2010 VW Golf TDI: Punchy Pump Passer Review

March 17, 2010

VW Golf TDI:  Pump-Passing Power

If you have the urge to go, the 2010 North American Car of the Year runner up tests your incontinence.  You can loaf highways 600 miles between fill ups.  That impressive range explores your endurance.  This VW's upscale confines and steady cadence, however, won't.  It's a driver's rest area.

It's a good thing refueling is infrequent.  A young motorist warned me, "You Know That's Diesel!"  He tried preventing me from dispensing the trucker's green-pump potion into this VW.  Despite assuring him several times that the Golf TDI is a diesel, he looked perplexed.

Don't be puzzled.  Under the TDI's hood is a 140-hp, turbocharged, direct-injection, four-cylinder diesel engine with sock-it-to-me 236 ft-lb of torque.  It comes on strong at 1750-2500 rpm exiting corners with a kick.  That power plus snubbed body roll, good balance, wide 17-inch rubber and accurate steering egg you toward apexes--despite the low-rpm biased, automated, six-speed direct-shift gearbox.  Sport mode and paddle shifters, in contrast, summon an automotive Putsch.

Think of it as a hot hatchback that's cheap to feed:  I measured 39 mpg overall, the computer said 38.4.  EPA numbers: 30 city; 42 highway.  Currently, diesel costs about 5% more than regular (same price as mid-grade).  Those who drive the six-speed manual report 46-49 mpg highway.

Golf Shots

After cold startup, the TDI sounds like, well, a diesel.  It emits staccato grunts; engine braking is pronounced-like suddenly releasing a clutch pedal.  As the engine warms up, the growling subsides.  At 65 mph, it is soothing--like listening to Sarasto in Mozart's Magic Flute.

The driver's seat is firm, supportive--ideal for trim, taller drivers.  The center armrest is adjustable.  Interior materials and fit: top notch.  For instance, the leather wrapped steering wheel is a tactile delight.  One exception:  no below-the-dash filler panel.  Your forward view is elegantly framed.  With a split-fold rear seat, two outboard adult-high head restraints and middle passthrough, you can either ferry four adults or load lots gear into a well-finished trunk.

Brake pedal feel is mushy.  The binders are effective though; they automatically hold the car for two seconds on five-degree or greater inclines preventing rollbacks.  Brake override is aggressive.  The owner's manual mentions launch control but I couldn't provoke it.  It will spin the tires though, if the standard stability and traction aids are turned off.

The Dynaudio upgrade sounds good but the HD FM radio doesn't tune sub channels.  Controls are intuitive; the steering wheel's rocker-style switches are smart. Gauges: crisply marked, glare free.  Nonetheless, thin climate control knobs are inscrutable.

Ride is resilient; the low-profile ContiProContact tires thump on frost-heaved expansion joints.  Headlights: marginal for nighttime, back-road romps.

VW asks nearly $23,000 for the German-made, sport-tuned TDI, add touchscreen navigation, DSG, sunroof and cold weather package and the tab is $27,400.  Not cheap.  Yet, this premium compact sips diesel.  Polished and poised a TDI punch dub might be worth it.

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