2011 Volkswagen Golf Performance

8.0
Performance

The gas engine has more horsepower on paper, but the 2011 Volkswagen Golf's diesel engine gets our nod for superior all-around performance.

The Golf TDI burns fuel more efficiently and gets better suspension tuning to boot. It may have lower numbers, at 140 hp, but with its 236 lb-ft of torque, the TDI is just a touch slower to 60 mph than the five-cylinder Golf, while its superior torque gives it quicker launch feel. There's just a little diesel clatter and it adds to the distinctive driving experience, even. While it delivers 30/42 mpg, the TDI also puts down a competitive 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds. The diesel also comes with a choice of manual or dual-clutch gearbox; we think VW's paddle-shifted DSG box is one of the best transmissions you can buy, and here it has the same quick changes up or down through the diesel's narrower powerband.

Shop the Golf TDI for performance fun: yes, it's a diesel, but the sport tuning and dual-clutch transmission make the awesome fuel economy feel like a bonus.

The five-cylinder gas engine won't thrill users, but it's adequate. With 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, it's unexciting and flat in response to the throttle. The vague-feeling five-speed manual that comes with as standard equipment with the three-door Golf is better swapped out for VW's better six-speed automatic; the five-door only comes with the automatic. It's a bit quicker to 60 mph with this engine, about a half-second quicker, and fuel economy can be as high as 23/33 mpg, but the five-cylinder Golf just doesn't feel as engaging.

The Golf's handling, no matter which version you choose, is a strong point. Its electric power steering is well-sorted for good driving feel, and the ride is taut, not jarring. Diesels are set a bit more sporty, and it's not punishing at all. The front strut and independent rear suspension absorb big bumps with nary a crash or bang, and braking on the cars tested feels strong and controllable.

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