Car Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — For anyone other than a diehard diesel fan, the big news in the recently updated Volkswagen lineup would have to be the revitalized GTI, all turbocharged 210 horses of creamy smooth hot hatch. Badged VW, it really feels like a hoity-toity Audi slumming in an off-the-shelf Moore’s suit. Indeed, they would probably get even more excited by the news that there will even be a “performance” version of the GTI available next January, as yet unnamed but known to have 10 more horses, an electronic front differential and electronically adjustable damping. Hot stuff for all the hot hatch lovers.

I suppose that even the lesser TSI could also generate some excitement, the 1.8-litre turbocharged EA888 1.8-litre turbocharged four another Audi hand-me-down that adds to the Volkswagen sophistication. Its 170 horsepower may not be the equal of the 200+ hp the A4 turbo four boasts, but it manages to match it in sophistication. Toss a slick-shifting six-speed automatic into the mix as well as a bargain-basement $18,995 starting price and you’d have every reason to deem the TSI the most important, if not the most exciting, of the new seventh-generation Golfs.

Despite their many attributes — the GTI steers with all the precision we expect of VW hot hatches even if the suspension is just a tad soft and the TSI is just overwhelmingly competent — the star of the show is the updated TDI. The new EA288 — one can’t accuse Volkswagen Ag of trying to romanticize the designation of its powerplants — 2.0 litre oil-burning four does boast some modest upgrades on its spec sheet. Its maximum horsepower is up 10 to 150-hp even if its maximum torque remains the same at 236 pound-feet.

The interior of the new Golf looks more upscale than the outgoing model, but it maintains the typical simplicity of teutonic design.

The interior of the new Golf looks more upscale than the outgoing model, but it maintains the typical simplicity of teutonic design.
Handout, Volkswagen

In as much as its performance is substantially improved — there’s precious little to be had between the TSI 1.8L gas engine and the two-litre TDI in terms of performance — the really impressive changes are more subjective. Credit the counter-rotating twin balance shafts, a new exhaust manifold that’s now integrated into the cylinder head or a revised high-pressure fuel injection system, but Volkswagen’s small turbodiesel four feels more sophisticated than ever. In the highest possible comment one can apply to a diesel engine, even experienced autojournalists weren’t always immediately sure that they were behind the wheel of the TDI until they saw the six-speed DSG transmission short shifting the small four just above 2,000 rpm. Rattle on start up — at least in an unseasonably warm San Francisco spring — was minimal, throttle response immediate and noise, vibration and harshness — the diesel’s typical bug-a-boo — all but eliminated. One could slap an Audi badge on the Golf TDI with no one the wiser; BMW wishes its 2.0-litre diesel was this smooth.

And, of course, it fairly sips fuel as if there really is an oil shortage. Official Natural Resources Canada figures are not yet available, but Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada’s public relations manager, expects the new TDI to match the previous version’s official ratings despite NRCan’s move to a new, tighter five-cycle testing regime rather than the previous, and much maligned, two-cycle system. Whatever the official figures end up being, look to the new Golf TDI to have fantastic range and fuel economy on the highway. Volkswagen also claims that the new TDI pumps out 40% lower emissions than the previous 2013 model thanks to two exhaust gas recirculation systems, a particulate filter and an oxidation catalytic converter. Additionally, like so many other new diesels, the EA288 uses urea injection to reduce NOx particulates.

This last, believe it or not, affects the TDI’s ride and handling. According to Volkswagen, the need for urea storage prevented the use of an independent suspension system in the rear, VW incorporating a traditional torsion beam instead (yes, the same that caused so much negative feedback in the previous generation Jetta).

2015 Volkswagen Golf family (GTI, TSI, TDI).

2015 Volkswagen Golf family (GTI, TSI, TDI).
Handout, Volkswagen

Nonetheless, it all works. The TDI’s suspension may not be the firmest of VW hatches, but the steering, despite this year’s switch to electrically-assisted power steering, is traditional European sharp and communicative. Add to this brakes with excellent feel, good balance front-to-rear between under- and oversteer and strong grip from the 205/55R16 all seasons and there’s little sacrifice to frugality in the TDI’s comportment. The ride, despite the TDI riding on the aforementioned non-independent torsion-beam suspension in the rear, is class-leading, wheel control more in keeping with an Audi rather than something supposed to do battle with Civics and Mazda3s.

Being paired with Audi has also dragged VW’s interior quality upscale. Materials, of course, are of a less expensive nature but are nonetheless more of the Target demographic than Honest Ed’s. Accoutrements and switchgear are less ostentatious than its upscale sibling, but still attractive in that simple, only-the-facts-ma’am motif that Teutonic designers love. As well, all the Golfs boast more interior volume and legroom than the previous generation. Nonetheless, rear seat legroom remains tight for large adults; there’s plenty of space for your noggin, but your knees, they may be a-banging against the front seats. There is, however, more cargo room in the rear thanks to the 50-millimetre-wider body; cargo capacity is a substantial 22.8 cubic feet with the seats up and increases to 52.7 cu. ft. — 15% more than the previous generation — when the rear perches are folded.

For the final bit of good news, Golf TDI ownership is easier than ever, with the new Trendline diesel trim costing $23,095, some $2,330 less expensive than the $25,425 Comfortline that was the entry into Golf TDI ownership previously. Additionally, the 2015 Comfortline is $30 cheaper than the similar 2013 trim, despite having $1,200 more standard content, Tetzlaff says. Of course, that’s not including the aforementioned torsion beam suspension, which offers substantial manufacturing cost savings.

Nonetheless, the 2015 Golf TDI is smoother, faster and slightly roomier than the model it replaces. It is also thriftier, cleaner and costs substantially less. There’s very little not to like.

While official figures aren't available, expect the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI to be just as frugal at the pump as the previous model.

While official figures aren’t available, expect the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI to be just as frugal at the pump as the previous model.
David Booth, Driving

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