Germany's Autobahn was the ideal place to test drive the all-new 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI, because despite the romantic notions of those who have never driven it, Germany's Autobahn is, to most Germans, just an efficient way of getting from here to there. It was, after all, the inspiration of our Interstate system, and it was perfectly suited for our testing needs because the Volkswagen Golf TDI is a perfectly German way to drive the perfectly German highway.
The 2010 Golf is the sixth generation of Volkswagen's compact hatchback, and the 2010 Golf TDI is the what-took-them-so-long return to the America of VW's acclaimed 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four to the model. The engine is the same 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel engine we sampled recently in the 2009 Volkswagen TDI applied to the all-new sixth-generation 2010 Golf.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf is all-new, though in general profile not all that different from the previous generation. However, it's easily distinguished from its immediate predecessor by a new front end, described by VW design chief Walter de Silva at a press conference in the company's design center in Wolfsburg, Germany, as the new face of Volkswagen. Instead of the large, predominantly vertical mask of its predecessor, the 2010 Volkswagen Golf has a horizontal grille reaching from one headlamp cluster to the other with another cooling air intake underneath that.
There are two different models of Golf for the America market for the 2010 model year. In addition to the diesel-powered Golf TDI, the Golf continues with the Volkswagen's 2.5-liter inline-five, naturally enough dubbed the Golf 2.5.
The quick way to tell the 2010 Golf TDI from the standard gasoline-fueled Golf 2.5 is fog lights: The TDI has them. The Golf 2.5 does not. It's also significant in that it indicates that Volkswagen is positioning the Golf TDI above the Golf 2.5. More differences include putting a sport suspension under the diesel-fueled model--including 17-inch alloy wheels in place of the 15-inch steel wheels on the gas Golf, respectively shod with performance all-season tires instead of regular all-season rubber.
We recently drove both models in Germany, spending most of our road time on the Autobahn but some on smaller roads as well, including urban streets. We drove the Autobahn because we wanted to get from Point A (Wolfsburg, Volkswagen's home and main factory) to Point B (Dresden, home of Volkswagen's "Glass Factory," the luxury plant where Volkswagen still makes its luxury model, the Phaeton) and then on to Point C (Berlin, which is where dinner was).
And we drove the Autobahn the way Germans drive the Autobahn: fast, but sane. We found out, for example, that the cruise control on the Golf will hold the Golf 2.5 or Golf TDI at a steady 95 miles per hour. The brakes of either are at the least sufficient for the moderate slowing to the 80 km/h (50 mph) urban/intersection intervals, moderate because we can plan ahead.
Scroll down for photo gallery of the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI.
Either Golf is steady at high speed, even with crosswinds that had the giant windmills turning, with only slight tugging to the side. The base Golf 2.5 also handled entrance ramps and other bends and curves with firm control, but the Golf TDI was noticeably crisp, the sport suspension behaving, well, sportingly.
Perhaps some of the Volkswagen Golf TDI's suspension rubbed off on the engine and drivetrain because the TDI felt faster than the 2.5. Our test TDI was equipped with the six-speed manual while the Golf 2.5 had an automatic, which also likely had something to do with making the Golf TDI feel spunkier than its gasoline-fueled sibling. But it's not. Volkswagen claims the Golf TDI takes 8.6 seconds to go from zero to sixty while the gas-engine models get to sixty in almost a full second quicker with the manual transmission, taking only 7.8 seconds, and with the six-speed automatic, the Golf 2.5 does the deed in 8.1 seconds.
The sounds of the two engines was part of the mix. The Golf 2.5 made the two-pitch tone typical of a five-cylinder engine, sounding something like a six-speed air raid siren. The Golf TDI on the other hand had a growl, not particularly melodious but eager, like a junior bulldog on a leash. At cruise, both engines were muted, even at a steady 95 mph. Stand outside the TDI--with the car stopped--and there is no doubt that the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI is indeed a diesel-powered car. It's the clatter of a traditional big rig's engine but rather a steady tapping, like someone playing castanets under that plastic cover over the engine.
What we liked about the Golf TDI, however, was how it would grunt its way out of slow speed corners with its abundant torque. Though rated at a puny-sounding 140 horsepower, the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel makes 236 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm. There wasn't much need for first gear, however, past the launch, running out of revs rather quickly.
Shifting isn't really a delight, however. The manual transmission had a slight rubbery feeling to the shift lever's action. It's not the elastomatic sensation of Saabs of old, but rather something that fell more into the "characteristic of the model" category than "annoying."
We weren't able to get a clear reading on the fuel economy of the 2010 Volkswagen Golf 2.5 but we did for the Golf TDI. According to the onboard trip computer, our TDI recorded 31.4 mpg. That compares to the EPA estimates of 30 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Then again, the EPA test cycle for city or highways doesn't figure in 95 mph, even with the cruise control set.
So perhaps, at least from that standpoint, the Autobahn wasn't the best test venue for the 2010 Volkswagen Golf, though we did learn a lot about the 2010 Volkswagen Golf beyond what one might learn at American speeds. And even if the Autobahn isn't anything special to Germans (though just try to take their unlimited speed), we'll confess to enjoying a 95 mph cruise without having to stay eyes riveted to the rearview mirror for anything other than an approaching Porsche.
So perhaps it really was ideal for testing the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI. It worked for us.