It's raining in great gray sheets; the windshield wipers are having a devil of a time keeping up with the persistent precipitation, and yet we're flying down the autobahn at 100 miles per hour, itching for the rain to let up so we can really open it up. Are we at the wheel of some $100K sports machine? A million-dollar exoticar? No, we're at the wheel of a Volkswagen Golf TDI that will retail in the United States for about $22,000 and, equally important, will turn in 42 miles per gallon on the highway (though not, we warn you, at 100 mph.)
We are in Germany to try out the width and breadth of the new-for-2010 Golf line - the GTI was not yet ready for test drives - but as you can tell, we quickly fell in love with the clean-diesel TDI version of the car, and that is quite a testament since the TDI offers 30 fewer peak horsepower than the five-cylinder 2.5-liter gasoline engine also offered in the new Golf. One of the key reasons we fell in love was the TDI's stout and steady torque curve that offers up 236 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,750 and
2,500 rpm. That's 20-plus pound-feet more than offered by the GTI, so Volkswagen is not trying to put lipstick on a pig by equipping the Golf TDI with sports-oriented equipment, including a sports-calibrated suspension, 17-inch wheels and tires and the same sport seats that grace the GTI. If you're one of many who can't believe that a diesel can offer a performance driving experience, we invite you to try a Golf TDI for yourself.
"We just want to get a customer into the car," Andres Valbuena, VW's Golf product manager told us in a conference room in the Transparent Factory in Dresden. "Once you're physically in the car, you see what separates us from the competition. With the TDI we're doing 120 on the autobahn with little or no effort."
As to the all-new styling, as you can see the sixth-generation Golf has not fallen far from the fifth-generation tree. Because the Golf is such a huge seller in Europe, VW is very careful about tinkering too much with the successful formula. Yet we think the car's new face and rear end bustle are more attractive than before. Simplicity is the watchword of VW design chief Walter Da Silva, and that is exemplified by the black window trim and lack of side moldings. The hatch spoiler offers an integrated high-mounted stop lamp, and the rear running lights are artfully integrated into the smooth rear bumper.
Inside the Golf looks and feels much more high-end than you might guess from a vehicle with a base price of right around $17,500. The eight-way manually adjusted sport seats feature two-way lumbar support and are covered in Volkswagen's "ME2" fabric. The rear seats have headrests for all three positions, an ample center armrest and split 60/40 to accommodate passengers and cargo. We especially liked the performance-style three-spoke wheel with multi-function controls, which is covered in genuine leather in the TDI versions. As you would expect, the instrument cluster is no-nonsense in the European idiom, and we were very impressed by the large touchscreen navigation system that is optional across the model range.
For those of you who must have the engine power statistics, the standard 2.5-liter five-cylinder gasoline engine delivers 170 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. Standard equipment on the two-door model is a five-speed manual transmission, while a six-speed Tiptronic automatic is standard on the four-door. The clean diesel turbocharged 2.0-liter TDI four cylinder engine produces 140 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, and the aforementioned 236 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm. The sophisticated engine is backed by either a six-speed manual transmission or the super-trick optional six-speed automatic Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission with Tiptronic.
In all ways, the 2010 Golf is better than the previous version, and, as you can tell, we are especially smitten with the TDI version. Getting hybrid-like fuel economy in a car this fun to drive -- that's got to be a winner in our book.