The Legacy of Volkswagen Clean Diesel

The Legacy of Volkswagen Clean Diesel

What Clean Diesel Is & What It Is Not

As I write this, the public Volkswagen TDI debacle is just beginning. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and California’s Air Resources Board have presented their cases that Volkswagen AG (the parent of Volkswagen and Audi, among others) installed software that defeated the purpose of its emissions control equipment except when it was being tested for emissions. The ramifications remain to be seen, but certainly involve some kind of emissions updates to almost 500,000 2009-15 TDIs now on the road. It can be expected that a hefty fine will be levied against VW, which is the world’s largest automaker.

2015 VW,Jetta TDI, badge

A badge of honor?

It also can be expected that the term “clean diesel” will be tarnished, since that is one that VW and other automakers have taken great pains to reinforce for the past several years. That is where Clean Fleet Report has its biggest concern. Volkswagen clean diesel may have become an oxymoron, but we do not believe that is a broad brush that should paint all diesels. Maybe even VW diesels. After all, with the software’s permission, the vehicles did meet the stringent emissions standards of the U.S., which were set so diesels would be available to drivers in all 50 states (California regulations had kept them out for several years). The problem, of course, is that they did not meet those standards in normal driving modes, instead emitting 10-40 times the regulated limit.

At Clean Fleet Report we believe diesels can be clean, both in the certifications submitted to the regulatory agencies and in their daily operation. We also believe that any compromises in performance or fuel economy due to meeting emissions regulations are something consumers will deal with. For those of us old enough to remember diesel’s (which was not clean diesel) first foray into the U.S. market in the 1980s, compromises were part of the bargain. Maybe too big of a part of the bargain. Of course, gasoline cars of the time were far from no-compromise vehicles as well. We’ve come a long way since then and have every right to expect cars and trucks that deliver on all fronts–fuel economy, performance and emissions. Not all technologies are going to be equal and all have a place. Electric vehicles, as wonderful as they are, are far from zero emission vehicles when their electricity comes from coal, to give one example. Fuel cell electric cars offer a great replacement for our expectations of a gasoline/diesel vehicle replacement, until it comes time to find a refueling station, to offer another. That doesn’t make them bad technologies.

We’ll have more to say once we have more information on both the research into what happened, what will be done to correct the vehicles’ software and what impact this might have on our earlier

chevy,cruze,diesel,clean diesel, turbodiesel

Chevy Cruze Diesel

impressions. We will probably reserve judgement on any public pronouncements until our staff has a chance to drive the updated cars and calibrate our response. Suffice it to say, from my personal perspective, slightly less responsive performance and a slightly less fuel efficient vehicle will not change my overall impression of the value of a compression ignition engine. But my feelings of trust of Volkswagen may take longer to heal.

More to come.

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Clean Diesel vs. Hybrid: Which Is Best For You?

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Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI


Clean Fleet Report staff have worked for in the past and retain close relations with Volkswagen and other companies and organizations in the diesel industry. The views expressed here are the personal ones of the author related to this issue.

Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

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

2015, VW,Volkswagen,TDI,clean diesel,mpg,fuel economy

A Go-machine

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.

2015 Volkswagen,Golf TDI,clean diesel,fuel economy, manual,mpg

The source of fun

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

2015 Volkswagen, VW Golf, TDI SE,fuel economy,mpg,clean diesel

Not a passing fad

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

2015, VW Golf, Volkswagen TDI, clean diesel, mpg, fuel economy

German style–finished in Mexico

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

2015 VW, Volkswagen Golf TDI,clean diesel,mpg, fuel economy

Comfort in psuedo-leather

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

2015 Golf, VW, Volkswagen, TDI, clean diesel, mpg,fuel economy

An adult space in the rear

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 Volkswagen, VW Golf TDI,clean diesel,mpg, fuel economy

A secret passage

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

2015, VW Golf, Volkswagen TDI, clean diesel,fuel economy,mpg

All systems go(lf)

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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Clean Diesel vs. Hybrid: Which One Is Best For You?

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First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

Now Available Three Spiced-Up Versions–Gas, Diesel or Electric

If variety is the spice of life, anyone with a sensitivity for Sriracha sauce has better step away from the new 2015 Volkswagen Golf. VW is launching the seventh generation of its worldwide best-seller this year and it’s stepping up its game. The Golf has completely redone both gas and diesel engines as well as added a brand-new electric motor in the soon-to-be-on-the-market (finally) e-Golf.

The styling of the Mk 7 Golf is evolutionary, but those who follow the Euro hatchback will notice the changes–it’s bigger, lighter and more fuel-efficient. Golf aficionados might pick up on the two plus longer, ½-inch wider and one-inch

2015 Volkswagen,VW,e-Golf,electric car

Old and new blend in the e-Golf

lower stance, but the rest of us will just appreciate the lower coefficient of drag’s positive impact on its fuel economy.

The variety does mean the Golf buyer will need to make a choice and it is beyond just the different powertrains. However, let’s start with that foundational element, which will define the basic character of your Golf.

New And Different/e-Golf

The e-Golf represents a new foray for Volkswagen–a production pure battery electric car. The company has shown a variety of concepts, including the smaller e-Up!, and the ultra-efficient science project, the XL1. VW decided the Up! is too small for the U.S. market and the XL1 is a very limited production plug-in diesel-electric hybrid.

The e-Golf represents what VW considers the sweet spot of the EV market–a compact yet highly functional five-door hatchback that they’re already producing in large volume (so the basic tooling costs are covered). Clean Fleet Report has driven two previous iterations of the e-Golf, both of which appeared to be ready to enter production. This latest (still pre-production) version continued VW’s tradition of building electric cars that not only deliver zero emissions but some of the expected driving fun that defines the Golf. With real five-passenger seating and functional storage space behind the hatch, Golf ups the ante in the growing EV market.

The e-golf is set to arrive late in 2014 and will deliver 70-90 miles of real-world range (100+ in Eco+ mode) from its 24.2 kWh lithium-ion battery and electric motor with 115 hp/199 pound-feet of torque (which compares favorably with the gas and diesel models). VW claims the e-golf will deliver more interior volume and torque than either the Ford Focus Electric or Nissan Leaf. Its retail price of $36,265 (including destination charge) will place it between the segment sales leading Leaf and the just-introduced German rival BMW i3.

The Driver Gets to Choose

One unique feature of the e-Golf is driver-selected driving profiles and regenerative braking, with three settings for each. The driving profiles range from Normal through Eco to Eco+ with the Eco modes moderating the electric motor output, top speed, A/C output and throttle response to maximize efficiency. The three regen modes range from normal to “B,” which puts on the brake lights when engaged as it actively slows down the car whenever the throttle is lifted. Aggressive doesn’t do justice to describe the intensity of the top regen level, but it could get old if engaged during normal city driving.

2015 VW, volkswagen,Golf GTI

Looking the part-compact performance hatchback

The e-Golf will distinguish itself from its sister ICE Golfs by using LED headlights and low rolling-resistance tires on unique 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. It also employs a lower coefficient of drag (.028 due to tricks such as reducing the volume of cooling air via a radiator shutter by using a partially enclosed radiator grille; new underbody paneling; a rear spoiler and C-pillar air vanes to better manage airflow at the tail of the car; and cleaning up the airflow around the wheels, largely by ensuring they are flush with the wheel arches).

Like many of its competitors, the e-Golf will only be available in select states (those offering California emissions credits). It will come in an up-level SEL trim, which include a good selection of features such as a touch-screen navigation system, VW’s Car-Net connected services, heated front seats, Bluetooth and a rearview camera.

Diesel Updated

Diesel engines have been a part of the VW repertoire for decades. At one point they had the dubious distinction of being known as the “diesel Rabbit” car company. That was then; this is now. The diesel engines are quieter and cleaner (the 2015 turbocharged 2.0-liter engine has 40 percent lower emissions than its predecessor, which still met California’s strict emissions standards). What remains constant is the combination of power from its low-end torque, fuel economy from its overall efficiency and the durability that comes from a compression ignition engine designed to endure constant explosions within.

For the first time, VW has redesigned its diesel engine to worldwide standards so one engine (in various states of tuning and emissions) will serve markets everywhere. The all-new TDI (for turbo diesel injection) gains in horsepower and fuel economy on its predecessor, albeit in barely noticeable numbers (+10 hp/_1 mpg). The gains flow to VW from the economies of scale derived from a world engine.

Driving the TDI provided no revelations. We tested last year’s engine in the Jetta and came away impressed. What’s not to be impressed when you’ve got all the power you need off-the-line and for passing on the freeway, when it’s accompanied by better-than-EPA fuel economy. For those of us who spend a good portion of our time traversing the Interstate, a TDI is a godsend. The new version just ups the ante.

The Old Standby–Gasoline (With a Boost)

The trick is no sleight-of-hand; in its seventh generation (dating from the Gen I Rabbit in 1974) the Golf boasts that it’s bigger yet lighter and more fuel-efficient. Of course the electric version highlighted earlier is truly groundbreaking.

2015 Volkswagen, VW, Golf TSI, Golf TDI,e-Golf

For 2015 Golf offers fun in three varieties

The diesel is better, but builds incrementally on its past. The gasoline version is somewhere in between, but still not joining the 40 MPG Club.

The gasoline-powered Golf comes in two versions–the basic Golf TSI and the performance-oriented GTI. Life the diesel, its engine received a complete revision. The new turbocharged direct-injected 1.8-liter four-cylinder delivers 6 mpg (20 percent) more on the highway than last year’s 2.5-liter version. Manual transmissions as well as automatics are available, something that is becoming more and more rare.

The more powerful (and very popular) GTI model bumps up the power to 210 hp while losing only a few (3-4 mpg) miles per gallon.

Golf Pricing & Fuel Economy

VW has juggled Golf prices this year, dropping them and setting up a clean stair-step for the different models. Here (including an $820 destination charge) are the entry prices for the different models. With optional trim levels and equipment they can easily move up $8-10,000, a common characteristic for German models.

Golf TSI  $18,815 – 2-door, manual transmission

25 mpg city/37 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined

Golf TDI  $22,815 – 4-door, manual transmission

30 mpg city/45 mpg hwy/36 mpg combined

Golf GTI  $25,215 – 2-door manual transmission

25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined

e-Golf   $36,265 – EPA fuel economy not yet set

More Models Coming

In addition to the TSI, TDI and e-Folks, VW will later be bringing a wagon (formerly the Jetta Sportwagen, which will now be known as the Golf Sportwagen in TSI and TDI versions), a hot with 290 horsepower and all-wheel drive known as the Golf R and finally a hybrid, no doubt piggybacking on the Jetta hybrid technology already on the market.

The choices mean you, the consumer, have to figure out how you intend to drive your Golf. Short bursts around town suite the e-Golf, longer commutes point you toward the TSI or TDI. The TSI has a significantly lower purchase price and

2015 VW,Volkswagen,Golf,Golf GTI

Red means go

good fuel economy. The TDI costs more at the outset, but will save you money every mile even if the per gallon cost of diesel Is a few cents higher than gas. Both are run to drive.

If fuel economy is not your main focus, the GTI extracts a maximum amount of fun out of the Golf platform–and doesn’t suffer too much at the pump.

If you need more room, wait for the wagon. If you want the true maximum performance, wait for the the R. The hybrid, may trail the others into the market, should offer TDI-like fuel economy, but at a similar or potentially even higher MSRP.

2015 Volkswagen,VW,e-Golf,Golf TDI,Golf TSI,Golf GTI

Chose your pleasure-no poison pill here

All the Golf variants deliver similar, sporty performance. Road handling in our test drives showed it to be superior to competitive models in this class and price range. Body lean is minimal and the available manual transmission gives the driver the ability to enhance control of the vehicle. Inaide, VW appears to have upped its game, getting back to higher quality materials that look and feel like they come from a more expensive car. Then there’s that German engineering thing. As an example, an engineer shared with Clean Fleet Report that all VW engines are reported in with specifications on the conservative side rather than at the maximum allowable from testing. It may seem like a minor thing, but we see that as a philosophy the means the company will under-promise and over-deliver with its vehicle’s performance. That’s a trait we’ve experienced in our previous testing and one we welcome.

For 2015 Volkswagen has clearly positioned the Golf to be more competitive across the board by lowering prices, boosting performance (both horsepower and fuel economy) and adding content. It’s part of a strategy to push the VW brand into America’s mainstream. Our estimation after some short but vigorous test drives of the new Golf leads us to quote their new marketing mantra–they do define the compact hatchback segment. It’s up to the competition to come up with something to compete, but until then the Golf is our first choice.

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Road Test: 2014 VW Touareg TDI R-Line

Comparison Road Test: 2013 Jetta TDI vs. Jetta Hybrid