VW Golf TDI
Though I don’t do many car reviews for DemystifyingDigital.com, the 2010 VW Golf TDI is so loaded with cool and useful technology I jumped at the chance to test drive it at a special press event in Seattle last month. I was not disappointed.
For people who like their tech easy, ubiquitous and accessible – aka Demystifying Digital readers – the new Golf TDI could be the car for you. And even more importantly in today’s precarious economic and environmental climate, the Golf TDI uses a “clean diesel” engine, which is extremely fuel-efficient, saving you money at the pump while giving the environment a break.
Finally, as a driving machine, the 2010 Golf TDI is a blast, offering a surprisingly high-end feel for an economy model. It sells for just a hair under $22,000 – $21,990 to be precise – which is a good price for a clean diesel car, especially one that comes as well appointed as the 2010 Golf TDI.
Body and Soul
The VW Golf (sometimes known as the “Rabbit”), now in its sixth generation, has long been one of Volkswagen’s most popular cars and it’s easy to see why. Golfs are relatively inexpensive and offer a solid and sporty build with excellent gas mileage.
First off, a bit of disclosure. I’m a long-time VW Jetta owner and, over the years, have developed a love/hate relationship with my car. I love the design, handling and overall pep to it but, as the years have gone by, my 4-cylinder Jetta has developed some annoying hiccups. The latest is a weird electrical problem where the parking brake light and accompanying loud warning beep will suddenly erupt on my dashboard for no apparent reason.
Granted, my Jetta is from 2001 and has over 100,000 miles on it so I should cut it some slack. There are days though when I want to drive it straight into the Hudson River. After trying the Golf TDI, I can honestly say I’d buy it as a replacement for the Jetta if I had the money right now. (Saving, saving, saving…)
In the past, I’ve found Golfs to be a bit dull in the design department but the latest iteration is quite snazzy. This effervescent revamp comes courtesy of Walter de’Silva, VW’s chief of Design.
First off, the front features a wider, double-bar grille that gives the 2010 Golf some personality while blending nicely with the angled halogen headlights. (The TDI also offers the option of high intensity gas-discharged Xenon headlamps.)
The oval fog lamps on the front and the grilled lower cooling duct are also nice touches as is the wide stance of the car. The 2010 Golf looks like it’s meant for driving, not just for squeezing into small parking spots in the city. (Though it’s certainly capable of doing that.)
The Golf’s exterior, overall, is slightly curved, with clean smooth lines that make the car look aerodynamic and modern. Volkswagen’s slightly tweaked the rear of the Golf as well, giving the hatchback a spoiler with an integrated brake light at the top.
The rounded taillights are also new and pick up some of the characteristics of the headlamps. Meanwhile, running lights are discreetly positioned below the rear bumper, just above the sporty tandem exhaust pipe.
The 2010 Golf is available in seven colors: white, light blue, dark blue, gray metallic, silver metallic, red, and black. (I preferred the dark blue.)
One of the things that initially made me fall in love with my Jetta was the beautiful interior design, which reminded me of a fighter jet cockpit. (Ok, maybe a radded-up Cessna.) In the years since I bought that car, VW has continued to improve on its auto interiors and the 2010 Golf is the latest to benefit.
Sliding into the front seat of a Golf TDI for a test drive through Olympic National Park just outside of Seattle, I immediately felt comfortable but not “cushy.” That’s a good thing, at least for me, because I hate sinking halfway down into a super-soft seat.
The eight-way manually adjustable sport seats in the Golf had a good blend of mold-to-the-body comfort and ready-to-go stiffness that made me feel snug but in control.
I didn’t miss the lack of leather on the seats. They’re covered with Volkswagen’s “Me2″ cloth fabric – also known as Titan Black cloth – which is stylish and doesn’t cause bits of fabric from your clothes to cling to it. (That’s been a continual problem on my old Jetta.) Plus, the dark color should prevent the interior from looking dingy over time.
There’s a leather wrap on the three-spoke steering wheel, which is a classy touch. The wheel also has multi-function buttons and paddles to operate some of the car’s tech features.
Part Automatic, Part Manual
The TDI model I drove was equipped with a unique six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), which combines the ease of an automatic transmission with the performance of a manual gearbox. Since I live in New York City, I’m not much of a manual driver but the DSG transmission with Tiptronic helped ease me into the experience.
Tiptronic is VW’s name for its hybrid transmission system, which operates both as an automatic, and a manual shift. To switch from automatic to manual, the driver can either move the shift lever out to the right into an “upshift” or “downshift” mode, or perform the same function via “+/-” paddles on the steering wheel.
The new DSG technology uses a dual-clutch that quickly engages or releases the gears without the driver having to use a clutch pedal. It made for some extremely fun driving since even in full automatic mode, you could feel the Golf quickly changing gears and accelerating. Consequently, pickup and torque were unexpectedly brisk. VW clocks it at 8.6 seconds from zero to 60, which might not win a drag race but is great for jetting around town.
The other plus to the DSG transmission is that it actually improves fuel efficiency. With the DSG, the Golf TDI averages 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. But we found the car did even better than that during testing, at times giving us 46+ mpg while we drove through Olympic National Forest.
As mentioned earlier in this story, one of the things that most attracted me to the new Golf was how much attention VW has paid to integrating consumer technology into the car. For starters, if you have an iPod – and who doesn’t these days? – the Golf offers an easy hook-up via an iPod cable that snakes out of the armrest.
I had a few problems using my iPhone to play tunes via the cable connect – the Golf’s dashboard kept saying the device was not recognized – but VW later assured me that the car was, in fact, iPhone-compatible. (Could’ve just been a glitch in the test car I was using but make sure to try it yourself if you have an iPhone and are interested in the new Golf.)
The Golf TDI also comes standard with a very nice, touch-screen 8-speaker sound system which has built-in Sirius satellite radio; an in-dash six-disc CD with MP3 CD readability; and an auxiliary input jack. If you really want your music to sound sharp, consider upgrading to the Golf’s 300-watt Dynaudio Lite premium sound system. I’d also recommend the Bluetooth option for making hands free phone calls.
Since we’re talking about options, you should also seriously consider the Golf TDI’s new touch-screen navigation system which uses a 6.5-inch display, and an integrated hard drive (10GB for navigation, 20GB for audio) which can add extra nav data – such as maps – or music, via the optical drive or an SD card slot.
The GPS tracking nav system, which VW designs itself, is one of the best I’ve tested with clear maps and precise directions. One of my favorite features is “Rocket Mode,” which can be accessed by pressing the rocket icon on the touch screen.
In this mode, the nav system will pull you back for a quick aerial look of the area. While test-driving the Golf, we found this to be a great way to get our bearings in Olympic Park, with Rocket Mode showing us all the surrounding lakes and mountains.
If I have one gripe with the tech in the Golf TDI, it’s that the in-dash display between the two main gauges is kind of small. While it was fine for telling me some basic information, it could only fit the name of the satellite radio station, not what song or artist was playing.
What We Really Think
If you’re in the market for an inexpensive, fuel-efficient car there are lots of options out there these days thanks to the anemic economy and soaring gas prices. But let’s say you’re looking for an economical car and still want to have fun when you drive it. That narrows down the options considerably. Take a 2010 Golf TDI for a spin though and you just might’ve found what you’re looking for. This diesel-sipping, fun-loving little car is great for zipping around town or taking long rides through the country. Better yet, it’s expanse of tech options and surprisingly luxurious interior means you can blast some great tunes while feeling like you’re in the cockpit of a small jet plane.
• Luxurious feel for an economy car
• Excellent gas mileage
• Peppy DSG Transmission
• Plenty of tech options
• In-dash display is small
• Some road noise