America, you don’t know what you want…
“I want to get great fuel economy, so I think I should buy a hybrid”, says your mother. “I want a car that is fun to drive, so I have to have a sports car”, says your father. Since this is the Hooniverse, we want something that most closely resembles a joint French-Italian-American sport wagon muscle car with all-wheel drive, a turbocharged and supercharged V10 engine, and a manual transmission – for that is the only way we will be happy. Mitch, well … he is Canadian so he just needs a snowmobile and a curling puck/disc/thing(?). Unfortunately, we can’t have everything we want in one package (until Audi brings over the RS6 Avant). However, there are vehicles available that provide a wonderful compromise.
One such car is the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI: a compact, diesel-powered, manual transmission-equipped, hatchback that brings the fun while achieving great fuel economy numbers.
Volkswagen restyled the sixth generation Golf for 2010. The result is a good looking compact with an air of being more expensive than the actual sticker price. The black plastic bits and the excellent Shadow Blue Metallic exterior paint color tie the look together nicely. The Golf has a high belt-line that runs into the large tail lights. Overall, the car is clearly a VW Golf from the outside yet has new touches that provide a fresh feeling to this long-running German hatchback.
The interior of the Golf is a wonderful place to be, especially considering this is a sub $30,000 car, as equipped (with a base price close to $20K). The quality of the materials the overall level of front-seat comfort is surprising. It all looks and feels like a more expensive vehicle, which is a hard thing to do for most automakers yet Volkswagen has figured it out.
This particular Golf is fitted with an optional touchscreen navigation system that has one of the clearest pictures I have seen. Street names and directions are easily read with a quick glance. Another nice feature of this unit was the ability to not just search for gas stations, but to find ones that specifically sold diesel fuel.
That brings me to one of the best parts of this 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI. TDI doesn’t stand for something in German that we can’t understand. It stands for Turbo Direct Injection and is powered by diesel fuel. Under the hood is a 2.0L in-line four-cylinder engine which produces 140 hp. That doesn’t seem like a lot, however the 236 lb-ft of torque is plenty and it’s available at just 1,750 RPM. Sure this is no pocket rocket (0-60 times seem to range from high 7’s to mid 8’s), but provides fun in the form of the old “drive a slow car fast” school of thought. The Golf TDI is essentially an economical car that can provide some fun behind the wheel. Usually these two worlds don’t co-exist but the Golf easily clears well over 30 mpg around town and can handle a twisty canyon road with relative ease.
The steering felt great and the suspension was a nice mix between comfort and sporty. The one area where the Golf let me down was in the pedal feel and the gearbox. The feedback from the pedals is practically non-existent which makes pushing the car tricky until you get used to the car. You can get used to it, but I was surprised at the lack of information coming from the brake, clutch, and gas pedals. The transmission is actually typical of Volkswagen applications. I was extremely happy to drive the manual-equipped Golf TDI (as opposed to the optional 6-speed DSG) but it was far from crisp. It has a very user-friendly feel that I think could be far stiffer. Perhaps VW thinks you will teach first time manual tranmission drivers how to operate such a system, and this would be a good learning ground. The seasoned three-pedal jockey however will tire of the sloppiness quickly.
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI is proof that you can get good fuel economy yet you don’t have to be confined to a boring machine to do so. It is not a sports car by any stretch of the imagine, but it provides sporty fun. The Golf TDI is rated at 30 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. I drove the car hard (including a few trips across Ortega Highway) and I nearly hit the 500 mile mark on one tank of gas. If you drove this car sensibly you should see numbers appearing on your gauge cluster you didn’t think possible. In a time when automakers are churning out hybrid versions of every model out there (yes, I know even Volkswagen has a hybrid on the way) it is nice to see one company realize the benefits of diesel. There are currently four Volkswagen diesels for sale, and each one is fuel-efficient AND fun to drive.
The Golf has a base MSRP of $21,990.00 and the vehicle you see tested here swells a bit to the tune of $27,090.00. The car is equipped with the aforementioned touchscreen system, Bi-Xenon headlamps, a great-sounding Dynaudio Advanced sound system, the cold weather package, and Bluetooth connectivity. I could live without the cold weather package and the headlights which would bring this Golf down near the $25,000 mark. That is a lot of car at that price point and one that ticks off a lot of boxes in the affordable, efficient and fun daily driver category.
Words by Jeff Photos by Rob