If I say the word ‘diesel’ to you, you’re probably not going to be thinking about ‘performance’ unless of course you happen to have been standing trackside at Le Mans last weekend, watching the Audi LMP1 diesel powered race cars decimating anything and everything with a petrol engine.
But for most people, the thought of a diesel powered daily driver, simply means better than average fuel economy and a premium upfront price for that privilege.
Fortunately, that’s only half the story, especially if we’re talking about the latest Golf variant from Volkswagen.
Meet the New Volkswagen Golf GTD – it’s a performance car, just like its petrol-powered sibling, the GTI.
The launch invite says, “sporty looks and diesel efficiency” but after more than 270 kilometres behind the wheel of this 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel powered Golf, rest assured, this is a proper performance car with sports car handling to boot.
And importantly, it doesn’t look like the standard Golf either; with decent size twin exhaust tips and a simple, if not understated GTD badge sitting on the left hand rear of the car.
You’ll also pick the car’s lowered stance (15mm over the standard Golf) and the 17-inch 10-spoke alloys looking every bit the business. There’s a rear diffuser too but without airflow fins, so more for show than any downforce benefit.
Around the front, is the same honeycomb front skirt and grille treatment as the GTI Golf, but for one thing, the horizontal stripes in the radiator grille are a chrome look rather than GTI red.
Inside, it’s the same ‘GT’ story with tartan sports seats with enough all round seat and side bolster to hold you rock steady no matter how hard you push through a corner, as well as one of the best designed sports leather steering wheels (with race style flat bottom of course) you’re likely to find in any car this side of one-hundred thousand dollars.
And while standard kit is a proper six-speed manual (more on that later) I’ve gone for the optional super quick shifting six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) which means I’ve got the option of leaving the car in a self shifting auto mode (which includes a ‘Sport’ setting) or I can use the perfectly positioned paddle shifters on the steering wheel, depending on what sort of terrain you intend covering and how hard you intend pushing.
Under the bonnet sits the latest common-rail turbo diesel punching out 125kW and 350 Newton-metres of torque from 1,750 rpm, meaning plenty of low down acceleration, and exactly what we’ll need today in those twisty sections on the test drive route between Hobart and Launceston, in Tasmania.
That said you’ll need all of 8.1 seconds to go from standstill to 100km/h in the GTD, and while that’s never going to set the world on fire, it is however quick for a diesel car of this size and proportion.
But the GTD and its Golf GTI sibling are about much more than just outright speed and acceleration. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these two performance cars could be considered the best all round performance hatches in the world today in their respective categories, despite some seriously good competition from the likes of Subaru and Renault, at least on the petrol side of things.
But as far as diesel powered hot hatches go, I’m willing to bet that the GTD has no peers and that’s before I’ve even driven the car a single kilometer.
Volkswagen does suspension and brakes in daily drivers better than any other car manufacturer on the planet these days, but they’ve added something extra special to their sixth-generation GT cars in the form of an Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), which can dramatically reduce understeer, which can be characteristic of front wheel-drive cars. And yes, it works a treat. If you’re a little too enthusiastic and carrying too much speed into a corner, the system will all but wipe out any of that dreaded understeer by applying some brake to the faster spinning wheel.
And while the GTD options list can be a little scary to the uninitiated, there is however one box I implore you to tick if you like the occasional punt on a deserted mountain road. Volkswagen calls it ‘Adaptive Chassis Control’, but I call it a piece of electronic wizardry, which continuously modifies the damper settings to suit the road surface and your driving style. The system reacts to acceleration, braking and steering inputs with three settings – ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’, and ‘comfort’.
Does it work? You bet it does. We were fully into it on some very twisty roads high up in alpine Tasmania in the New Golf R, which was fitted with this system, and it allowed the car to perform outstandingly (more on that in our Golf R review following the GTD).
Crank the GTD over for the first time and you immediately know that this is not your average oil burner. It’s quiet. This is a new generation TDI engine and punters will be hard pressed to pick up any diesel clatter, even on start up.
But performance is only half the story with the Golf GTD; it’s as much about fuel economy and ultra low emissions, as it is with TDI power and performance.
Try 1000 kilometres on a single tank of diesel (that’s 5.5 litres/100kms) and CO2 emissions of just 145 grams per kilometer, and you’ll start to understand that this is a car, which allows you to have your cake and eat it too.
After you’ve experienced the impossibly quick shifts from Volkswagen’s DSG gearbox using the steering wheel mounted paddles, you won’t want to go back to an old school manual, so understandably we grabbed the first DSG equipped car we laid eyes on, and literally headed for the hills.
I’m running the GTD up to 4,200 rpm before shifting cogs and there’s plenty of speed for effortless overtaking on the freeway towards Richmond, in Tasmania’s south.
I can’t get over just how refined this diesel is, but at the same time there’s plenty of acceleration in every gear ratio, including sixth.
Once off the highway, it was time to engage the ‘Sport’ mode and start attacking the back roads using the paddle shifters. These racecar like paddles are a great combination with such a free spinning diesel engine, as this surely is. Accelerator response is petrol power quick, and this allows for some rapid and very enjoyable speed on the exits to tight corners.
And there’s more than enough torque for almost any job, as you would expect of 350 Newton-metres, especially when it reaches its peak between 1,750 – 2,500 rpm. Even in sixth when your punting along at a lazy110km/h there is abundant pulling power, making downshifts totally unnecessary in most cases.
The whole sporty driving experience is amplified behind the wheel of the GTD, with brilliant ergonomics starting with these stock standard sports fabric seats, which I have already praised in this review.
No matter how hard you push in the corners, your body is held steadfast. There’s no sliding around the seat, which means more focus on bracing yourself, instead of positioning the car properly through each bend. It’s incredibly rewarding.
Not only that these tartan-covered pews are incredibly comfortable and I dare say, therapeutic, despite hours of driving on all sorts of terrain including gravel.
Volkswagen are one of the few manufacturers who mount their paddle shifters both on the steering wheel, and close enough to the wheel, so that you don’t have not to reach out to make the shift, a factor that makes life easier when you’re on the charge.
The other good news is that if you still like the idea of a manual transmission set up, then have I got a treat for you.
After driving all day with the DSG, I thought I better have a quick steer in one of the few six speed manual test cars and wow what a pleasant surprise that was! Apart from being quite a bit lighter than the DSG variant, this has got to be the slickest 6-speed transmissions available today. In fact, I was kicking myself for not taking the manual on this test drive. Yes, it’s that much fun.
Given that Germany is blessed with infinitely superior roads to what we endure in Australia, it always surprises me when you drive a Volkswagen (any current Volkswagen) only to find the suspension setup so adept at handling what are largely crappy pothole plastered roads, without any nasty side effects. Better than that is the ride quality, which is always compliant, yet performs better on a twisty section of road than some higher priced sports cars.
The GTD is yet another example of the German company’s know how when it comes to suspension and steering. The car feels utterly planted no matter what the terrain is. That’s a combination of the architecture of the springs, dampers and rear stabilizer, which have all been perfectly tuned for this specific Golf variant.
The steering is beautifully weighted and quick to respond to driver inputs, and this inspires confidence during turn in, and is a major plus with the heavier diesel engine under the bonnet.
It’s too easy to forget you’re in a diesel-powered car in the GTD, as once you’re above idle; the engine note doesn’t sound like a diesel at all. Moreover the ease, at which this car dispenses with corners at speed, will leave you in no doubt of its GT qualities.
While the Golf model range is classified under the small car category, make no mistake, it’s more than enough space for my family of four and that includes head and foot room with sufficient luggage for all.
I can confirm my earlier summation on the New Golf GTD, where I said that this car has no diesel peer in the diesel-powered performance hatch category.
If you like driving a sporty car that goes as good as it looks, yet at the same time, offers outstanding fuel economy and practicality, then look no further than the emissions friendly Golf GTD.
Let’s just hope Volkswagen Australia can get enough supply to satisfy demand.