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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GTD hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Masterful chassis, vault-like body engineering, refined and torquey diesel engine, mid-range performance, fuel economy, all-class interior
Room for improvement
Launch feel lacks a little oomph compared with GTI sibling, unrelenting black interior

11 Jun 2010

VOLKSWAGEN Australia says its first diesel-powered performance Golf, the GTD, is not expected to match the sales success of its more glamorous petrol equivalent, the Golf GTI, which accounts for about 25 per cent of all Golf sales in this country.

Sadly, this says more about Australian car-buyer’s attitudes to diesel propulsion than the attributes of the Golf GTD.

If ever there was a model to finally convince car-buyers in this country to give diesel a break, this is it.

Essentially, the GTD is a GTI with an enlarged conscience. No, the 125kW GTD cannot quite manage the sparking acceleration of the 155kW petrol variant, the diesel model covering the 0-100km/h sprint in business-like 8.1 seconds compared with the GTI’s claimed 6.1 seconds.

And yes, it is about 50kg heavier in the nose, thanks courtesy of the barrel-chested iron-block of the 2.0-litre diesel engine sitting over the front wheels.

But in the real world, where most of us live, the GTD is sprightly – feisty even – reeling off kilometre after kilometre of creamy, torque-enhanced travel on a chassis of world renown while sipping a claimed 5.5 litres per 100km of oily fuel.

At the end of our 300km test trek, the dashboard fuel readout was saying 6.0L/100km, and while much of that journey was “extra-urban” (official-speak for highway), the horses were not altogether spared.

While its fuel consumption figure cannot challenge class leaders – even BMW’s 320d will make 4.7L/100km – it is still sufficiently frugal to push the GTD over 1000km on a 55-litre tank.

Of course, petrol-powered GTI buyers will probably be happy with their 7.7L/100k return when they pull up at the pump, and frankly they most likely will not care about the extra couple of litres of bragging rights by their GTD brethren.

According to VW, that probably sums up the different buyer profiles of these two otherwise identical cars – the GTD buyer will be that little bit more practical the GTI owner inclined towards no-nonsense performance.

The pricing is unlikely to nudge buyers either way, with prices of GTD and GTI in the same ballpark. The GTD manual is on offer from $39,290, while the six-speed DSG auto can be had for a $2500 premium at $41,790. This compares favourably with the five-door GTI’s $40,490 (manual) and $42,990 (DSG).

Of course, the GTI also comes in three-door hatch, from $38,990 to $41,490, but don’t expect the GTD to lose any doors soon – VW says it will be exclusively a five-door affair because, as we know, GTD buyers err on the side of practicality.

Riding on essentially the same front-drive lowered sports chassis as the GTI – except for a slightly higher front ride height, presumably to cope with the bounce of that heavier iron engine block – the GTD is not only smart in a performance sense, but in pretty much every other way that the adjective can be applied to a five-door hot hatch.

The jewel in the GTD crown is the solid but supple chassis, which lives up to every gushing word that has ever been already written about it in GTI form.

That chassis makes a hero of the punchy and refined but otherwise unremarkable 2.0-litre 125kW/350Nm turbo DOHC 16-valve engine. Barely audible from inside the car at idle, this powerplant makes up for a little lag from rest by coming alive in the mid range to enliven this sports package.

Quick to change up a gear in DSG auto guise in moderate driving, the GTD takes every advantage of the mid-range mumbo, rarely leaving the driver feeling short-changed. Yes, the DSG gearbox can still go walkabout when the throttle position is indifferent, but picky, picky, picky.

Unfortunately, we did not get to sample the six-speed manual on our run through Tasmania, and as most drivers are likely to tick the DSG box anyway, we are not sure we really needed to. The paddle shift system works like a gem, so we wonder how much longer the manual system will last in the 21st century.

Our test car was equipped with VW’s Adaptive Chassis Control (a $1500 option), and yes, the push-button sports mode that tightens the dampers does make the ride harder and probably more sporty, but harsher too.

This harshness might have been compounded by the low-profile tyres on the (optional) 18-inch rims – 17s are standard – but anyway, we found the standard setting not only perfectly adequate, but a stunning soaker of mid-corner bumps that might send a less competent car way off line. We can’t say it more clearly: this is impressive in any car, at any price.

Steering feel and feedback from the electro-mechanical system is the stuff of Korean nightmares – GTI superb. In Wolfsburg, kickback is something your kids do at soccer practice.

The GTD buyer can also lash out on XDL – Electronic Differential Lock – which directs extra power into the outside driving wheel to help the car power out of corners. On a front-wheel-drive performance car, this is a welcome addition, but whether the diesel will be driven with sufficient gusto to require this feature is a matter for buyers.

The Mk6 Golf might be based on the previous Mk5, but it hasn’t lost any of its rugby front-rower solidity, confining NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) to fringe whinging.

If we had to pick on something, it would be the wind noise around A-pillars and the tyre rumble on the Aussie coarse-chip bitumen.

Our test car was also loaded with options, including the $3300 leather upholstery in place of the grey tartan seat facings called Jacky (we wonder what Mr Stewart thinks of that?).

Inside, the GTD not only comes with all the super-fine dark finishes of the GTI, but a black headliner as well. We thought it cosy in a dusky way, but some might reckon it like driving in a cave.

But there could be no complaints about the finishes – soft-touch plastics combined with shiny black inserts and chrome rings on the dials are all first class, just like the finishes you would choose for your private jet.

In terms of driver controls and instruments, well, VW wrote the book. The GTD is no different, with simple, tactile and comprehensive fit-out that GTI owners will know and love.

The chunky, flat-bottomed leather steering wheel armed with all the usual finger-tip controls frames the round, clear dials that are made almost redundant by the centrally located digital readout for speed and other functions.

In leather or Jacky tartan, the high-sided sports seats are like Goldilocks’ porridge – just right. No numb bum here, just excellent support in all directions.

We jacked the seat up high for a panoramic view of Tasmanian back country, but there is sufficient adjustment to make the fussiest driver comfy. Again, these buckets are straight out of GTI.

At highway speeds, the engine could have been running on petrol, gas or French perfume – either way, it was not particularly discernable as a diesel.

Only when we stopped and opened the doors to change drivers did the familiar tap-tap-tap make itself heard. But that’s for pedestrians to worry about.

Revved out, the engine gets a little raucous, but most of the time, the note is businesslike, even enjoyable.

Like the GTI, the Golf GTD is strong on safety and amenity – lots of airbags, five-star crash ratings, climate control air-conditioning and much more.

However, there are still plenty of options to dent the wallet and send the final bill soaring towards $50,000, if you can’t resist things such as the sunroof ($1900), metallic paint ($500), powered driver’s seat ($600), parking sensors ($1400), sat-nav ($2500) and so on.

But even without all that extra gloss, the Golf GTD lives up to its well-telegraphed reputation as a super-competent conveyance for the driver who wants to have fun while doing a little extra for the planet.

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