Is the only sporty diesel version of the Volkswagen Golf worth considering? Matt Campbell finds out.
So you want a sporty Volkswagen Golf and you want it in diesel. Until recently, the response from the German brand’s local arm has been: “Too bad”.
The brand didn’t dip its toe in the water this time around with the Mk VII Golf GTD, after the Mk VI version had limited success here. But now there’s a more sporting version of the Volkswagen Golf 110TDI hatch that gives fans of the oil-burner an option to get their kicks – it’s the Volkswagen Golf R-Line 110TDI.
Rather than forming a specific model in the Golf range, the R-Line package is designed to add some sporty elements to both the Golf hatch and Golf Wagon model lines, adding visual differentiators as well as hardware changes to make the cars drive in a more enthusiastic manner.
The gear includes lowered sports suspension, new-look 18-inch alloy wheels with Continental Sport Contact 2 tyres, and exterior styling highlights such as lower body kit and R-Line badges. The R-Line models also get VW’s Progressive Steering system that alters the steering ratio based on driver inputs.
Inside, each of the R-Line models gains a black headlining, flat-bottomed R-Line leather-trimmed sports steering wheel and sports pedals, steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters, sports seats finished in “Race” cloth with microfibre side bolstering, aluminium front door scuff plates (front) and “Black Lead Grey” inlays on the dash and doors.
The R-Line versions of the German brand's best-selling model line were added to the line-up earlier this year, with a choice of petrol or diesel engines available. The R-Line package is only available on the 103TSI Highline (stay tuned for a review soon) and 110TDI Highline, which we're reviewing here. The R-Line pack costs $2200 over the sticker price of $34,790 plus on-road costs for the 110TDI, (so, $36,990 before on-roads).
No changes have been made under the bonnet of either model, and that means the powertrain experience is identical to that in the regular Golf models.
That means the 110TDI retains its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel with (as its name suggests) 110kW of power (from 3500-4000rpm) and 320Nm (between 1750-3000rpm). It sends its power to the front wheels through a standard six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) auto.
Those aren’t huge numbers (particularly considering the Peugeot 308 diesel has 110kW/370Nm and the Mazda 3 XD Astina’s twin-turbo has 129kW/420Nm), though it claims a 0-100km/h time of 8.6 seconds, while claimed fuel use is excellent at 4.9 litres per 100km (we saw an average of 5.5L over more than 400km of testing). By comparison, the Pug claims an identical 8.6sec sprint while using just 4.1L/100km, and the diesel 3 hits triple figures from standstill in 7.7sec and uses 5.1L/100km.
On paper, then, the diesel is a bit hit or miss – and the same can be said of its drivability.
The 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder power unit can sometimes feel as though it isn't communicating with the six-speed DSG as well as it could be. This is particularly noticeable from a standstill, where the diesel can be laggy – exacerbated by the fact the powertrain then punches its torque to the front wheels, causing the tyres to squeal and/or the traction control to intervene.
At other times, though, the progress can be smooth and enjoyable, and on the move the gearbox is quite the performer, with fast, clean, clever shifts.
While it isn’t the most powerful diesel on the market, it certainly doesn’t feel short of grunt. There’s strong pulling power right from that 1750rpm mark, no doubt aided by the fact the Golf diesel weighs just 1326 kilograms. The 308 has an advantage there, though, weighing 1310kg, while the 3 diesel tips the scales at 1465kg.
Still, it feels relatively nimble through corners, no doubt as a result of the R-Line upgrades to the chassis. It sits 15mm closer to the road than the standard Golf diesel as it rides on lowered suspension, while the electronic steering system in the R-Line variants gets the “progressive” setup, designed to increase the amount of feedback to the driver’s hands.
Indeed it does, with the steering offering more resistance and more directness through bends, but the extra weight of the diesel engine is noticeable (if you compare it to a petrol Golf, for example). That said, it turns in to the tighter bends well, and while the front-end doesn’t exactly chomp down on the road, the grippy Contintental tyres do make it enjoyable to push through a series of corners.
That stiffer, lower suspension setup also means it handles well, feeling decently tied down through twisties. The ride doesn’t pay too big a price, either – it is notably firm and can be a tad sharp over big bumps, particularly at the front axle, but around town it’s more comfortable than many warm-hatches for about the same money.
While we got more comments from people asking “is that the Golf R?” (that cheeky ‘R’ badge on the grille requires you to squint to see that it also says ‘Line’), the interior of the R-Line feels special enough to make your passengers ask about it, too.
The bare bones of the standard Golf’s interior are already some the best in the business, but it can be argued that a little bit of pizzazz is lacking from the cabin. However, the R-Line’s unique finishes and R embossed seats – which are nicely bolstered and offer good adjustability – add that flair, though niceties such as keyless entry and push-button start don't make the cut.
While the 5.8-inch touchscreen media system - which includes satellite navigation and doubles as a display for the standard reverse-view camera and front and rear parking sensors in the Highline models - remains one of the better units in the price range, the game has moved on somewhat in the 20 months the Golf VII has been on sale.
It has quite a low resolution display on the mapping system and menu screens, and can be extremely slow to load when you’re inputting a destination or awaiting instructions from the nav system – though the driver info display between the instrument clusters helps in that regard. VW should perhaps take a look at what's on offer from Hyundai/Kia - the 7.0 -inch touchscreen in the i30/Elantra/Cerato/Pro_cee'd GT is larger, faster and much clearer.
The R-Line version doesn’t add any extra cost when it comes to servicing, as it’s covered by Volkswagen’s capped price service program for six years or 90,000km. It isn’t the most budget-friendly regime, averaging out at $455 per annum, but all VWs come with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and three years of roadside assistance.
The diesel VW Golf R-Line is a reasonably well-rounded package that offers an intriguing alternative to the likes of the - you guessed it – the Mazda 3 XD Astina and Peugeot 308 diesel, not to mention a more affordable option for those considering an Audi A3 diesel (if you’re after more refinement than sportiness). And if sporty is synonymous with ‘manual’, your best bet would be a Honda Civic DTi-S, though it’s short on grunt comparatively.
So while it’s no GTD, the diesel-powered Golf R-Line is not too bad at all.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke.