, whose $18,190 base price undercuts the TDI's by a hefty $4500, are similarly forced into the economy box. Nearly all the sporty or deluxe goodies - from the diesel's standard sport suspension, seventeen-inch wheels, leather-clad, multifunction steering wheel, uplevel audio, foglamps, plus optional DSG, nav system, and xenon headlamps - aren't available on the gasoline version.

The engines also give aural aesthetes a Sophie's Choice: the drone of the five-cylinder gas engine or the moan of the low-revving diesel. Fortunately, both versions are remarkably quiet inside, the result of serious effort in sound deadening. For the diesel, fuel savings and a federal conservation credit of up to $1700 help soften the sticker's blow. And as with the Jetta TDI, 0-to-60-mph stats do no justice to the diesel's sturdy passing power.

Picking up the pace to 70 mph, the TDI still tops 40 mpg. At 80, it hums at a quiet 2800 rpm, about 400 fewer than the gasoline model. And en route from VW's Wolfsburg HQ to Berlin, the sky clears, puddles evaporate, and the TDI becomes a pesky fly on the flanks of haughty German sedans. Working the paddles, I average nearly 100 mph over an hour, topping out at 123 mph. Even at this never-in-America pace, the Golf returns a satisfying 32 mpg. Through it all, the VW is oak-tree planted and its cabin serene, with no hint of engine strain or occupant fatigue. Try that in a Prius.

Detouring through centuries-old farm country, the TDI does reveal that it's no road-slashing GTI -- or even a Mazda 3. The electric power steering is accurate and the suspension game, but the package surrenders under high-g fire. Yet for enthusiasts who can't swing a GTI, the TDI becomes the fallback, thanks to its lavish torque and equipment. As long as your hatch budget clears twenty grand, that's a comfy fallback-- hybrid-like highway mileage and honest good times, wrapped in a versatile, grown-up package.

All that's left is to regale friends and neighbors -- and maybe your senator -- about the wonders of diesel.

The Specs
On Sale: Now
Price: $18,190/$22,690 (2.5/TDI)
Engines: 2.0L turbo-diesel I-4, 140 hp, 236 lb-ft; 2.5L I-5, 170 hp, 177 lb-ft
Drive: Front-wheel

2 of 2
MITSUMAN2
I TOTALLY AGREE WITH GRANT 74 WHO THE HELL CARES ABOUT ALL THE TECH EQUIPMENT THAT THEY PUT IN THE TDI. I WOULD BUY ONE TODAY IF JACOBY WOULD PULL HIS HEAD OUT AND LISTEN TO WHAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WANT AND NOT WHAT HE THINKS THEY WANT, WE LOVE HACTHBACKS IN AMERICA BUT NOT FOR $26k GIVE US THE TDI WITH A GREAT SUSPENSION,STEERING,BRAKES,FOGLIGHTS,HID,CLOTH SEATS,NO SUNROOF,FOR $20 AND YOU WOULD NOT KEEP THEM ON THE LOTS!!!! HELL I FEEL LIKE IM TALKING TO THE WALL THEY NEVER LISTENOH YA THIER TRYING TO CATER TO THE UP SCALE MARKET. FYI A BMW,LEXUS,MERCEDES ECT: BUYER IS NOT GOING TO BUY A GOLF DUH!!!
grant74
kf75--the Jetta and New Beetle are made in Mexico (their VIN begins with 3), but the Golf and GTI are made in Germany (their VIN begins with W)
kf75
Golf is not "German built", it's Mexican built.... Still looks like sweet car though!
grant74
I'm happy that VW is still importing the Golf to the US (can't be easy to import a German-built car to the US for so little money), but I'm disappointed by the strict division between "bargain spec gas engine" or "fully-loaded Diesel". I'd be happy with a Diesel with less equipment for $20,000 or so.
Edward A. Sanchez
The GTD would be a nice alternative as well.
johnrees
Jacoby and VW should be working on their customer service first. View my VW experience at:http://www.reesphotos.com/VW/

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