Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf front 3/4

Every time I drive a VW Beetle, Jetta, or in this case, Golf with the company’s turbocharged-direct-injected TDI diesel engine I’m impressed. It’s a smooth, strong, quiet powerplant that’s got gobs and gobs or torque, lots of refinement, and is rewarding to drive. Needless to say, I was looking forward to spending a week with Volkswagen’s newest oil burner, the 2015 Golf TDI.

The new-for-2015 seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf features everything you would’ve liked in the previous MKVI golf, but with more refinement, more power, more room, less weight, and slightly edgier looks.

To the untrained eye, this MKVII Golf may look just like the MKVI Golf, but there are subtle differences. Most notably, the car is a bit more angular. Areas such as the lower front fascia and headlamps are a bit edgier, making the car as handsome and European looking as ever. It’s a subdued look, but it’s not bland like some of the base model Jettas. It is slightly larger than the previous generation but actually weighs 79 lbs. less. The car is on VW’s modular transverse matrix (abbreviated “MQB” from the German Modularer Querbaukasten) and has what VW calls cab-backwards design which is intended to give the car a more appealing look. I have no idea what cab-backwards means, but I do think it’s an attractive car, backwards or not.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI center stack
Inside the Jetta you’ll find the usual minimal, stylish Volkswagen interior, which also feels solid and well built. The lines are clean and the materials are premium. I liked the brushed-aluminum bits paired with the soft-touch black parts. You’ll find a very upright yet driving position, although it actually took me longer to find that just-right place in the seat than I’d expected. The driver’s seat is a combination of power and manual adjustments. Overall, the car is room an spacious with an airy feel. There is decent space behind the folding rear seat for storage, and a pass-through for longer items, such as a pair of skis.

There are lots of bells and whistles on our tester’s interior. A very good parking-assist system gives you a line drawing of the car and shows when you’re getting close to things both in the front and rear. It will also stay on at slow speeds in the parking lot. If you find it annoying, you can simply turn it off. Additionally, the car’s computer is constantly reminding you about little things. Messages such as, “Close the sunroof for better fuel economy,” and “Pay attention to the gearshift indicator for better fuel economy,” were just two of the communications the computer relayed to me while driving. I appreciated the reminder the first 2,738 times it came on, but found it annoying after that. I’m guessing you can turn that off, too.

Our model was also equipped with the crisp-sounding Fender audio system, which has dynamic range and plenty of volume. It doesn’t provide the booming bass of other vehicles’ sound systems, such as the Infinity-equipped Kia Soul, the Beats Audio-equipped Fiat 500L, or the Rockford Fosgate-equipped Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, for example. Perhaps it’s simply a different demographic and VW knows that. Also, the touch-screen infotainment system is pretty simple to use.

One niggle I had was that to operate the rear window wiper, you press the stalk on the right side of the steering column forward. If you want to squirt fluid onto it, you press it farther. However, it’s very easy to push the stalk too far when you simply want to wipe and not wash. Additionally, I’m not sure if the rear washer nozzle was leaky or what, but it dribbled down the window much of the time we had the car. Full disclosure: This was a pre-production prototype, so I can’t be too hard on things like this.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI driving

Our TDI tester was equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. While the gates were easy to find, the shifts were on the long side. As with any of the TDI models I’ve driven, it takes a bit of time to get used to starting from a dead stop. Part of it is a vague clutch uptake; part of it is a different powerband than the gas variants. However, once you figure it out, you’ll be rewarded with lots of power. In fact, every time I’ve driven a TDI, I’m impressed. Yet this ’15 model is even more impressive than the outgoing versions. This sucker really pulls thanks to the newly designed 2.0-liter’s 236 lbs/ft of torque and a peak horsepower rating of 150. It’s remarkable how quickly, smoothly, and quietly the engine revs, too. Things do run out of steam in the upper revs (say around 4,000 RPM), but there’s little need to go up that high. If you thought previous TDIs were fun to drive, the latest iteration is a doggone blast.

Like most Golfs, this tester was nimble, responsive, and continues to be a driver’s car—something Volkswagen has been synonymous with for decades. The steering is quick, the body roll is minimal, and the ride is at the top of its class. These are all traits the last generation had, and it’s only more refined on this latest offering.

You can’t talk diesel without talking economy. The ’15 TDI is rated at 31 city, 36 combined and 45 highway MPG. The computer said we got 40 MPG combined, and that was in mostly city driving. It was easy to get this mileage, and I’m sure we could do even better with it.

While our pre-production VW TDI didn’t come with a window sticker, I’ve seen road tests of similarly equipped TDI SE models going for about $28,000, and that’s where I’d guess this one is placed. Those looking for the dual-clutch DSG gearbox and a few other goodies can get a Golf TDI SEL for $29,915. Those looking for a less-expensive Golf TDI can now opt for the new-for-2015 Golf TDI S, which runs $22,815.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI rear

Despite the car’s compact size, the Golf TDI is a premium vehicle in nearly all respects, and will likely sell all day at these prices. And frankly, if you want a compact diesel car in the U.S., you don’t have too many choices: It’s either this, the Audi A3, or the Chevrolet Cruze. I really like this car, and could see owning a TDI someday, although I’d probably opt for the TDI S, as I don’t need a bunch of the options found on this vehicle. Regardless of my situation, VW’s latest Golf TDI is impressive in many ways, and will likely continue to carry the diesel-fueled torch for years to come.

TDI badge 20152015 Volkswagen Golf TDI cargo area2015 Golf TDI front facing

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI exhaust

Fender Audio VW

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