2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI Review

By Kevin Miller


The Volkswagen Golf TDI had big shoes to fill when it arrived at the Techshake Garage, as it replaced our Porsche Cayman. When it arrived I had to head right out on some errands, so I hopped in, adjusted my seat and mirrors, and took off. I was immediately impressed and surprised by the bolsters on the front seats. The steering wheel and shifter had a nice feel from their leather appointments.

Entering its sixth generation in 2010, the new Golf wears Volkswagen’s new corporate face and manages to look more mature than the 5th’generation car. I started inspecting the cabin as I drove along, and found plenty of things to like. Large bins in the front doors (as well as the smaller ones in the back doors) are lined with felt, to keep contents from rattling as you are driving. Audio, phone, and computer controls on the steering wheel offered convenient controls of their respective systems.

The Golf is truly efficient in its use of space- the passenger cabin seems to have more usable volume than my Volvo V70 does. Although the Golf is classified as a compact car by the EPA, it was surprisingly spacious, with plenty of room for our family of four. Our family includes a four-year-old in a booster seat, and a 14-month old in a forward-facing convertible child seat. I typically use a Graco ComfortSport in the vehicles I review, but the shape of the Golf’s LATCH lower anchors didn’t accommodate the Graco’s LATCH attachment hooks, so I had to pull the Britax Marathon out of my own vehicle. That seat fit nicely behind the driver’s chair (the Golf’s rear headrests have to be removed to fit the child seat). The Golf’s tall doors make entry/exit easy (even for getting my youngest into her car seat), and tall windows provide great visibility (though puny sun visors are no match for the sun shining through the side windows… the visors don’t extend rearward enough to block sun coming through the side windows).

One of the few options on my Golf TDI was Volkswagen’s Touchscreen Navigation System. Replacing the standard six-disc in-dash CD changer and standard audio head unit, the system’s very-clear touchscreen display was incredibly easy to use, whether for navigation or for audio control of the AM/FM, Satellite radio, integrated hard disk, CD player, SD card, or iPod The empty hard disk had 18.6 GB free space, though it can only be loaded by inserting an SD card into the slot on the front of the head unit. While the unit is equipped with HD radio receiver, and I was able to tune stations in HD, I was unable to find a way to tune secondary HD stations. Satellite radio stations can be tuned by channel entry, by category, or by the standard one-at-a-time progression up the list of stations.

While the head unit had a PHONE button, it only served to mute the audio. An additional (optional) module is available for the head unit which gives phone control including a keypad for dialing, but this wasn’t installed in the car I tested. Still, pairing my iPhone to the Golf’s Bluetooth handsfree system was fairly straightforward, and sound quality on calls was good. That pairing also enabled Bluetooth audio playback through the VW’s stereo, though as in other vehicles, my iPhone’s own shortcomings prevented me from controlling that audio via the car’s head unit. The Golf TDI also had an iPod connector in the center console, though the Bluetooth audio connection often tricked the iPhone into thinking the cable connection was invalid. Using that input with a non-Bluetooth iPod instead of an iPhone would solve that problem.

The navigation system’s voice guidance volume is set separately from the audio volume, but it can only be adjusted while the NAV is briefly speaking, or by delving several layers deep in the unit’s menu system. During my first days with the car, the navigation voice was too quiet. I finally managed to turn the volume up while the voice command was speaking and I was on the freeway, but then the guidance commands were too lout at slower speeds on secondary roads. Still, that is a small complaint on an otherwise well-thought-out, feature-packed audio/navigation system.

Seat height adjustment steering wheel reach/rake adjustment mean that it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel of the Golf. I found front seats quite comfortable, with power recline and manual adjustments for height and reach. The seats had unexpected side bolsters that fit my body quite nicely and lent the TDI’s interior a sporting character. Cloth upholstery was grippy and attractive, though when my daughter climbed into her car seat in the back, she did get a bit of mud onto the fabric that I feared would be difficult to remove due to the visible weave of the fabric. Other than a concern about cleanability, the upholstery does seem durable. On the negative side, the cabin’s dark gray dash, seats, and door trim did bring a somber mood to the Golf’s nicely-assembled, otherwise-upscale interior.

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped, and as mentioned above is adjustable for rake and reach. The multifunction wheel has audio and telephone controls, as well as controls for the multifunction onboard computer, whose display screen sits between the speedometer and tachometer. That small monochromatic display screen can display information about navigation route, audio selection, cruise control setting, trip computer, and vehicle settings. That means that you can be using the screen on the dashboard for tuning audio and still see the navigation directions in front of you. Such a system is appreciated in a high-end car, but is nearly a revelation in an economy car, even one as relatively expensive as the Golf.

In addition to the premium-feeling steering wheel, the entire interior of the Golf TDI exuded a feeling of quality. While thin, no-pile carpet and a few trim pieces gave away the true economy persona of the Golf, there are plenty of upscale touches- like a very nice soft-touch dashboard, door pockets lined with felt (to prevent contents from rattling), a cargo net on the underside of the parcel shelf, an air-conditioning vent in the glove box, iPod adapter, length-adjustable center armrest, and one-touch up/down feature on all four power windows. All of this is standard equipment, which is nice to have included when you consider the price difference between this Golf and similar-sized vehicles from other manufacturers.

Climate controls in my Golf were Volkswagen’s single-zone Climatic A/C system. It was straightforward to use, but the air distribution knob had very small pictographic markings, some of which are blocked from the driver’s view by the shape of the selector knob, making it difficult to discern airflow at a quick glance from the driver’s seat.

The Golf’s luggage compartment was surprisingly capacious given it’s exterior dimensions. The large equipment case I routinely carry fit with the rear seats and the parcel shelf in place, with room to spare. If more room is needed, the seats fold forward in a 40/60% split, and there is also a pass-through behind the rear seat’s center armrest for long items. One Techshake reader, reading on that we were testing a Golf TDI for the week, asked me to test whether a mountain bike would fit in the back of the Golf with the front tire removed. I did try that, and found there wasn’t quite enough room- at least not for my bike. On a rainy day, a bit of rainwater drips off of the tailgate into the trunk on both sides near the tail lamps when the trunk is opened. A 12 V electrical outlet and a cargo net are present in the trunk, and there are small storage areas under the trunk floor surrounding the spare tire.

When paring my iPhone with the Golf’s Bluetooth system, I needed to look in the car’s manual for the pairing code. The owner’s manual for the Golf is incredibly long, and was clearly put together by engineers, as it consists of a three-ring binder divided into three subsections (Driving, features, and audio).  Its thick binder has a special storage compartment at the top of the glove box. Paging through the manual, I found references to a reversing camera hidden behind the trunk release, an automated parallel parking system, and power seats; however these options discussed in the manual aren’t available in any Golf model in the US, nor is touchless entry/keyless go available. While those options would drive up the cost of the car, surely some consumers longing for an efficient hatchback would happily pay for these options on an ordered-car basis, but Volkswagen doesn’t seem interested in offering them at this time.

I’ve written before about my opinion that diesel powertrains are superior to gas-electric hybrid setups such as that found in the Toyota Prius, although my only meaningful experience with a diesel vehicle was with the 1980 Volkswagen Dasher Diesel wagon my aunt and uncle purchased new and owned for over a decade. Something thing people might associate with diesel vehicles of the past is sooty, black exhaust- but the Golf TDI’s clean diesel technology means that there is never a whiff of that familiar old diesel smell nor a even a puff of smoke. Another thing people might remember about diesel motors is the need to wait for glow plugs to warm before the car can be started- I remember that taking a long time in the Dasher. The Golf never made me wait longer than 2 seconds for its glow plugs lamp to extinguish, even on frosty Seattle mornings.

On the road, the 140 HP, 2.0 liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel is plenty powerful for the Golf’s 3000 lb curb weight. With 236 ft-lbs of torque available between 1750 and 2500 RPM, Volkswagen claims a 0-60 MPH time of 8.6 seconds for the TDI with manual transmission; that’s only a half-second slower than the 2.5 liter gas version of the Golf can achieve. The TDI engine features an electronically-controlled turbocharger, electronically-controlled direct injection fuel system. The engine did run out of steam a bit before its 5000 RPM redline, but gobs of torque meant that the Golf always felt plenty powerful.

The Golf TDI comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, a six-speed DSG automatic is available as an option. Clutch effort with the manual transmission is very light and offers little feedback, to the point that I stalled the car several times the first few days I was driving the car. Gears are easy to find, and shift feel is acceptable. On the road, the powertrain is quiet enough from within the cabin that you hear only wind or road noise, but seldom any engine noise. On the freeway, the Golf TDI doesn’t behave like a small car. It is stable and comfortable- this despite it’s low-profile tires. It is worth noting that Golf TDI models have a Sport Suspension, whereas Golf 2.5 vehicles do not. Handling was nimble and compliant but seldom harsh. The Golf’s steering setup did a great job providing feedback about what the car was up to, and was weighted perfectly for maneuvering both in parking maneuvers and driving more quickly. Brake feel was linear, though not overly-communicative.

During my week with the car, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t hear any stereotypical diesel noises when driving the Golf TDI, even with the windows down. Volkswagen has refined their modern turbodiesel engine to the point that it sounds like a normal gasoline engine. While I had expected to hear at least minimal clatter from the TDI, the engine is hushed. In fact, the predominant sound when underway on the freeway is wind or road noise, not engine noise. That fact let me to often forget to shift to 6th gear on the freeway, driving along for a while in fifth gear before realizing that I still had one more ratio available. A shift-up indicator would have likely improved my fuel economy around town.

That being said, I was happy with the fuel economy figures I saw while driving the Golf TDI. The car’s trip computer tracks fuel economy, distance traveled, and average speed, both on a per-trip basis and an ongoing basis. The Golf TDI is rated 34/41 MPG city/hwy by the EPA, and 34 MPG combined. I managed to beat the combined rating by quite a bit, returning an average of 37.5 MPG over nearly 500 miles driven. Long freeway jaunts predictably had even better fuel economy, with one sixty mile leg (at speeds between 65 and 75 MPH) turning in an average of 46.0 MPG. While diesel fuel was around $1.00/gallon more expensive than regular unleaded gasoline last year, the price difference was eighteen cents per gallon at the time I topped off the TDI’s tank with Ultra Low-Sulfur Diesel.

By way of comparison, the 2010 Toyota Prius we tested has 134 HP max with an EPA rating of 51/48 MPG; Techshake observed 46 MPG in our weeklong test of the Prius, meaning we didn’t meet even the lowest EPA rating. Considering that the Prius interior materials are hard plastic, the Prius has cramped headroom for 6’4” driver, and you have to suffer the non-linear feel of regenerative brakes, the Golf TDI is a great alternative for the “green” set who want a bit more style, space, and driving dynamics in their efficient five-door.

The 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI has an MSRP of $22,590. The vehicle I tested had just a few options, though they were very appreciated: Touchscreen Navigation System replacing the standard 6-disc in-dash CD changer audio system for $1750, Cold Weather Package (Heated Seats and Washer Nozzles) for $225, and Bluetooth Connectivity (both phone and audio connections) for $199. Adding the Destination charge of $750, the total price of the Golf TDI I tested was a reasonable $25,514. While that is a big price for a small car, the Golf TDI offers superior fuel economy and driving dynamics,, as well as superior interior materials and appearance, in a package that is extremely space-efficient.

Like all 2010 Volkswagen vehicles, it comes with a five-year / 60,000 mile Powertrain Warranty, three-year / 36,000 mile New Vehicle Warranty, and it is included in VW’s no-charge Carefree Maintenance Program, which covers all of the Golf’s scheduled maintenance (as described in the maintenance booklet) for three years or 36,000 miles.

I truly enjoyed my week in the Golf TDI. I found it enjoyable to drive, with plenty of power driving around town or merging on to fast-moving freeways, plenty of space for my family, and plenty of maneuverability for nipping into tight parking spaces. As I’ve noted in another post, I liked it well enough to consider buying a Golf TDI for my own vehicle. And that says a lot.

COPYRIGHT Techshake – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Techshake’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Techshake, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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