By Bruce Caldwell
Rapidly rising gas prices have placed added emphasis on alternate energy sources and small, efficient cars. Diesel fuel has had a large impact on trucks, but it can also do amazing things in small cars such as the 2012 VW Golf TDI.
We would have expected a compact diesel sedan to be ultra utilitarian, Spartan, and boring, but the Golf TDI is the total opposite. The TDI features sport suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, crisp styling, comfortable, supportive seats, and peppy performance.
Walkaround: Our 2-door Golf sedan was handsome in a sensible, conservatively Teutonic way, which is a good thing. It’s compact outside and spacious inside — excellent packaging.
Interior: We’re fans of VW interiors — they remind us of Audis, but much more affordable. Front seats were highly supportive with excellent side bolsters and lumbar levers. A thick, contoured steering wheel was a pleasure to hold. Front legroom is outstanding. Rear seat leg and headroom were fine as the passenger seat slides far forward for reasonable ingress/egress.
Under The Hood: The 2.0-liter turbodiesel DOHC inline four-cylinder engine is the heart and soul of the Golf TDI. Horsepower is a respectable 140, but it’s the stout 236 lb-ft of torque (at a very low 1750 rpm) that makes the TDI so much fun to drive. An excellent 6-speed manual transmission mated to a very smooth shifter and clutch (plus a very welcome hill hold feature) maximizes performance/economy. The EPA rates the TDI at 30/42 mpg. A 14.5-gallon fuel tank means 400-600 miles between fill ups.
Behind The Wheel: The diesel engine was quick to start, didn’t smell, and produced minimal “diesel” noise. The most noticeable “diesel” characteristic was the prodigious torque. Ride quality was great with sporty, nimble handling, especially on twisty roads.
Whines: The center console lacked adequate storage space.
Bottom Line: Traditionally we haven’t been pro diesel engines (too noisy, smelly, costly, etc.), but the VW Golf TDI really made us rethink our position. It’s a wonderful car that we would gladly drive every day and smile broadly every time we passed a gas station. The VW Golf TDI is a quality car that’s frugal to own and operate all the while being fun to drive — you can’t ask for much more than that.