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Published: 08/02/2013 - by Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Volkswagen is still trying to decide whether it should bring the new diesel-powered 2015 VW Golf GTD to the U.S.
This despite the fact that the company does quite well with nearly every diesel model it sells in the States. Problem is, this version of the seventh-generation Golf is a slightly different proposition.
That's because the Golf GTD is a performance diesel. It has the suspension and styling of the GTI mixed with the efficiency of Volkswagen's newest 2.0-liter TDI engine.
The result is a Golf hatchback that's both gutsy and nimble while delivering hybrid-like mileage if you're into that, too. Sounds like a winner, but it's not quite that easy.
The Diesel Part
The idea of a GTD isn't new. Volkswagen has been building and selling them in Europe since 1982. Bringing it to the U.S. is the twist, one that finally makes more sense with the introduction of the company's latest 2.0-liter TDI engine.
Known internally as the EA288 series, the new family of diesel engines shares some similarities with its predecessors, but adds features like variable valve timing, higher-pressure injectors and a more powerful turbocharger. Together the new technologies help the four-cylinder diesel deliver output numbers that rival many gasoline engines of similar displacement while keeping its emissions down to U.S.-friendly levels.
That last part is key, as there's no reason to have a Golf with 181 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque if you then have to fatten it up with extra emissions equipment. In technical terms, the GTD's engine meets EU6 emissions standards. In English, that means it's essentially good to go in the U.S. with only minor modifications.
Close to a GTI
Any doubts about the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTD's performance were erased the minute we hit the Autobahn for a test-drive. It pulls mightily at low rpm as diesels always do, but the power doesn't fall off a cliff after 3,000 rpm either. There's decent midrange punch so you're not grabbing gears every 10 seconds to keep the power flowing. It's smooth for a diesel, too, with twin balance shafts that keep it spinning smoothly even as the tach goes well past 4,000 rpm.
Volkswagen says the GTD is good for a 0-60-mph time of 7.5 seconds, which is roughly half a second slower than the GTI. Yet, at speed the GTD doesn't feel short on power since the meat of the power band is so easily accessible. If anything, you have to remind yourself that more power requires an upshift, not more rpm.
Both standard and dual-clutch automatic gearboxes are offered, each with six gears. As fluid as the manual shifter feels, the precise, effortless shifts from the DSG gearbox make it just as desirable. This was especially true when it came to grabbing the right gear at the right time. The DSG always nails it, while we often found ourselves in the wrong gear with the manual.
The GTD doesn't sound half bad either when equipped with the optional "sound actuator." It's a common feature in today's downsized engines, and Volkswagen has done a commendable job of making a small diesel sound less like a truck and more like a refined hatchback.
Speaking of the GTI
Apart from its diesel drivetrain, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTD is equipped like a GTI in almost every respect. That means a retuned suspension that sits a little over half an inch lower than a standard Golf, along with a variable steering ratio and an electronic limited-slip differential.
The GTD also offers a three-mode Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system that adjusts the dampers to "Comfort," "Normal" and "Sport" modes. Volkswagen says each of three modes has been calibrated specifically for the GTD, noting that even the softest "Comfort" setting is still more aggressive than the standard Golf setup.
Even with that in mind, the GTD isn't exactly pulled taut over its optional 18-inch wheels. Comfort mode is still soft enough to satisfy drivers coming out of a Camry, while even the stiffest "Sport" mode setting is still far from brittle. The changes are noticeable if you fling the GTD around a corner with any conviction, but we suspect that leaving the DCC system off the option sheet won't result in any serious loss of capability or comfort.
This being the new seventh-generation Golf, the interior of the latest GTD is a bit more spacious than you might expect. The wheelbase is 2 inches longer than previous-generation Golfs and the driver seat has been moved back three-quarters of an inch. You'll only notice the difference if you're used to the confines of the sixth-generation Golf. All others will simply call the GTD spacious for a compact hatchback.
They'll probably call it unexpectedly nice, too, since the GTD comes standard with Tartan-patterned sport seats, a black headliner and various metallic accents throughout the interior. There's also a thick, sort-of flat-bottomed steering wheel to hold on to and classically styled analog gauges.
In Europe, the GTD's list of optional equipment includes everything from active cruise control to electronic parking assist. Should the GTD make it to the States, that list will likely get whittled down to a handful of packages. Hopefully the 8-inch touchscreen navigation system makes the cut, as its crisp graphics and simple interface make it worth the dashboard real estate.
The Cost Quandary
Once the whole emissions thing has been overcome, the typical sticking point for diesels in the U.S. is always cost. Diesel engines are expensive, so you pay up front for whatever efficiency you gain on the back end.
In the case of the GTD, Volkswagen officials told us to expect a starting price similar to that of the GTI. They also told us the GTD could arrive with a highway rating approaching 40 mpg.
That's pretty good mileage for a car that's barely half a second behind the GTI in a straight line and equally capable everywhere else. Pure enthusiasts will no doubt prefer the extra high-rpm zing of the GTI's gas-burning engine, but the GTD has equally impressive low-rpm grunt, which can be just as entertaining.
Volkswagen's reason for remaining on the fence on the GTD for the U.S. is hard to pin down. The GTI's best market is still the States and there's little reason to expect the GTD to do any worse. And with looming CAFE requirements asking for ever-increasing mileage numbers, Volkswagen could use the GTD to offset all those crossovers it plans to sell eventually. In other words, come the middle of next year, expect to be able to take a test-drive of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTD for yourself. It'll be worth the wait.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.