Drive Thru: Volkswagen Golf GT TDI v GTI

Volkswagen Golf GT TDIVolkswagen Golf GTI
Welcome to AUSmotive’s first Drive Thru test. In time these will become more commonplace, they will offer independent thoughts gained on a brief test drive that is about what you’d expect from visiting your local dealer. Drive Thru reports are designed to be brief, to the point, and to help you choose what to test drive when considering your next purchase.

Whenever I can force the keys from my wife I really enjoy driving our 2006 Volkswagen Golf GTI three door. Believe the hype, the reviews that have universally hailed this car as the leader of its pack are, for my part, bang on the money. So, when the 2 litre 125kW Golf GT TDI was released last year I was keen to learn more about this diesel lark to see why it is that Australian buyers are embracing these new user friendly powerplants. Okay, so it’s taken me a while, but here goes.

Volkswagen Golf GT TDI

The GT range is nicely differentiated with smart body trim, including a GTI inspired front grille. Factor in the chrome twin exhaust tips at the back and the styling really is GTI lite. This may offend some GTI owners, but to me, I think the look slots in nicely between the regular Golf range and the GTI. Inside, and when fitted with leather trim, the GT is virtually identical to the GTI. It’s only the GTI’s agressively styled dash cluster and well crafted flat bottomed sports steering wheel that seem immediately different. Although, the GTI’s seats do hug you more tightly when pushing the cars towards their limit.

The GT TDI test car was fitted with Volkswagen’s superb 6 speed DSG transmission, and first impressions are that this is perfectly matched to the diesel engine. From take off diesel’s have a tendency to spool up quickly, but run out of puff just as fast, leaving you grabbing for the next gear. And the GT TDI is no different here. However, the seamless upshifts of the DSG make this potentially negative aspect of diesel driving a total pleasure. I wouldn’t suggest the DSG is perfect, but gee, it’s damn close. Comparatively, our 6 speed manual GTI feels slightly less willing off the line, but when the TDI is changing gears the GTI still has a bit more to give. This is great for spirited driving, but if you’re not looking for that in your next car, the TDI will suit you just fine.

In regular driving conditions the GT TDI’s softer suspension set up does handle bumps and irregular surfaces with greater comfort, but the trade off here is increased understeer when you push the car harder through corners. That’s not to say the TDI embarrasses itself when the road is willing you to step up the pace, it is very good, thanks to the inherently capable A5 chassis, but the GTI has a clear advantage here. Which is just as Volkswagen intends.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

When driving the TDI it is difficult to tell by sound that you are behind the wheel of a diesel. Starting the TDI is a different matter, however, as the diesel clatter is apparent. Mind, due to the fuel injection system in the GTI’s 2 litre TFSI engine, an untrained ear could mistake it for a diesel at startup. Once the cars are up and running you’d be hard pressed to tell which was the diesel. Although, when stationary at a set of lights, for example, the diesel does make itself heard a bit more than perhaps is necessary. But if you’re worried about the rumours you’ve heard about noisy diesel engines you can, for the most part, put your mind at ease. The power delivery of the diesel makes the car such a delight to drive in any case, that the clatter chatter is quickly forgotten. The spec sheet tells you the GT TDI is down on power compared to the GTI (125kW against 147kW), but the diesel has a big advantage in torque (350Nm to the GTI’s 280Nm). What this means is that the TDI’s extra torque makes the car feel every bit as rapid as the silky smooth GTI. As mentioned the DSG is a perfect match to the diesel, and when catching a slower vehicle at highway speeds, overtaking in the TDI is immensely capable. The DSG will kick down almost unnoticed, the torque will do its magic, and you’ll be past your slower vehicle in no time at all. From the driver’s seat, with no hard data to back me up, in gear acceleration of the TDI once past 60-70km/h probably eclipses the more powerful GTI. Both engines are a delight to use, but while it may be expected in the GTI, it is a pleasant surprise in the TDI.

Fuel economy for the TDI, according to the manufacturer’s sticker on the window, is 6.6l/100km. On the open road it should be possible to get 1000km from the Golf’s 55 litre tank. Depending on your daily traffic flow expect somewhere around 700-850km around town. The GTI, though, for all the willing power the engine provides, can be driven economically as well. It may never match the frugality of a modern diesel engine, but on the open road, conservative cruising would see you give 800km a nudge from your 55 litres. Sensible city commuting can net you 600km plus, while still allowing you the odd indulgence. The GTI prefers 98 RON petrol, but with the price of diesel rising you’ll still be saving a couple of cents a litre at the bowser.

So which to choose? If you’re shopping on price the GT TDI is the cheaper option, but there’s not a hell of a lot in it. A 6-speed manual GT TDI starts at $37,490, plus options and on road costs. A 5-door GTI is just $2,500 more at $39,990. If you want to split the cars by driving experience, well, this is a cop out, but in considering either car you have already made a wise choice. The decision between the two is ultimately a personal one. If you enjoy driving and want a more focused car that has the edge in fun, the GTI is the car for you. If you’re simply looking for a well built and versatile hatch back to get you around the GT TDI will be all that and more. Much more.

Thank you to Lennock Volkswagen for their assistance.