Why did the chicken cross the road? I have absolutely no idea, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with furthering the species. If its intention had been to test my reflexes and the handling of the Volkswagen Golf GTD then it certainly succeeded.
Fortunately the GTD’s xenon headlights picked out the feathery shape as it hopped its way into the road. Quite why the silly critter failed to spot the piercing white beam, I don’t know, but it didn’t hear the roar of four fast-moving Continental tyres either.
So as I rapidly approached the seemingly suicidal animal I had to make a split-second decision. Carry on and run the risk of having to phone Volkswagen in the morning to explain why there was a chicken-shaped hole in the GTD’s front bumper. Or take evasive action.
So I opted for the second choice and gave the Golf’s steering wheel a jerk to the left. With the same progressive steering rack as the GTI (2 turns lock-to-lock) the GTD is incredibly nimble and the nose immediately darted to the left. The 18-inch Nogaro wheels skimmed past the chicken, just inches from its beak.
Another quick flick of the wheel saw the Golf’s nose pull back to the right, but as it did so the near-side rear wheel hit a patch of wet grass and started to slide. An instinctive turn to the left brought the Golf back on course, although the ESP probably had more to do with that than my own attempt at opposite lock.
It was all over in a couple of seconds. In the rear view mirror a blurry shape, bathed in the red glow from the GTD’s LED lights, continued on its mission to cross the road. Meanwhile, I breathed a sigh of relief that the Golf was unscathed and thanked Volkswagen for making it so maneuverable.
It helps that the GTD is so closely related to the GTI. Not only is the steering rack the same, so is the chassis. The only difference is the slightly heavier diesel engine sitting on top of the front axle that necessitates a few subtle changes to the suspension. That engine is the latest in a long line of 2.0-litre diesels, with power now up from 168bhp and 258lb/ft to 181bhp and 280lb/ft.
If you’re familiar with recent sporty Golfs you’ll know exactly what to expect. The styling provides subtle clues that this is the fast oil burner, including bigger wheels, revised bumpers, a few GTD logos, LED lighting and a small rear spoiler. It’s enough to make it stand out from lesser models but avoids looking too flashy. Just what we’d expect from a Golf.
Inside you find the familiar Golf cabin complete with grey Jacara tartan seats. The rest of the interior is pure Mk7, namely high quality materials, perfect ergonomics and a generous helping of technology. The centre-piece is the 5.8-inch touchscreen that controls the sat-nav (a £750 option), radio, multimedia, phone and trip computer. It’s easily the best in class, intuitive to use and presented in crisp detail.
Tucked away in the touchscreen is the driver profile selection. Choose from Eco, Normal and Sport to set up the GTD for your preferred driving style. In this particular Golf that includes the weight of the steering, the response of the throttle and whether or not the sound actuator is making the diesel engine sound that little bit fruitier. Specify the optional Adaptive Chassis Control or DSG gearbox and the profile selections will affect those too, and if you don’t like the presets you can choose your own. The differences in character are subtle but do make a difference and it’s nice to be given this level of control.
There’s no escaping the GTD’s diesel roots. The performance is delivered in short, torque-laden bursts and to keep it on the boil you’ll be making full use of the slick six-speed manual. The engine revs quite freely for a diesel but there’s no point in using the upper reaches. No, it’s better to change up early and make full use of the torque. The result isn’t as satisfying as the petrol engine in the GTI but the GTD is still remarkably good at covering ground quickly.
It helps that the GTD shares the same forgiving ride as the GTI. 18-inch wheels are often a recipe for spinal punishment but the GTD rides incredibly well, being firm and controlled rather than crashy or hard-edged. The standard setup is so good you’d have to question the need to spend extra money on the Adaptive Chassis Control.
The electronic XDS differential also does a decent job of handling the GTD’s prodigious torque. It keeps things neat and tidy without feeling intrusive and, while it will allow a little bit of slip in the damp, it stops the GTD from becoming a tyre-shredding, torque-steering handful.
The GTD is now even greener than before. The CO2 emissions have been reduced by 25g/km to 109g/km, dropping the GTD from Band E to Band B on the VED charts. Fuel economy is now officially 67.3mpg on the combined cycle, a huge increase of 22mpg. Realistically you won’t see that in daily driving (I averaged 49mpg over 400 miles, with a best journey of 55mpg) but you can see how much the GTD has been improved. That’s before you consider the fact that it’s 13bhp more powerful and 0.6 seconds quicker to 62mph than the model it replaces.
The only fly in the ointment is the asking price. At 25,765 it’s cheaper than the GTI but also an awkward £3,510 more expensive than the mechanically identical SEAT Leon FR. The Golf is still the winner if you’re looking for that premium feel but the gap has narrowed, while the driving characteristics of the two cars are very close indeed thanks to the shared MQB platform.
At least the standard level of kit is generous, with adaptive cruise, bi-xenon headlights, parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers all included in the price, on top of the DAB radio, multimedia support and Bluetooth.
The Final Reckoning
Volkswagen have done it again. If anything, this GTD reaches new heights of desirability thanks to the combination of sharp styling and even lower running costs. It’s such an easy car to live with in daily driving and once you escape the urban traffic jams you can still have real fun on the open road.
The idea of a diesel hot hatch still causes some petrol-heads to snort in derision but for those of us who travel a lot and have to pay for our own fuel the combination of 184PS and well over 50mpg is hard to resist. Let the naysayers vent their opinions, just remember you’ve got a car that looks as good as the GTI, is almost as quick as the GTI and cuts down the amount of time you’ll spend gazing at the £s clocking up at the fuel pump.
It’s also remarkably good at avoiding chickens.
Volkswagen Golf GTD Rating
|Low running costs\nUnderstated but smart looks \nAn even more compelling case for the diesel hot hatch||List price\nNot quite as satisfying as the GTI, but it's a close thing||8/10|
Volkswagen Golf GTD Specs
|Performance & Economy|
|Engine||1,968cc 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, font-engined, front-wheel drive|
|Power (PS / bhp)||184 / 181 at 3,500rpm|
|Torque (Nm / lb.ft)||350 / 280 at 1,750rpm|
|0 - 62 mph (seconds)||7.5|
|Top Speed (mph)||143|
|CO2 Emissions (g/km)||109|
|Combined Economy (mpg)||67.3|
|Kerb Weight (kg)||1,377|