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2010 Volkswagen Golf / TDI: First Drive

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2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

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Now that you've read all about the 2010 Volkswagen GTI, we've turned our attention to the next steps down the performance ladder at VW. Don't judge just yet: with the 2010 VW Golf and Golf TDI, Volkswagen's not dropping completely off the performance map. In fact, with the clean-diesel turbo four TDI, the GTI and the base gas-engined models, the Golf now has three different ways to re-establish itself among the compact hatchbacks of choice.

The difficulty this year, though, will be convincing many folks there's actually a new Golf. For one, VW experimented with the old Rabbit nameplate in the U.S. over the past two years, but for 2010 it's abandoned that badge once more, reverting to Golf for both the three-door and five-door hatchbacks. And though it's tidied up the shape somewhat, the new Golf's sheetmetal is an evolution--a quick-change act with nicely riffed headlamps and a horizontal grille. A full redesign is two years away. Inside it's truly new and different, though--luxury touches abound and the materials and fit haven't been better in a car of this size and style.

The best part of the new Golf comes underhood. It's not the carryover base five-cylinder engine, for sure--that gas engine doesn't make the nice noises, or the power, or the fuel economy to elbow aside anything from Japan. The Golf TDI does: it's the host of the turbocharged clean-diesel four that's a hallmark and a high-water mark for the Volkswagen brand, even if diesels don't make much economic sense here in America. The clean diesel offers less on paper at 140 hp, but has 236 lb-ft, which makes performance of the two versions nearly equal. While the gas version has the flat unexciting response of a five-cylinder, the TDI and its very muted diesel clatter is a bit more engaging-plus it delivers 30/42 mpg and a 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds. Like the gas-driven Golfs, the TDI is offered with either a manual or dual-clutch gearbox, of which the latter's the best choice. It's a delight, and it sports the paddle shifters missing from the otherwise similar Jetta TDI sedan. The TDI also gets a sport-tuned suspension with a pliant ride and well weighted steering. The base car? It's less happy about being pressed, but VW's electric power steering is about the best you can find.

Economy's clearly a calling card for the new Golf, but handling and interior quality don't lose out. The Golf's no stripper--and it's priced accordingly. The new Golf starts from $17,490 for the two-door, with the four-door starting at $19,190 and the TDI diesel beginning at $21,990. That's more than you'd pay for versions of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and the Ford Focus, but the Golf feels more upscale than its competitiors, and the Golf TDI diesel's exceptional fuel economy is an unexpected bonus in the class.

You can read a lot more on the 2010 Volkswagen Golf, including a complete review of its styling, performance, comfort and utility, features and safety. Stay tuned: our comprehensive look at opinions from other car Web sites will be live later this week. And later today, you'll ride along in the car Volkswagen plans to aim right at the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, the subcompact VW Polo.

MORE: 2010 Volkswagen Golf / TDI Bottom Line photos, related news, specifications and pricing-------------------

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