Fruity and frugal: Volkswagen Golf GTD reviewed

24 September 2013

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD front view

VW Golf Mk7 GTD
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Fast, frugal, quiet and well built
Bad: DSG transmission has a big CO2 penalty, not cheap
Price: from £25,285
If this were a cartoon, temptation would appear as a little red devil with a pitchfork, perched on my shoulder feeding evil thoughts into my brain. My conscience, meanwhile, would be a pint-sized, harp-playing angel, urging restraint from the other side of my head.

Here in the real world, sitting in the new Volkswagen Golf GTD – the most potent diesel in the Golf 7 range – I can almost feel tiny feet dancing on my shoulders. A prod of the pitchfork points out that the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine develops 184PS (178bhp) and 380Nm of torque, meaning I might blister past 62mph in a mere 7.5 seconds. Alternatively, and more responsibly, I could waft away and try to match the GTD’s 67.3mpg combined cycle result, emitting a mere 109g/km of CO2 along the way.

I very much doubt that both outcomes – extreme pace and greenhouse gas grace – are available at the same time. VW’s engineers are clearly very clever, given that they’ve managed to better the 119g/km result of the eco-biased Golf BlueMotion of just five years ago, despite a significantly more powerful engine – but they aren’t miracle workers.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD side on

I could try to stay clean by choosing the new Golf’s Eco driving mode, selectable via the central touchscreen. Or succumb to the temptations of Sport mode. Either will tweak the steering weight and throttle response, urging me further down my chosen path. But for now, I’ll stick with Normal mode and see where I wind up.

There’s no mistaking the sporting intent of the GTD, or its heritage, given that it’s essentially the diesel edition of the hot-hatch Golf GTI. A set of strakes beamed straight from the 1980s are glued to the front bumper, there’s a brash spoiler atop the tailgate, wide 17-inch alloys wrapped in 40-profile rubber, and hunkered sports suspension, lowered by 15mm.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD golfball gearstick

Inside, the deeply bolstered seats are trimmed in 70s throwback tartan, there’s a dimpled leather golf ball for a gear lever, a meaty stitched leather wheel with shiny GTD logo, stainless steel pedals and a red stripe across the instrument panel. It all feels very go-faster.

The GTD feels pretty fast on the move, too. Stabbing the throttle provokes a deep diesel growl coupled with a remarkably rapid change of pace. If you want to overtake a dawdling lorry on a short straight, this is the exact tool for the job. There’s also big grip in corners, along with a grab bag of three-letter cleverness (including the odd notion of electronic locking differentials for both axles, in a front-wheel-drive car) to get the power down cleanly and the car turned in neatly even at silly speeds.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD interior with tartan seats

The only real drawback comes in ride comfort, with a noticeable failure to glide serenely over bumps or soak away potholes. The GTD occasionally descends towards riding a skateboard down a cobbled street, but on balance it’s not actually so bad. The VW is a feather bed compared to an AMG Sport A-Class, to take one spine-shaking example.

The GTD can get a little noisy too, but not necessarily in a bad way. The engine creates a deep bellow when full thrust is summoned, but helpfully falls silent at most other times. At 70mph, on a good surface, you can hear the wind whipping around the screen pillars but won’t be troubled by excessive engine drone or tyre roar.

The engine is also extraordinarily smooth for a diesel, with harsh vibration only arising under the most extreme duress – a throttle floored at low revs, for example, will elicit a shimmering grumble while the turbo gathers its wits.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD in red, front view

The other small matter of concern might be the price. Entry to the GTD circle costs £25,285 for a three-door manual, rising to £27,355 for the five-door edition with an automatic gearbox. While my inner devil might happily raid Money Barn for the required readies, the more sustainable route might be to reduce the bill by £4,950 and plump for the 85g/km new Golf BlueMotion. It’s not nearly as swift as the GTD but would undoubtedly make me feel good in other ways.

If price were miraculously no longer a concern I might conceivably cough up the extra £1,415 for a GTD fitted with VW’s double-clutch DSG transmission. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, which can be whipped to and fro both quickly and cleanly, but the six-ratio DSG better complements the huge breadth of the GTD’s capabilities. It too can be manic or miserly, depending on your mood.

Switch into Sport mode and the auto gearbox will follow suit, sacrificing fuel by staying in a lower gear, so you’re always crouched and poised to pounce. I’m glad you can switch this mode off, however, because it rapidly gets wearing hearing the engine constantly drumming its fingers, waiting for the green light to go, go, go.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD in red, rear view

Eco mode, by contrast, flips the gearbox into full frugality mode, softly selecting ratios that let the engine fade into the background. The sports hatch is not entirely tamed, though, because even in Eco mode a sharp prod of throttle will still see a couple of cogs dropped with alacrity and the revs wrung through to much the same shift point as in Sport. But ease off again, and the gearbox quickly returns to its knitting.

The gearbox also adopts a “coasting” habit when Eco mode is active. Release the throttle and instead of staying in gear, the box will open both clutches to select neutral, letting the engine die down to idle and allowing the car to surf along on its own momentum.

On the approach to a junction or when descending hills, the utter absence of engine braking can feel alarming if you’re not expecting it. But touch a pedal or tug a paddle and the box will instantly pick a gear, for speeding up or slowing down as appropriate. When you’re in the mood for saving fuel, however, the ability to glide along in virtual silence feels fabulous.

Alas coasting is a feature that’s available only with the full Eco driving mode. There is an Individual mode with selectable settings, but choosing the Eco setting for the engine profile (which also governs shift patterns) alas does not enable gliding.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD instrument panel

When I first climbed into the GTD I did wonder if it might prove to be one of those cars that is much more accomplished at passing fuel economy tests than providing real fuel economy on the road. My experiences proved otherwise. A couple of hours in the manual car, much of it spent swapping in and out of Sport mode and driving much faster than I normally might, yielded just under 46mpg. The same route – and the same routine – in a DSG equipped GTD produced virtually identical consumption.

This consistency came as a mild surprise, given that the automatic edition has worse official figures – the five-door GTD with DSG comes in at 122g/km and 60.1mpg under the combined cycle regime, compared to 109g/km and 67.3mpg for the five-door manual – but my results suggests the pair can be equally frugal in the real world. Even with a few swift getaways and overtaking moments, 50mpg ought to be in reach for any GTD.

What surprised me most, though, was that I really liked driving both the manual and automatic GTD in full Eco mode. Neither felt soggy during those rare moments when full pelt is appropriate, but both got on with the important business of saving fuel during the remaining 99% of the time.

Maybe the cartoons have it wrong. Maybe the GTD proves that – very occasionally – you can listen to your demons and still stay on the side of the angels.

Volkswagen Golf 7 GTD rear LED lamp

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