A Not-So-Small Compact
So you’re car shopping and your “Must Have” list includes a not-so-small car that is comfortable to drive, handles great, can haul a respectable amount of your stuff, comfortably carry a couple of adults in the back seat and gets excellent fuel economy. Oh, and it all has to cost under $30,000.
Stop shopping—the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI just might be what you are looking for.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI is the sibling to the recently reviewed 2015 Golf SportsWagen TDI and is part of the robust line of clean diesel cars offered by Volkswagen, which includes the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Beetle, Passat and Toureg. TDI is the Volkswagen Group (which includes Audi among other brands) designation for its turbocharged diesel vehicles. TDI stands for turbocharged direct injection.
The 2015 Golf TDI shares Volkswagen’s all-new 2.0-Liter turbocharged and intercooled clean diesel engine, known internally at VW as the EA288, putting out 150 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The torque kicks-in at a low 1,750 rpm and pulls strongly in all gears at all speeds. Our test car was mated to a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission with fuel economy for the low sulfur diesel rated at 30 city/45 highway/36 combined. The city rating is one mpg more and the highway rating is two mpg less for the six-speed DSG automatic transmission. In 296 miles of driving throughout Southern California I averaged 43.3 mpg with a ratio of 80-percent highway/20-percent city driving. With a lighter right foot I could have easily surpassed 45 mpg for the combined fuel economy.
The six-speed manual has short throws, a light and smooth clutch and the gears are easy to find without any grinding or hunting. For the hyper milers, there is an Upshift indicator in the speedometer cluster; if you follow it, the fun of driving this car is reduced significantly, but, of course, you will maximize the fuel economy, especially when the light wants you to be in 6th gear at 45 mph. The true economy comes at freeway speeds in 6th gear, which at 70 mph has the tachometer is reading about 2,000 rpm.
So what kind of fun can you have in the TDI with a manual? When asked this car delivers instant, fast, push-you-back-in-your-seat torque that brings a big smile to your face. The torque is smooth at any speed and delivers exactly as expected when in the lower gears. Where you will really appreciate the pull of the TDI engine is at highway speeds, for example, when traveling at 65 mph and needing to briefly get to 75 mph+ for passing. With the six-speed manual you leave it in 6th, tromp the accelerator, and the car without any effort gets you where you want to be. It is such a wonderful feeling that you will find yourself on open stretches of road doing it just for the fun of it.
Volkswagen’s new-for-2015 EA288 TDI engine is a pleasure to drive. In my reviews of the 2013 Jetta TDI and 2014 Jetta TDI, I was impressed with those car’s earlier version of VW’s 2.0L TDI engine that “only” produced 140 hp. With their new engine, Volkswagen has raised the bar in clean diesel engine design and technology, which will only challenge competitors to up their game, too.
The Driving Experience
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI is quiet and smooth, with a sure-footed driving experience. The SE model I was driving had 17-inch alloy wheels and Continental ProContact All-season tires, which
gripped well. Precise handling, with only the slightest push if I powered through a corner, came via the strut-type front suspension with coil springs and the multi-link, coil springs and anti-roll bar on the rear. Volkswagen makes a very sporty version of the Golf, the GTI, that is an absolute rocketship and handles like a slot car. The Golf TDI Clean Fleet Report was driving handled flat and nimble, so one can only imagine how the GTI performs.
Road feel was excellent with speed-variable, electric-mechanical power-assist steering that thankfully was not programmed to take away the fun of driving. Body roll was almost non-existent, even when pushed above recommended corner speed limits, and highway 70+ mph cruising was solid and confident. We can only imagine how the 18-inch wheels on the SEL model would make the driving experience even better.
Of course, a good handling car is nothing without good brakes. The Golf TDI comes standard with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), power-assisted vented front and solid rear discs. A good test for brakes is downhill mountain roads, with constant turning, where the brake load is applied on straight, right and left-hand corners. I experienced no fade with instant response when braking through such corners. On the flats, the stops were straight, true and consistent.
Driving Experience: Interior
Assembled in Pueblo, Mexico, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI comes in three trim levels: S, SE and SEL. Clean Fleet Report was driving the SE model, which has an updated interior for 2015 featuring a clean fit and finish that was German tight with a good mix of soft and hard plastics. The simple layout of all gauges was uncomplicated by fake woods, plastic chrome pieces or other design gimmicks — which often can be found on other cars. Volkswagen says their “driver centric design focus” begins with the new center stack for 2015, which is angled towards the driver. Up until recently this has been a design feature only appearing on premium, luxury or performance vehicles, but it is now making its way into many interiors. The white backlighting for the dash gauges also added a premium element.
The light beige, heated, V-tex leatherette front seats have better-than-average bolstering and include a manual height-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment. There was a good choice of seat settings so that, combined with the height adjustable and telescoping steering column, a comfortable position could be found, making long drives a breeze. The front seats are separated by a center console that has a height-adjustable armrest and storage area. Head, leg, elbow and shoulder room was accommodating, even for 6’+ drivers and passengers. The trunk space is more than can be found on the largest midsize sedan. If only the driver and front seat passenger are on a long weekender, the rear seat, with a ski pass-through opening, has a very handy system for lowering the 60/40 split seatback, providing 52.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity — large enough for a full-size bicycle. When visiting your VW dealer, take the time to configure the seats to see the options and spaciousness of the interior for sitting or storage.
Taking center stage of the dash is the capacitive and proximity sensor 5.8-inch color touchscreen that handles the rear view camera and navigation. Capacitive technology is similar to what is
found on smartphones and tablets and allows for functions such as swiping and pinch-zooming. While all this modern touchscreen technology is nice, Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of knobs and switches for the radio and climate controls. VW does a nice job of making it easy to operate the radio and single zone HVAC system with the turn of a few knobs. The dash design is two-toned beige and black, with accents of chrome, aluminum and piano-black finishes, accompanied by a leather-wrapped gearshift knob and hand brake handle.
The centerpiece of the infotainment system is the eight-speaker, with subwoofer, Fender premium sound system. This well-balanced system delivers deep, full crisp tones for the AM/FM radio/CD/MP3 player. Also part of the infotainment system is SiriusXM (a must for those long, fuel-efficient road trips), Bluetooth for telephone and streaming music and VW’s Media Device Interface, or MDI, which includes a SD card slot. Volkswagen still does not offer USB technology, but Clean Fleet Report was promised it is coming soon.
Other conveniences are a power tilting and sliding panoramic sunroof, power windows with one touch operation and pinch protection, keyless access, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, power adjustable and manual folding heated exterior mirrors, automatic rain-sensing variable intermittent front windshield wipers with heated washer nozzles, multi-function car analytics and trip computer display, multiple power ports, front and rear reading lights and front and rear carpeted floor mats. Standard on all Golf trim levels is Volkswagen’s VW CarNet connected car technology that provides a seamless link between the car and an iPhone, Android smartphone or computer, or as Volkswagen says it “keeps you connected with your car even when you’re apart.” It comes as a full feature introductory trial, with subscription available.
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Golf TDI exterior has been refreshed for 2015, beginning with the recognizable steeply sloped hood. The overall length and width for 2015 have been increased while the height has been
reduced slightly. The front end leads off with a narrow grill and sleek headlights on the outer edges that begin the character line leading to the horizontal tail lamps. The roof is dominated visually (when opened), by the sunroof, the shark fin antenna and the integrated spoiler. This overall design is built on the MQB (Modular Transverse Matrix) architecture and has a “cab backward” look that gives it a lower visual center of gravity. All this has reduced aerodynamic drag to .029, the same as the 2015 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. The rear window is large, providing excellent sightlines.
Safety and Convenience
All 2015 Volkswagen Golfs come with six airbags, Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS). Our Golf TDI SE also had Automatic Headlights and Daytime Running Lights, front fog lights, and Rear Parking Distance Control sensors. Additional safety features, available on the SE and SEL trim levels, include driver assistance systems and the lighting package.
Pricing and Warranties
2015 Golf TDI Pricing, NOT including the $820 Destination Charge.
S with Manual $22,345
S with Automatic $23,445
SE with Manual $25,895
SE with Automatic $26,995
SEL with Manual $28,395
SEL with Automatic $29,495
All 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI models come with these warranties:
- Basic: Three-year/36,000-mile
- Powertrain: Five-year/60,000-mile
- Free scheduled maintenance: One-year/12,000-mile
- Roadside assistance: Three-year/36,000-mile
- Corrosion perforation: 12-year/Unlimited
Volkswagen has 75-percent of the diesel passenger vehicle sales in the USA and is #1 in sales versus diesel competitors, with little on the horizon to knock VW off that perch. Therefore, you can purchase a VW TDI-powered car (Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Touareg) with confidence of its many years and millions of real-world miles of proven clean diesel technology.
Observations: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf continues the long heritage of a fun, nimble compact car being a favorite of drivers worldwide. The clean diesel models take this car one step further by
delivering stellar fuel economy. Clean Fleet Report has now tested most of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Volkswagen TDI offerings and easily place them in the top of all the cars and SUVs we have driven. They are smooth, quiet, powerful and get excellent fuel economy against their class competition.
Being a leader in clean diesel technology is not the end of Volkswagen’s environmental and sustainability efforts. Volkswagen is an active partner with The Conservation Fund in the reclamation and preservation of redwood forests, specifically the Garcia River Forest in Northern California’s Sonoma County. Going even further than this project, Volkswagen has made a commitment across its 12 brands worldwide and 118 production locations on four continents to be the most sustainable automobile manufacturer in the world by the year 2018.
Find a Volkswagen dealer that will let you take the Golf TDI on the open highway, around some mountain twisties and crawl all around the interior experimenting with the seat and storage options. You may find the larger car you have been considering for interior space, or the smaller car for fuel economy will be crossed off your shopping and consideration list.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
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