2013 Volkswagen Golf TDI Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Horsepower is all nice and well, but if you've ever wanted an argument for the overall awesomeness of torque, look no further than the Volkswagen Golf TDI. Looking near indistinguishable from a garden-variety gasoline-powered Golf, the TDI has a 2.0-litre direct-injected turbo diesel engine that cranks out a relatively modest 140 horsepower, but a mighty 236 lb-ft of torque. Combined with a reasonably svelte curb weight of 1,388 kg, this gives the TDI effortlessly lively performance and genuinely impressive real-world fuel economy.

Wrap it all up in the well-sorted and thoroughly competent Golf chassis and you get a truly compelling proposition, especially at the Golf TDI's starting price of $26,820, which is only $2,300 more than a comparably equipped gas-powered Golf and makes the Golf TDI one of the least expensive diesel-powered cars you can buy in Canada (the diesel Jetta takes the honour of being Canada's cheapest diesel car at $25,385 including destination).

The Golf TDI is available only as a five-door, either in Volkswagen's one-step-up Comfortline trim or in top-of-the-range Highline trim (starting at $30,790 destination in). A six-speed manual transmission is standard, or a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic can be specified for an additional $1,400.

For the money, the Comfortline Golf TDI comes equipped with plenty of kit including air conditioning, cruise control, remote central locks, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, heated front seats with power recline, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift-knob, eight-speaker audio with auxiliary input, fog lights and 16-inch alloy wheels. Of course there's also a full array of safety gear including electronic stability control, antilock brakes with brake assist, and side curtain airbags in addition to the usual front and side airbags.

My test car was fitted out in Highline trim, which adds bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension, sport seats with leather upholstery, two-zone climate control, power sunroof, multifunction trip computer, digital compass and an upgraded touch-screen audio system featuring satellite radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity and media device interface with iPod connectivity (these last two items are available in Comfortline models as an optional extra). The only option with the Highline trim is an $890 navigation system, and my car had both this and the DSG automatic gearbox fitted, bringing the as-tested price to $33,080 with destination charges included.

Regardless of trim level, the Golf gets a nicely screwed-together interior using good-quality materials. The dash is soft-touch, while the door uppers use quality-looking rigid plastic with a resilient outer surface. The remaining hard plastic surfaces used in the interior are equally good looking, and all the switchgear has a high-end look and feel.

The overall interior ambience is restrained, but welcoming and functional. I found the front seats to be a perfect fit for my 5'11" frame, providing good long-range comfort, and likewise the rear seats offer decent room and comfort for a compact car. My only real complaints were that the outermost controls on the multifunction steering wheel tended to get accidentally activated by my big paws, and that the iPod-style media interface plug meant I couldn't plug in my USB thumb-drive to play music direct from the device. Another very slight quibble relates to the lack of a dedicated accessories position: the audio system can be operated regardless of whether the ignition is on or off (indeed regardless of whether the key is even in the ignition, at least for a while), but it shuts off whenever you cut the engine, requiring you to then turn the audio back on if you want to continue listening. I prefer to be able to shut off the engine while leaving my music playing seamlessly, a feature that promotes better environmental stewardship.

On the road, I really can't say that I have any complaints at all. The Golf's well-controlled suspension and accurate, predictable handling make it easy to drive on the highway and fun to toss around corners. There is some tire hum evident on the highway, but overall the ride is hushed and refined.

The TDI diesel is nearly as quiet as Volkswagen's gasoline engines, and has gobs of torque available pretty much anywhere in the rev range. This not only makes the engine feel far more powerful than one might expect, but also makes it a perfect match for Volkswagen's DSG automatic gearbox. The DSG gearbox is a direct- and quick-shifting marvel, but when hooked up to Volkswagen's gasoline engines its upshift-happy nature tends to dull engine performance unless you select sport mode (the DSG tends to seek the highest available gear in order to get the best possible fuel economy). But the TDI diesel pulls so mightily at low revs that no matter how quickly the DSG upshifts, there's plenty of power still available underfoot. It's as if DSG stands for "Diesel Synchronized Gearbox" instead of "Direct Shift Gearbox," and while Sport mode is still available the diesel's torque makes it almost superfluous. Choose the manual transmission and the diesel advantage means you're almost never caught in too high a gear, which makes both city driving and highway passing a snap.

With the DSG gearbox the engine turns 1,800 rpm at 100 km/h, giving the Golf TDI a highway consumption rating of only 4.7 L/100 km, while city consumption is rated at 6.7. In my own driving I didn't do quite this well, but I got reasonably closer to the rated numbers. I only used 12.6 litres of fuel to drive 171 mixed highway/city kilometres, which equals 7.4 L/100km. The first 100 kilometres were highway miles, and I was starting to wonder if the fuel gauge was broken because it didn't move a bit until just before I arrived at my destination.

For buyers seeking a practical, economical hatchback the Golf TDI is a tempting proposition, offering a compelling blend of performance, comfort, efficiency and driving enjoyment. It competes nearly head-to-head on price with similarly equipped gasoline-powered competitors like the Hyundai Elantra GT, Subaru Impreza, Kia Forte5 and Ford Focus, while offering efficiency approaching that of some hybrids without the complexity of a hybrid powertrain. This makes the Golf TDI perhaps one of the most underrated options out there, and well worth a test drive.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, 2013, Golf TDI, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Diesel, Compact,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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