Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

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IMG_1254The idea that you have to sacrifice performance to achieve fuel economy — and vice versa — is shattered with the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, a sporty little hatch with a turbodiesel powerplant that delivers the best of both worlds.

The Volkswagen Golf has been around since 1974, and its lovable hatchback body style has been a staple on both European and American roads ever since. The Golf is now in its seventh generation, and it retains much of what made its predecessors great. Rather than reinvent the hatchback, Volkswagen has sought to evolve the Golf, which rides on a platform shared with the upscale Audi A3. 

IMG_1262Though it may look similar to the sixth-generation Golf, the MK7 features a roomier cabin, taking advantage of new construction methods to provide improved shoulder room for front and rear passengers, more rear legroom and expanded rear cargo space. This is very crucial in such a competitive compact car market, where use of space and efficiency is everything.

Maintaining an attractive outward appearance is also paramount with the young buyers in the small car market– and the Golf delivers that in spades. In many ways, the new Golf moves back to its roots, with cleaner lines and sharpened angles, rather than the more bulbous design cues of the last two generations.

The Golf TDI is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct injected TDI Clean Diesel engine, making 150 horsepower and 236 pound feet of torque. The torque number is where the Volkswagn Golf TDI gets its ability to merge into 70 mph traffic. Power is routed to the front wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission, or an available 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), as in our test model.

IMG_1243In regular Drive mode, the Golf TDI moves along at a steady pace. It’s not sluggish, but it’s also not going to blow your hair back. Click the shift gate in to “S/M” mode, and you engage Sport model with the option of Manual shifting.

Clicking through the gears yourself can be fun, but the diesel engine has a unique torque curve. Even a seasoned driver might not know the optimal shift points, which is why SPORT mode is the better driving option. In SPORT, throttle response quickens and shifts are held longer, but you pay the price in lower fuel economy.

What truly makes the Volkswagen Golf TDI a sporty daily driver is the steering and suspension. Its steering system feels tighter and more responsive than any American small car, as the Golf is clearly tuned for European drivers. The suspension delivers minimal body roll, but still manages to soak up bumps and potholes in the road.

Even with this performance, the Volkswagen Golf TDI achieves 31 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. Owners of other TDI Volkswagens have reported even better fuel economy. In a week of mixed driving (and with SPORT mode engaged) we still averaged 38.7 mpg. One key consideration when buying the Golf TDI is how close the nearest gas station with diesel i s– and if there are others in the area. According to the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars, only about 42 percent of all retail filling stations in the United States offer clean diesel fuel.

IMG_1247The interior features a simpler design, that is more artful than spartan. With the clutter that makes its way into modern car interiors, the simplicity of the Golf is refreshing, with tactile buttons and knobs where they should be, and a useful touch screen for other vehicle features.

Pairing a phone through Bluetooth is relatively easy, and so is accessing contacts through voice control to place a call. It is just charging that is the only issue. Our test model only came with an iPhone5 charger, which connected into a proprietary cable receiver. If you do not have an iPhone5, you’re out of luck. Elsewhere, there are two 12v, cigarette lighter-style charging points. You’re good if you have a charger that can plug into these outlets, but if you have simply a USB cable charger, there are no options. This is highly unusual in a new car in 2014.

IMG_1240What’s also unusual is the choice of a backup sensor chart for the digital screen, rather than a backup camera. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI has a high rear window and large C-pillars (the space between the rear passenger doors and the rear windshield), so rear visibility can be an issue. A backup camera would take care of this, but instead, it has a digital display with heat areas that go from yellow to orange to red when you get to close to an object.

That’s not only consideration when buying a Golf TDI. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI starts at $22,825. With options, our test model was closer to $28,000. Then you have options like touchscreen navigation, Fender stereo system, panoramic sunroof and bi-xenon headlights. 

IMG_1266Due to the wide price range, the 2015 Volkswage Golf TDI covers a lot of ground. It’s further upscale than the domestic and Japanese small cars like Ford Focus or Honda Fit, yet it’s not quite as luxurious as the Audi A3, to which it is related.

In 2014, frugality is also a status symbol. Opulence is passé, in favor of a more realistic expectation from goods like automobiles. If this is your line of thinking, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI is the perfect blend of “perceived modesty” and real-world practicality. For those city-dwellers that want a niche vehicle that fits your lifestyle, the VW Golf TDI delivers– without having to buy a 30 year old car just to look cool.