At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was driving to St. Louis on Interstate 70 with traffic that was moving at 75 miles per hour and the 2015 Volkswagen Golf turbodiesel averaged 51.5 miles per gallon. On my return trip, the car’s trip computer read 53.5 mpg. That’s better highway mileage than most hybrids, and the diesel’s abundant torque made it more fun.
I was driving a four-door TDI S with the six-speed manual from VW’s press fleet. Volkswagen has reduced the base price of the diesel by nearly $3,000 compared to previous models. The test car was a fairly bare-bones model – no satellite radio, navigation or back-up camera – and its sticker price was $23,165. I wasn’t sure how comfortable it would be on a 240-mile road trip but supportive seats and a compliant but not mushy ride meant we arrived feeling fresh. Wind and road noise were not intrusive, thanks in part to the 0.29 coefficient of drag.
Prices start at $17,995 for the two-door Launch Edition. The top TDI SEL four-door, with manual transmission, navigation, sports seats, automatic climate control, keyless entry and 18-inch wheels, is $28,395. That’s a bit pricey for a compact hatchback.
Because the Golf’s turbodiesel delivers 236 pound-feet of torque from a 2.0-liter engine, a pleasing surge of acceleration is available for merging onto the freeway, passing trucks or climbing hills, even at 70 mph or more. The six-speed manual transmission has overdrive ratios in fourth, fifth and sixth gears, and the little engine hums along at slightly less than 2,000 rpm at 70 mph. That’s one reason it gets such good mileage.
The all-new seventh-generation Golf, available as a two-door or four-door, has grown in size but weighs up to 79 pounds less than the outgoing car, depending on the model. It is 2.1 inches longer, 0.5 inches wider and 1.1 inches lower. The overall shape is familiar, but the front has sharper lines and more distinct headlight clusters.
Engine choices include a 1.8-liter, turbocharged gasoline engine or a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine, with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic.
Few folks choose a manual these days, and many younger drivers don’t know how to use one, but VW’s six-speed is easy to use. The clutch action is light and the shift linkage is direct. Were I to buy a Golf I would probably pick the DSG dual-clutch automatic because it is easier to live with in city traffic and only slightly less efficient on the highway.
Volkswagen is known for its well-designed interiors, and although the test car was a fairly basic model it did not feel that way. The multifunction steering wheel had handy controls for audio, trip computer and cruise control. The 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment screen was large enough for the audio system but might be a bit small for navigation.
The split-folding back seat has enough legroom for adults. The trunk is just deep enough for carry-on bags to be placed longitudinally.
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The base price of the test car was $22,345. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $23,165. There were no options.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI S
Engine: 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower turbodiesel four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 103.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,080 pounds
Base price: $22,345
As driven: $23,165
MPG rating: 30 in the city, 45 on the highway