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2011 VW Golf TDI Road Test

by Dan Heyman

Don’t forget about diesel

After giving the 2011 VW Golf TDI five-door the beans over the last few days, I have a confession to make: I love diesels. Seriously. Love.

It’s not exactly a new revelation—I had some fairly extensive experience with Last year’s Golf TDI, albeit in wagon form as opposed to the hatch seen here. I also attended the 2006 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, which was notable because it marked the first-time a diesel powered car won outright, that car being the Audi R10 TDI Prototype.

Yes, there are obvious differences between the V12 engine that powered the race car and that which is found beneath the hood of the Golf seen here, but the core remains the same—a VW auto group-sourced diesel powerplant that makes oodles of torque considering the application, which is what made the Audi race car so successful and what put a big smile on my face every time I flexed my right foot and depressed the throttle in the Golf.

The TDI CleanDiesel engine, an engineering marvel that is too often missed in Canada

That pedal gives you access to a well of torque–236 pounds of twist–from 1,750 to 2,500 RPM that simply has to be felt to be believed. Oh, and there’s a turbocharger, too, so you also get to experience the thrust associated with that kind of technology.

Tech like this helps in a plethora of on-road situations. Need to get around that 18-wheeler in the right lane so you can make your exit? Give it some pedal; you’ll be around in no time. Parked car ahead? Need to get over a lane? The power is there. Coming up to a fast merge? No problem. Just instant thrust that seems to go on for eternity, no matter which of the six speeds you’re in.

Since so much torque is made, rarely did I find myself scrambling for the shifter in tight passing situations; again, just depress the throttle, and go.

Whenever I drive a diesel, or when I read European automotive literature where diesels are so prominent, I find myself asking why we are so hesitant to accept them here in North America. I mean, diesel-powered versions of the European Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit (known as the Jazz over there) are all top sellers in their markets. The engines are available for cars we’re already seeing in Canada and have been for a number of years.

We spend all this time trying to perfect expensive hybrid powertrains when the answer to at least some of our fuel-efficiency concerns is right under our noses, and has been for quite some time.

Exterior styling beholds nice details like roof spoiler, fog lights and wing mirrors with integrated turn signals

The problem is thus:  in North America, diesel is often automatically associated with pickup trucks—they are, after all, one of, if not the best-selling vehicle classes in North America. And I guess for those that don’t “get” trucks, all they can think of is overbearing presence and loud, rattly diesel engines.

Well, the TDI lump has the noise thing taken care of. Allow me to return to my race car example here for a sec. We were standing trackside in France—general admission, right against the fence—and when a Corvette or Lamborghini raced by (especially the Lambo), boy you knew it. But when an Audi diesel raced by, if I was turned talking to my friend, for example, I may have missed it. All you can really hear is the “woosh” made as the car scythed through the air, followed by a low hum that was the diesel engine.

And the same goes for the Golf. When you’re inside and engaging in one of the high-speed passing manoeuvres mentioned earlier, you’d better keep your eye on the speedo because you could be reaching triple-digits with nary a shudder from the engine bay.

Headlights of Mark 6 Golf some of the sharpest-looking in the biz

The answer is simple; loud engine sounds are often directly correlated with high revs. So, when you don’t need the high revs for power, both vibration and noise levels are greatly reduced. Turbocharging helps in this regard, as well.

And let’s not forget the excellent ride quality of the car. I mean, there’s is no way a car like this should fell this solid, this planted on the road.

Front suspension is of the MacPherson strut variety, with a multi-link setup at the rear. This is not that ground-breaking but when you take into account that both the front and rear systems feature intergrated anti-roll bars it becomes more obvious where the feeling of such…such surefootedness comes from.

Back to the engine.

“But,” I hear you saying, “diesel is dirty fuel.” Not really. The Clean Diesel tech employed in VW’s TDI engines features direct fuel injection, while the turbocharger forces denser air into each cylinder’s combustion chamber, which decreases overall emissions over older diesels which tend to use indirect injection which leads to more waste.

In fact, in the US, home of some of the most stringent emissions standards the world over, the Golf TDI sits happily in the Tier II BIN 5 emissions category, which is the lowest of the low for passenger vehicles.

Another leader in the North American diesel passenger-car market, Mercedes, uses a total of six catalytic converters on their BlueTec engines in an effort to reduce emissions.

So that’s no excuse for the lack of a diesel presence in Canada, either.

Yes, diesel fuel is more expensive at the pump, sometimes reaching premium-levels but consider this: I was using 6.1 L/100 km in the combined cycle from the Golf’s 55 Litre tank, with a heavy slant on city driving. I’ll save you the trouble of calculation: that translates to roughly 1,000 km per tank.

No problem there, then.

And about the “big presence” associated with most diesel-powered vehicles in Canada?

Well, as I’m sure our readers can tell from the photos, there’s none of that here. The Mark VI Golf is a well styled and taut affair, with touches like a subtle roof spoiler, wing mirror-integrated turn signals (there’s even an amber-coloured light mounted on the driver’s side of the mirror) and fog lights all combining to add a real touch of class to the proceedings.

And it would be unfair to attribute all those quiet and composed on-road manners to the engine and chassis; the fit and finish of the interior, as has become the norm with current VW products, is top notch. Sound-deadening materials are prominent, the seats are soft but well-bolstered for support, the chunky leather-wrapped wheel may be a bit thick for some but comes with nice grip points at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions and finally, the bland red instrument lighting that had been a staple of VW/Audi products has been somewhat reduced, replaced by crisp white accents. The optional navi screen is sharp as well.

Interior, as is the case across the range at VW, is a quality affair with nice bright gauges and a sharp navi screen, but there is still room for improvement

But it’s not all perfect; I found the HVAC controls simply too hard to see, making on-road adjustments require much more effort than they should. The situation isn’t helped by knobs that, while notched to denote certain positions, are too vague and loose feeling. It’s a strange and stark contrast to the rest of the interior.

Interior accommodations, meanwhile, are good for the most part. There isn’t a huge amount of back-seat space (I had trouble clambering out of the left-rear seat with the driver’s seat adjusted for my tall frame), but headroom is fine.

And once you figure out how to flip the VW badge on the hatch to turn it into a handle, you’ll be presented with 413 Litres of cargo space, or 1,300 if you flip the rear seats down.

So that’s all well and good but the real star here, as I feel it should be with most cars, is that engine. It is such a powerful (and perhaps more importantly, un-invasive) motor that delivers 100% on its promise of being powerful and efficient.

Now, if only we Canadians can start to accept that diesels can, in fact, exist quite happily in vehicles without load-beds and that don’t ride three feet above the ground.

2011 VW Golf TDI Specifications

Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger hatchback

Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive

Engine:  2.0-litre inline-4 TDI Clean Diesel

Horsepower: 140 @ 4,000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft): 236 @ 1,750 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual (optional 6-speed auto w/DSG)

Curb weight: 1,388 kg (3,060 lb)

Fuel consumption:

City: 6.7L/100 km (35.1  MPG)

Highway 4.6L/100 km (51.1 MPG)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Darcy April 21, 2012 at 1:49 am

If this is anything like the little Polo I drove around in Europe for 2 years, then I deffinetly recomend this car to anyone that is happy with a small car. P.S. I’m six foot one – 185cm.
Perky and responsive car, with supprising space in the back. A bit tough on bumps though.


Al December 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I was under the impression this review was written for the benefit of Canadian readers so why have you quoted mpg figures using amercan “gallons”
The correct figures for Canada are 42.2 mpg City and 61.3 Highway, I know these figures are realistic as I got these figures recently in the UK in actual driving situations.
I agree that with these figures the extra cost of Hybrids and Electric cars are somewhat dubious!


Doc Sarvis May 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

You badly need a copy editor. This was generally a decent review, but sentences such as:

“This is not that ground-breaking (sic) but when you take into account that both the front and year (sic) systems feature intergrated (sic) anti-roll bars it becomes more obvious where the felling (sic) of such…such surefootedness comes from.”

OK, “ground-breaking” vs. “groundbreaking” is a matter of style, but “”year” instead of “rear,” “intergrated” (turn on your spell checker), and “felling” instead of “feeling” are all grade-school grammar.

You should be embarrassed to publish something with these mistakes.


Ben Mirecki May 12, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hey Doc – Thanks for pointing out these mistakes (corrected). And you’re right, we could use a copy editor. Interested?


John Kendrick May 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Great review. I just purchased a ’11 Golf TDI with the DSG last month and have put nearly 2,000 miles on it. I’ve been driving a manual for 40 years and was a bit resistant to the DSG until I drove it. I just love how it downshifts automatically without a clutch, and I can shift through the gears via paddle or shifter if desired, but don’t have to when trying to balance a cup of coffee while driving. I do agree that it is a bit undecided in very slow traffic, but I don’t do much of that, opting for a slower or longer route when presented with backups.

BTW, where did you get that mpg for highway, is that a Canadian measure. Here is the states EPA is given at 42mpg highway, and that’s about what I’m getting overall at this point with half highway and half city driving.

Thanks for the review, John


Tim May 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm


MPG measurements in Canada can be VERY confusing since sometimes they are based on Imperial gallons…yet sometimes Canadians refer to MPG in US Gallons!

One imperial gallon is equal to 1.2 US gallons, so the MPG rating on the Golf looks inflated.


John September 24, 2012 at 2:15 am

Make that 1.25 USG is equal to 1.0 Imperial gallon. If I’m not mistaken the Imperial gallon has 160 fluid ounces as compared to 128 fluid ounces for the US gallon.


Nick May 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I really do love this car (and the Wagon variant). Having driven the DSG and the Manual, I’d say opt for the Manual, its far smoother in traffic. Great suspension setup, brakes could use a bit more linear feedback, but otherwise really a great car to drive.


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