2017 Volkswagen Golf GTD review – is it still a proper hot hatch even though it's a diesel?

Frugal and refined but at the cost of excitement

Evo rating
from £27,225
  • Fit and finish, looks great
  • Chassis doesn't allow much fun

Volkswagen has offered a performance-oriented version of its diesel Golf in the UK since the Mk4 GT TDI. Despite a blip in the reputation of diesel cars, thanks largely to VW itself, the company is persisting with the concept and now we have the new updated Mk7.5 Golf GTD.

With 181bhp, 280lb ft of torque, a lower and stiffer chassis than an ordinary Golf, and a trick electronic limited-slip diff, the GTD has all the staples of a proper hot hatch. Sadly it doesn’t serve up the levels of excitement and thrills you expect of a modern performance hatchback, but that doesn’t stop it being a competent and brisk steer.

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> Read our review of the VW Golf GTI

While potent on paper, the GTD doesn’t feel quite as hot on the road, thanks largely to the 2-litre diesel’s small operating window, only feeling punchy through a brief section of the rev range. What the GTD lacks in ultimate kicks it makes up for in practicality and economy, and it’s capable of returning 45mpg even when you're enjoying yourself.

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Rather than being all about performance, the GTD manages to be very calm and quiet when you need it to be. Its solid, well-finished interior accentuates this feeling of quality.

> Volkswagen Golf GTD Estate v Ford Focus ST TDCi estate - performance wagons compared

But it does have one major thorn in its side; a petrol Golf GTI costs about £1000 more. The petrol-powered hatch might not be as economical as the GTD, but it’s faster, more powerful, more engaging to drive and its engine is much better suited to a performance car.

Volkswagen Golf GTD in detail

> Performance and 0-60 time – 280lb ft of torque from low down the rev range makes the GTD feel quicker than you’d expect… but only some of the time Read about the Golf GTD's performance here

> Engine and gearbox – A 2-litre 181bhp four-cylinder turbodiesel powers the GTD. Transmission options include a six-speed manual and a seven-speed DSG auto. Read about the Golf GTD's gearbox here

> Ride and handling – The GTD is a very competent handler and copes well with being driven on demanding UK roads. However, it isn’t the last word in fun. Read about the GTD's ride and handling here

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> MPG and running costs – Like most modern cars the GTD doesn't quite live up to Volkswagen's efficiency claims. Crucially though efficiency doesn't drop off hugely when the car is driven hard. Read about the Golf GTD's MPG and running costs here

> Interior and tech – Feature’s VW’s typically high quality of fit and finish. GTI-style tartan seats and GTD badges inject a degree of sportiness. Read about the Golf GTD's interior here

> Design – Nothing groundbreaking here, but the GTD is a handsome shape and similar enough to the GTI to trick most casual observers. Read more about the Golf GTD's design here. 

Prices, specs and rivals

Golf GTD ownership is possible for just north of £27k in three-door form, with the more practical five-door costing around another £600. Included in the basic price is the GTD styling pack (color coded bumpers, bespoke skirts and unique bumpers fore and aft), a leather three-spoke wheel, climate control and LED headlights.

Optional extras can push the final price closer to, or past £30k. The upgraded infotainment system, featuring gesture control, comes in at over £1k, while the (Dynamic Chassis Control) adaptive dampers are decent value at a tad over £800. The panoramic sunroof is a nice option albeit just under four figures.

Whereas the VW Golf GTI drivetrain is confined to a hatch body, the GTD running gear is available beneath an estate version too, bringing extra load space. The Intra-VW Group offerings provide GTD equivalents utilising the same powerplant and platform combination: the SEAT Leon FR and Skoda Octavia vRS are priced about £2k cheaper, with the Audi A3 derivative marginally more expensive – all offer a similar driving experience to the GTD.

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> Click here for our review of the Ford Focus ST

The diesel Ford Focus ST is worth considering if you’re after a mix of performance and frugality. Like the GTD is to the GTI, the diesel ST can’t summon the same fun factor of its petrol counterpart. That said, the diesel ST beat the GTD in our twin test, offering greater adjustability and precision instead of the Golf’s refinement – ultimately you chose between greater quality or more driver involvement.

Priced below £27k, developing both more power and torque than the Golf GTD, BMW’s 120d Sport (manual and three-door) sprints from 0-62mph in 7.1sec. The rear-driven platform lends the BMW a more engaging chassis that keener drivers can enjoy. Should all-weather security be a priority, 1-series buyers can go for the all-wheel drive setup which is absent in the GTD lineup.


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