AS KNOWN quantities go, the Golf has to rank amongst the most known of them all. For decades it’s been the sensible mid-size do-it-all choice; a car that’s always been affordable and that never needs to be justified to the neighbours.
These days though, things at the top of the Golf range have become rather pricey. The GTD diesel model costs over £25,000 as a five-door with a manual gearbox, which isn’t so affordable any more. The question here is whether you get what you pay for.
Volkswagen has slowly been pushing its cars upmarket over the last few years, so that even the Polo and the new Up feel like premium options among their rivals. They’re not mini Bentleys, obviously, but they’re remarkably solid.
The same goes for the Golf GTD. From the moment you step in, there’s an overwhelming sense of solidity and of substantiality. Arguably the centre console looks a bit dated and could be made a little more attractive, but that’s about all there is to grumble at.
Get touchy-feely and pretty much all you’ll find is either high-quality leather, solid plastic or if you’re really prodding around, the slightly flimsy ashtray lid. Non-smokers rejoice, because everything else is as solid as prison fruitcake.
High-quality interior confirmed, let’s turn to the engine. Volkswagen must be keeping some special soundproofing material back for itself, because the 168bhp common-rail diesel in the Golf GTD is much more refined and hushed than it is in other mid-size sporty diesels that share the same engine.
It immediately feels ready and settled from cold, pulling smoothly away from the moment you turn the key, and it stays quiet under light throttle inputs right up to motorway speeds. It’s really wonderfully refined, and the gear change is just as polished.
Push the throttle harder to access the 258lb.ft of torque, which although a substantial figure is delivered relatively gently, and there comes a really quite pleasant rumble. Not remotely like a big petrol V8, but it’s one of the best-sounding diesels I’ve ever heard.
The suspension and chassis are equally impressive. It’s not altogether as smooth-riding as some executive cars are, and with a smaller footprint on the road it’s never likely to be, either. But it is remarkably well composed, just as Golfs always have been.
It handles bumps with real finesse, keeping any intrusion into the passenger area impressively low key, and only suffering noticeable body shake over very bad road surface conditions.
Here’s the rub from a driving perspective. The GTD is quick, with plenty of torque, but it perhaps isn’t as quick as the figures suggest. The power is delivered smoothly, so even in second gear the power doesn’t trouble the front wheels for grip.
In the real world for most people, that’s perfect. The no-fuss, easy-to-drive nature of the Golf is one of its main selling points. But people looking for something that’s as exciting as it is frugal should think carefully.
Frugal is something the GTD does very well, though. Over about 250 miles of 70mph motorway cruising, 20 miles of urban stop-start driving, 60 miles of inter-city A-roads, a healthy dollop of real-world performance assessment and the supermarket run, it returned a remarkable 59.2mpg.
Before signing on the dotted line, consider that if you shift the bias of driving to mostly stop-start urban traffic that figure would drop dramatically, especially since the GTD lacks an engine stop-start function. But for such a powerful car the economy it offers is outstanding.
There are one or two other things the GTD lacks that buyers might feel they have a right to expect on a £25,000 car. Half-leather seats are standard, and so is that inimitable feeling of quality in every part of the car, but cruise control is an extra £235, and parking sensors aren’t standard either.
To retain the most value in the car in the eyes of the second-hand market, certain extras like that will need to be added on, and the cost can easily approach £27,000. That’s a lot of money for a Golf.
But to boil it down into an ownership experience rather than looking solely at spec sheets, the Golf is still brilliant. It’s a pleasure to look at, supremely refined for this market sector and remarkably adept at almost everything you could ever need a car to do.
Even in standard trim, without the cruise control or parking sensors, just getting in and driving it away offers the kind of ownership satisfaction that you might otherwise go the length of the finance term missing out on. Expensive or not, the Golf GTD is a fantastic car.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Volkswagen Golf GTD (5dr), £25,235 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 168bhp and 258lb.ft.
Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 138mph, 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds.
Fuel economy: 55.4mpg.
CO2 rating: 134g/km.
- Power4 (higher than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: