Take a Volkswagen Golf GTI, swap the engine for a diesel and sprinkle with new badges. That’s the basic recipe for the Volkswagen Golf GTD, but is there enough GTI DNA in there to make it a proper diesel hot hatch or does it become little more than a GTI lookalike for people with a fear of petrol stations?
Is The Golf GTD Fast Enough?
If the Golf GTD is going to live up to the promise it needs to have a strong engine. Pop open the bonnet and you’ll find a 2.0-litre diesel engine that has appeared in countless Volkswagens and Audis, using a turbo and common-rail injection to produce 168bhp and 258lb/ft of torque. Mated to a light and snappy six-speed manual ‘box the GTD is incredibly tractable – even in sixth gear at little more than tickover it will accelerate without shuddering its objections. While there is a noticeable lull until the turbocharger spools up it makes the Golf incredibly flexible, and if you keep the revs down you’ll find that it is quiet and refined and easily capable of over 50mpg (my best was 55mpg on the 60 mile round trip to work). So far so ordinary, but the Golf has a trump card up its sleeve…
Put your foot down, let the revs rise and you’re treated to a purposeful rumble that develops into a pleasingly sporty rasp. You’re never going to mistake it for the wail of a high-revving petrol engine but the unusual tone does a great job of disguising any diesel clatter and it was good enough to fool a couple of my passengers into thinking this was a petrol-powered Golf.
The noise is produced by an electromagnetic sound generator that checks the engine speed and throttle demand to tune the interior soundtrack. It may appear to be engineering voodoo but if it makes the GTD sound good then who cares? In any other diesel hatchback you’d be discouraged from chasing the red-line but in the Golf GTD it’s an enjoyable and addictive pastime.
The GTD is refined and sounds good when pushed, but that’s all for nothing if it can’t back that up with great pace. With 40bhp less than the GTI the GTD manages a 0-62mph time of 8.1 seconds, which is nothing to write home about these days. What the GTD has got is more torque – 51lb/ft more – and this means it’s the in-gear acceleration that impresses the most. Third and fourth gear are where this car excels, using all of that torque to build speed very rapidly and make overtakes an absolute doddle. Even in fifth and sixth gears the acceleration is strong and its very easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the speed limit … if you’re not careful.
What’s The Golf GTD Like To Drive?
Travelling faster than you think is one of the hazards of driving the Golf GTD. Sat inside, held snugly in place by the comfortable sports seats, the excellent soundproofing of the cabin keeps wind noise and tyre roar to a minimum, robbing you of the aural clues to your increasing pace.
Then there’s the suspension setup. Rather than just chuck some stiffer springs onto the GTD, Volkswagen decided to gift it the same settings as the GTI, a car widely acknowledged to have one of the best setups in the hot hatch field.
Initially it feels surprisingly soft but it doesn’t take long to realise that the Golf’s ride is spot-on for British roads. It’s comfortable, smothering all but the worst bumps and potholes and leading to a more relaxed ride, but its also firm enough to allow you to really push on without the Golf losing its composure. It’s not perfect and at times the GTD can struggle to hide it’s 1409kg kerb weight, but you really can carry a lot of speed across bumpy, twisty B-roads.
The electronically-assisted steering starts off light but becomes heavier as the speed increases and, although the wheel is lacking in ultimate feedback, it is accurate and responsive – when you turn the wheel the Golf immediately tucks itself into the corner. There’s a hint of roll but the Golf quickly settles, holding onto the chosen line with a tenacious grip. The GTD has traction control, ESP and an electronic diff lock as standard but the levels of grip on offer mean that they’re rarely called into action. Even with full throttle on a tight bend it resists wheelspin and torque steer and just pulls away without fuss.
Does It Look Like A GTI?
Like the GTI, the styling of the Golf GTD is quite conservative, an impression enforced by this car having five doors and uninspiring Carbon Grey metallic paint. A number of features are borrowed from the GTI such as the rear spoiler, subtle sideskirts and front bumper with honeycomb grille, but where the GTI gets red highlights the GTD uses chrome. The ‘Cherry’ red rear LED light clusters are a subtle feature that are only available on the fastest Golfs, while the rear windows get extra tinting. The glitziest feature on the GTD is the set of unique 17-inch ‘Seattle Shadow’ wheels that combine a silver face with contrasting gloss black paint.
There’s no arguing about the classy interior. The black cabin is lifted by the use of chrome highlights on almost every control, while the grey tartan seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel (with GTD badge) mimic those of the GTI. At night things are even better as the dashboard controls are illuminated with subtle red backlighting, while in the roof a pair of red LEDs bathe the gearstick in an eery red glow. Yes, it’s a gimmick, but it’s one I like.
It’s A Hatchback, It’s Got To Be Practical. Right?
Don’t worry, it’s a Golf so practicality is guaranteed. The driving position can be adjusted and the seat drops incredibly low, so even the tallest of drivers will be able to fit behind the wheel. Rear space is good with plenty of leg and head-room and the boot easily swallows the weekly shop.
For those with young children the rear doors of this five-door model open wide and aren’t intruded by the rear wheelarches, allowing easy access. That’s important when loading and unloading the little ‘uns from the back seat.
How Much Does It Cost?
The basic 3-door GTD starts at £24,365* and the 5-door at £25,220*. Standard highlights include dual-zone climate control and an eight-speaker MP3-comptaible sound system with USB and iPod connections available. You also get electric heated door mirrors, auto-sensing headlights and rain-sensitive wipers, and coming/leaving home lighting. Safety kit includes curtain airbags all-round, twin airbags in the dash and side airbags in the front seats, while the driver is also protected by a knee-level airbag.
There were two notable upgrades to this car – the first being the multimedia system that incorporates radio, MP3 player with 30GB hard drive, satellite navigation and traffic updates into a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen. The second is a clever little feature that made itself known when I first selected reverse gear – the dash displays a colour view of the rear thanks to a camera that pops out of the VW badge. The camera is a £165 option but it requires the screen of the multimedia system and that means spending a further £1,770. It is a great system but is it really worth close to £2k? I’ll let you make your own mind up on that.
Other extras on the test car included Bluetooth preparation (£225) and the metallic paintwork (£465) for a total cost of £27,845.
The Final Reckoning
It’s really hard to pick fault with the Golf GTD except in one vital area – price. £24,365 is a lot of money to ask and I think a fairer price would be around £22,000. That high price can be balanced by the GTD’s economy, Volkswagen’s superb residual values and the fact that it’s a diesel, ensuring that the pain of depreciation is more bearable than a lot of the Golf’s competition.
It also happens to be just £670 short of the GTI in which you will enjoy more power, a better soundtrack (it uses the same trickery as the GTD) and much better throttle response. On the other hand you’ll never see anything like 50mpg in the GTI.
After a week with the Golf GTD I handed the keys back with a much greater respect than when it first arrived. It may be powered by a diesel engine but don’t let that put you off, it’s an excellent package that provides enough driving thrills to warrant that ‘hot hatch’ title. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Volkswagen have developed the finest diesel hot hatch that money can buy.
Volkswagen Golf GTD Specifications
|Top Speed||138 mph|
|CO2 Emissions||134 g/km (Band E)|
|Test Distance||542 miles|
|Price (as tested)||£27,845|
Volkswagen Golf GTD Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Strong engine with surprisingly un-diesel exhaust note||8|
|HANDLING||Great balance of comfort, grip and lively chassis||8|
|AFFORDABILITY||High asking price, low running costs, strong residuals||8|
|DESIRABILITY||Classic Golf, ticks all right boxes||9|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||A hot hatch that hides its diesel roots well. Nice.||8|
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* All prices from Volkswagen website, October 2011