What is it?
The new Volkswagen Golf GTD, effectively a diesel-powered GTI. It joins the mk7 VW Golf range with more power than its forebear, a gamut of new technology and prices that start at £25,285.
The new mk7 VW Golf GTD is expected to sell twice – perhaps three times – the number of units as the new GTI in the UK – thanks mostly to fleet sales and its unquestionably low running costs. We’re not talking huge numbers overall – 2000-3500 units a year – but those who plump for the GTD over a GTI will not be disappointed.
They’re abundant. Similar suspension tweaks to the GTI (stiffer and 15mm lower than a regular Golf) are joined by its XDS+ electronic faux-diff, which can brake the inside wheels on both axles (even though the Golf is still front-wheel drive) to reduce understeer, while Progressive Steering is also standard. It’s more direct than a conventional, constant-ratio steering set-up, supposedly negating the need to move your hands around the wheel during tight corners while offering a better compromise between comfort and agility with its variable ratio.
The damper rates are slightly softer than the GTI, which curiously introduces a level of looseness to the chassis which the GTI misses. The GTI’s chassis is astonishing capable, but it lacks a fraction of movement – in pitch and yaw – that a good driver can exploit to improve turn in, tighten the line, or agitate the car into releasing tyre grip. The slightly softer GTD allows a little more, perhaps 5-10 per cent, corresponding to a greater feeling of dips and compressions and roll, and consequently a greater understanding of the road surface.
The engine is a 181bhp 2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, seen on the SEAT Leon FR and soon to sit in the front of the mk3 Skoda Octavia vRS. Here it combines a 7.5sec 0-62 time with 67.3mpg (claimed, of course) if you stick with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, the latter figure dropping if you spec the optional six-speed DSG twin-clutch transmission. An optional sound actuator attempts to boost the GTD’s soundtrack and downplay its frugal intentions.
In the styling department, its certainly more GTI than TDI, with a deeper front bumper and honeycomb grille – albeit missing the iconic red stripes of the GTI. There’s also a tailgate spoiler and 18-inch Nogaro wheels, unique to the GTD, with 19in Santiago rims on the options list.
What’s it like to drive?
The steering, with a progressive rack, is accurate – but not exactly buzzing with feel even in the weightier Sport mode. The ride of our DCC Active damper-equipped car is firm-edged yet controlled and forgiving in all of its modes.
The GTD’s engine is punchy in its powerband but not particularly fun to rev out – no surprise, perhaps – but you do end up driving it just like any other Golf TDI, surfing its abundant torque (with 280lb ft from a mere 1750rpm) without ever really engaging with it. The sound actuator is a bit silly, adding a burbling, petrol-like noise from the exhausts, which clashes with the very obviously diesel-sounding engine. It’s rorty to those outside the car, but if you’re paying to spec it, you ought to be the one relishing its noise.
Otherwise, this is a precise, polished and refined hatchback that rides with aplomb and shrugs off high speeds like a 5-series or E-class (it sat indicating its 143mph top speed for a lengthy open stretch of Autobahn). Much like the mk7 Golf GTI we drove recently, here’s a car that, on first acquaintance, impresses and flatters without providing that extra level of involvement keen drivers crave.
ESC Sport allows a tiny amount of slip, but what the GTD really needs is the ability for the driver to fully deactivate the stability control. We sense there’s some extraordinary chassis behaviour being disguised somewhat by electronic intervention, which is a shame for those of us who covet the exploration of such things.
How does it compare?
The Golf GTD faces a bigger challenge than ever from its cheaper cousins, the SEAT Leon FR and Skoda Octavia vRS. The VW feels very similar to both, proving how samey cars on the oft-mentioned MQB VW Group architecture are starting to feel. Those seeking a more premium feel can also spec the GTD’s 181bhp engine in an Audi A3, which actually starts at a lower price in Sport trim, kicking off at £24,375, with a saloon body style also available.
If you’re buying privately with little need to consider tax bands, the current crop of petrol hot hatches – mk7 Golf GTI and BMW M135i among them – offer more performance without completely binning fuel economy, our long-term test Beemer averaging north of 35mpg with little trouble.
Anything else I need to know?
Overall, the GTD is not as invigorating as the GTI but is nevertheless a mighty impressive car. Its performance characteristics, while not perfect, are enjoyable and that intangible ‘Golf’ effect – whereby it constantly reminds you of its premium and indeed iconic status – is present and correct everywhere you look. As an ownership proposition, it excels – that it also offers some driver enjoyment too should be celebrated.