In 1974 the first Volkswagen Golf rolled off the production line as a replacement to the hugely successful Beetle. Using VW’s wind-inspired naming convention the Golf was derived from the German word for Gulf Stream, but in the states it’s always been more fittingly called the Rabbit. Why would this name fit so well? Not because it hops along with carefree ease, or because it nibbles away on minimal fuel, but because its population has swelled at an amazing rate. Over 26 million Golfs or Rabbits have been sold globally since 1974, beating the original Beetle and making it the third bestselling car of all time.
The Golf has a long history of offering a diesel powered variant starting way back during its first generation in the mid ‘70’s. Now as it enters its sixth generation there’s no argument that the Golf is highly established, as are its diesel offerings, but just how good is it really? Car and SUV spent some time with the Mk6 Golf TDI to find out more.
The sixth-generation Golf doesn’t mark out a total departure from its predecessor and sits on the outgoing Mk5’s platform, but it is much more than a standard facelift. Various engineering upgrades have taken place including increased stiffness and a more advanced ESP system. All the Golf’s body panels, except for the roof are new and the interior is the scene of a full refit as well. The exterior styling is suitably low-key and is more a natural evolution in design rather than a radical change from the Mk5 model. The biggest aesthetic change comes with the adoption of the new VW corporate face sporting a glossy barred grille and updated halogen headlamps. Along the flanks runs a ‘tornado line’ ridge that lowers the Golf’s profile and out back new jewelled taillights sit prominently. Overall the Golf’s sheet metal has a solid finish boasting tight shut-lines and colour-coded bright work.
The Golf’s interior is simple and superb using high quality materials all round, giving the genuine feel of a higher-segment vehicle. Soft touch plastics integrate with subtle aluminium and chrome highlights to create excellent overall surface quality. It’s easy to get comfortable in the cabin with supportive seats and a wide array of possible adjustments for both seats and steering wheel. Head and legroom is ample in the front and the partially bolstered back seat is good for two people, tight for three and has its own air vents. Switchgear and instruments are easily read and noticeably easy to become accustomed to. The boot is a usable size and has handy details like luggage tie-down points and an opening port in the back seat for transporting longer items. It’s very hard to fault the Golf’s interior except to say that more storage options for small items could be offered and some Golf enthusiasts may not appreciate the change to white instrument illumination from blue.
The standard equipment list for the Golf TDI is lengthy, including dual zone climate air-conditioning, hill hold control, leather multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, trip computer, auto headlights and 16-inch alloys.
Sitting under the bonnet is Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder diesel engine that pushes out 103kW of power and 320Nm of torque from 1750 rpm. It’s a strong torquey unit and will take the Golf from standing to 100kph in 9.3 seconds. But that sprinting figure doesn’t do it justice because it can show genuine pace if you go asking questions and with direct injection it’s very flexible as well. What’s most influential is how smooth and unintrusive the motor is, apart from a faint rattle at low revs the engine remains whisper quiet and is evidence of just how far diesel motors have developed. Fuel economy is very good too with an achievable figure of 5.4-litres/100km on the combined cycle.
The engine mates up well with VW’s 6-speed DSG transmission which goes about it’s business smoothly and without fuss, diligently drawing out all available power. A sports mode can be activated at the touch of a button and holds the Golf in gear longer for further improved acceleration. If that’s still not enough a sequential shift capability is available for spirited driving. Although the DSG twin-clutch gearbox is a well-developed and modern unit there are still rare stop-start situations where it can be unsure and jerky. However, as a complete power train package it’s impressive, offering enough usable power to cover distances quickly when required, perfect manners around town and frugal with its diesel usage.
In terms of handling the Golf feels secure and while predictable in nature remains enjoyably agile on twisty roads. It’s easy to be precise on turn in, it stays flat mid-corner and the front wheels grip strongly when exiting. The electro-mechanical power steering is well weighted at all speeds and helps maintain a good bond between driver and machine. Apparently, VW engineers worked hard on refining the new Golf with extra soundproofing, new door seals, engine mounts and even thicker glass. This results in a cabin that is a tranquil environment with minimal wind noise, and the diesel engine makes for a distant companion. Some tyre noise is evident but it’s at a level so low that soft music or even conversation could easily drown it out. Ride quality is also top-notch with comfort rarely being compromised; even our uneven NZ roads could do little to unsettle it.
Safety bases are covered with a strong standard specification that sees the inclusion of seven airbags in total with a driver’s knee airbag and whiplash-avoiding headrests. A full Electronic Stability Program (ESP) stands guard and includes ABS, Brake Assist and an electronic differential lock for improved traction. There are some subtler safety touches too like front passenger airbag deactivation, ISOFIX mounts for children’s seats and daytime running lights.
So how good is the new Golf TDI? It’s excellent, a complete package and near on impossible to expose any real flaws because it is a consummate all rounder. The TDI makes for a good choice within the Golf range, it’s economical with little compromise in terms of power and refinement. What I personally admire with all Golfs is the genuine feeling of how it’s been tweaked and improved over each model that has gone before while still maintaining the bloodlines of the original Mk1. With 26 million Golfs being sold before the Mk6, VW were smart not to mix up the formula too much and in doing so have guaranteed that sales will stay strong and the Rabbits will keep multiplying. It’s far from the cheapest mid-size hatch in the market but the Golf still offers value with the high level of quality in its exterior and outstanding interior and also in its refined driving dynamics. Without doubt the Golf remains the hatchback to beat.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications.
What we like:
- High-level build quality
- Refined and smooth
- Strong diesel engine
What we don’t like:
- Not a massive leap forward from Mk5
- Conservative exterior styling
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
Volkswagen Golf TDI (2009) – Specifications
Engine type: 103kW TDI
Cubic capacity 1968cc
Max. output, kW at rpm 103kW @ 4200 rpm
Max. torque, Nm at rpm 320Nm @ 1750 – 2500 rpm
Gearbox, standard 6-spd DSG
Top speed, kph 207
Acceleration, in seconds from 0-100 kph 9.3
Fuel consumption, litres/100 km combined 5.4
CO 2 emission, g/km 142
¢ 3-point automatic seat belts with height adjustment and seat-belt tensioners
¢ ESP (electronic stability program), ABS braking system with Brake Assist, and EDL (electronic diff lock)
¢ Active front head restraints
¢ Driver and front passenger airbags, with front side airbags, drivers knee airbag and curtain airbags
¢ Electromechanical steering with safety steering column (steering wheel height & reach adjustable)
¢ Front passenger airbag deactivation
¢ ISOFIX mountings on rear seat
¢ Outer rear view mirrors, electrically adjustable and heated
¢ Three rear headrests
¢ Automatically dimming interior mirror
¢ Automatic headlight control with coming home/leaving home function
¢ Black Pyramide interior trim inserts
¢ Climatronic air-conditioning
¢ Comfort front seating
¢ Cooling for glove compartment
¢ Cruise Control
¢ Electric windows, front & rear
¢ Floor mats, front & rear
¢ Hillhold control
¢ Illuminated vanity mirrors
¢ Leather multi function steering wheel
¢ Multifunction Indicator
¢ RCD 310 single CD/tuner and eight loudspeakers, MP3 CD compatible, Aux In socket
¢ Remote central locking with vehicle immobiliser, tilt sensor and interior monitoring
¢ ‘Scout / Merlin’ cloth upholstery
¢ Split-folding rear seat backrest
¢ Storage trays under front seat
¢ 16″ Atlanta alloy wheels, 205/55 tyres with space-saver spare wheel
¢ 4-link independent rear suspension
¢ Front-wheel drive
¢ Galvanised body
Warranty and Assistance
¢ 3 year / unlimited km mechanical warranty, 12 year anti-corrosion warranty
¢ 3 year Volkswagen Roadside Assistance