Performance isn't the highest priority in the 2010 Volkswagen Golf, but the flat acceleration and pedestrian handling of the base car are significantly improved on the Golf TDI with the addition of a new diesel engine, a paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission, and a sport suspension.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf can be had with either a gas or diesel engine-and it's the diesel that gets TheCarConnection.com's nod. As MyRide reports, "the Golf's five-cylinder engine is unique in its class, as competitors use four-cylinder motors." The five-cylinder gas engine is powerful enough for moderate use; it delivers 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, but its response is flat and unexciting to many. MyRide observes a "somewhat laggard" acceleration time of 9 seconds to 60 mph, but Car and Driver notes "torque pours forth from small motions of your right foot." The gas-powered two-door offers a vague-feeling five-speed manual or a fine six-speed automatic; the four-door gas-powered Golf is only available with the automatic. MyRide finds the VW manual gearbox "guides between gears with little effort," while Edmunds says the optional six-speed automatic with manual-shifting capability make "great use of the engine's power band." According to VW, the 2010 Golf will accelerate to 60 mph in about 8 seconds and hit a top speed of 120 mph, plenty fast for average drivers, and fuel economy has improved to mid-pack at 23/30 mpg with an automatic transmission (dropping 1 highway mile per gallon with the manual.) As Autoblog points out, "those who opt for the petrol five-pot and DSG will have to pop the shift lever over to the right, then tap forward and back in order to manually select ratios."
The clear winner here is the 2010 Golf TDI and its clean-burning diesel engine. It offers less on paper, at 140 hp, but with its 236 lb-ft of torque, it performs only a touch slower than the gas-powered Golf, with quicker in-city feel. The TDI's very muted diesel clatter sounds a bit more engaging, even, and it delivers 30/42 mpg and a 0-60 mph time of 8.6 seconds. In comparison, the slower, "smaller 2010 Honda Insight hybrid does 40/43 [mpg]," Jalopnik says. The TDI is offered with either a manual or dual-clutch gearbox, and the winner is the latter transmission. The paddle-shifted DSG box is a delight, with quick changes up or down the diesel's admittedly shorter powerband. Autoblog agrees: "Despite our preference for three-pedal cars, the sub-5,000 RPM red-line of the diesel actually makes the self-shifting box the perfect traveling companion." And while Jalopnik prefers the manual and Motor Trend thinks the manual "has sweetly progressive lever and pedal actions," the Motor Trend crew lines up with the majority and picks the DSG; having it as their tester "meant we were always in exactly the right ratio when negotiating a dizzying mountain pass."
Handling is a strong point of any Golf; electric power steering has well-sorted feel, and the Golf's ride is taut, not jarring. Edmunds feels the 2010 Golf's "stiff body structure and multilink rear suspension combine to help deliver comfortably compliant ride and handling," but thinks real VW lovers will "lament the loss of some steering feel due to the adoption of electric-assisted power steering." The Golf's 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. Car and Driver appreciates the VW Golf's handling, commenting, "The Golf rewards high corner-entry speed with a chassis able not only to help you survive the experience but also to facilitate tire-squealing fun." Steering is "Germanic," feeling "hefty and communicative." As Autoblog observes, "the Golf always tracked straight, even at speeds over 100 mph, aided by precise steering that made positioning a simple point and shoot affair."
Golf TDI diesels are tuned a little more tautly, with a bit more handling finesse, and Road & Track reports that the "sport-tuned MacPherson strut front suspension" in the TDI "lowers the ride height by as much as 2 inches," while "the rear gets a four-link suspension with an anti-roll bar, as in the front." Autoblog believes the tuning gives the Golf TDI "a slightly crisper feel than the base model," but Motor Trend sees some slush in the way; the TDI's "feel and balance are really rather excellent," but doesn't like having to "push through a layer of sog to get there."