The Volkswagen Golf GTD makes you wonder if it's a more complete car than the legendary GTI after all. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
There's something wholly satisfying about a powerful diesel engine in a smallish car and nothing really does that formula a whole lot better than Volkswagen's Golf GTD. It features GTI-type styling, tidy handling and a gutsy 184PS diesel engine under the bonnet. Yet can still average 67.3mpg.
How did a car as good as the Volkswagen Golf GTD sneak up on us? Normally we see models like this coming from a long way out but with the Golf Mk 7, Volkswagen has really upped the game of its sporty diesels. Suddenly the GTI's crown as the default desirable Golf looks to be under threat from a car that drinks from the black pump. Yes, I know that the GTI has a whole welter of history on its side but let's shelve that for a minute. If asked to choose between a GTI and a GTD to run for a year, I'd be willing to place money on the fact that most people would plump for the diesel car. It's a vehicle that seems better attuned to the times and Volkswagen has rather belatedly given the GTD the attention it deserves. My first encounter with this car was on a motor show stand where for a couple of minutes I sat in it writing notes on the new GTI before I twigged that the redline on the rev counter didn't go high enough for a GTI. Think of this as a GTI for those who want more torque and lower fuel bills. It comes as a three or five-door hatch - or as a spacious estate.
The engine's a bit of a star here. Volkswagen diesels haven't always been at the top of the tree when it comes to flexibility and refinement. Yes, they've always made decent power and torque but the 184PS engine fitted to the Golf GTD really lifts it into the top league of diesel engine technology. It's refined at idle and makes a pleasant thrum under load. It doesn't feature the clever Active Cylinder Technology of some of the other diesel engines in Volkswagen's line up but that's about the only complaint you could level at it. It doesn't want for torque, that's for certain. The old GTD's 350Nm of torque wasn't bad but this rises to 380Nm at just 1,750rpm, and when deployed it'll get the Golf to 62mph from stationary in just 7.5 seconds. With a top speed of 142mph, it's not about to be found wanting on anything but the most ruthless section of derestricted autobahn either.
Design and Build
The Golf GTD is virtually identical to the GTI from the outside, coming as standard with smoked LED rear lights with LED licence plate illumination, bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, chrome dual tailpipes, 18-inch 'Nogaro' alloy wheels with 225/40 tyres, side skirts, a rear diffuser, sports suspension and a large roof spoiler. The clever MQB modular chassis not only offers Volkswagen the scope to run different models spun off it down the same production line, it also pares weight right back, such that this Golf Mk 7 rolls back the years. In fact it's not significantly weightier than a Mk 4, despite boasting massively improved safety features and more interior equipment. It's miles bigger inside too. The driving position is almost unfeasibly adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position. The cabin's a little wider than before which helps with elbow room and there's also a bit more rear leg room which is a welcome touch. The boot measures a hefty 380-litres, is well shaped and features a low loading height. That's the same as you can expect from all Golf hatchbacks, even though this one has the more sophisticated multilink rear suspension that its cheaper stablemates lack. If you need more space, then there's also an estate version with a vast 605-litre boot.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £26,000 for the three-door, six-speed manual model. There is a premium of around £600 premium for the five-door model and approximately £1,400 for the six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. GTD buyers get tartan sports seats, a black roof lining, a gorgeous sports steering wheel and a stainless steel pedal set. There's also a GTD-specific gear lever, trim strips and instrument cluster. Other features include progressive steering, white ambience lighting, 'Climatronic' climate control, front and rear parking sensors and a winter pack. It doesn't seem at all bad value given that Honda charges over £27,000 for its sporty diesel Civic and that manages just 150PS. There's a stack of safety gear as well, with seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag, five three-point seat belts, ABS with ESP, XDS electronic differential lock and ISOFIX preparation for two rear child seats. Then there's air conditioning, a DAB digital radio, a CD player, MDI interface (for connecting iPod or MP3 player), Bluetooth telephone preparation and audio streaming and eight speakers.
Cost of Ownership
Yes, this Golf is one of those cars that makes you scratch your head wondering how Volkswagen achieved that sort of economy with that sort of performance. A combined miles per gallon figure of 67.3mpg is what you get with the manual model, although the DSG gearbox knocks that back a tad to 62.8mpg. Emissions are rated at 109g/km for the manual car and 119 with the DSG - which will probably see the DSG versions nixed from many company car shortlists. Rather oddly, that figure rises again to 122g/km if you choose the five-door car although the five-door manual version sees no incremental penalty over the three-door version at 109g/km. So how has VW gone about achieving these efficiency gains? The big one is a weight loss plan. Then there are aerodynamic advantages, lower internal friction in the engines and optimised gearing on not only the manual gearboxes but also the DSG twin clutch units. All new Golf models - both diesel and petrol - come with a Stop/Start system as standard, along with battery regeneration. This model's efficiency is a big step forward from the previous generation GTD which managed 53.3mpg in manual guise.
I'll nail my colours to the mast and profess to being a massive Volkswagen Golf GTI fan, but it's becoming increasingly hard to justify buying the petrol car over the diesel, iconic status notwithstanding. The Golf GTD is a different car though, not merely a GTI with lower running costs. The torquier engine gives it a very different feel and you'll drive it in a different way. Plus, unique to the GTD, there's even the more versatile estate bodystyle as an option. Whatever bodyshape you prefer, it's refreshing to own a fast hatch or estate that can manage 60mpg on a good day yet which still has the chops to see off most other cars and can entertain on a cross country route. Plus the GTD is a car that just makes you feel good about your purchase. Just about the only demerit is its possibly rather anodyne personality, but that's probably a subjective thing. The Golf GTD represents a good heart/head balance. In fact it might be the best car that sensible money buys.