We compare the $31K 2015 Golf GTI Autobahn to the $26K Golf TDI S (diesel) and discover that $5k makes a world of difference.
Volkswagen’s Golf is the Ford F-150 of all of Europe. It is everyplace you look. Young college graduates drive a Golf. Grandparents drive a Golf. Businesspeople drive a Golf. Sports car enthusiasts drive a Golf. But they don’t all drive the same Golf. VW makes one for every occasion. The range demonstrated by VW is frankly amazing. This year we had the chance to test the uber-commuter Golf TDI diesel (gray) and also the Golf GTI Autobahn sports hatch (red). Both cars have a lot to offer the right buyer, but their personalities could not be more different.
2016 VW Golf GTI vs. TDI – Drivetrains
Like other VWs with a DSG, dual-clutch transmission we have tested, the TDI diesel labored to get started due to an odd-feeling first gear and reverse gear. The TDI is known for its torque. The diesel Golf has enough engine to move it around town, but it will never be mistaken for a sporty engine. The car shifts it at about 1500 RPM. You move 15 feet and you are in fourth gear. For commuting to and from work on the highway, the Golf TDI makes good financial sense. That is pretty much the extent of our praise for the TDI’s drivetrain.
The Golf GTI Autobahn we drove had one of the finest manual six-speeds we have ever tested. It’s clutch is ideal, and the shifts are perfect every time. The engine silky-smooth and very linear. It is hard to believe this engine is turbocharged. With the stick shift, any lag is blamed on being in the wrong gear. If you are in the correct gear, the engine response is instant and wonderful. If you drive the car hard, keeping the revs above 2,500 RPM, the pull of this GTI is almost shocking. The car can be stupid-fast in the right hands. Its only limitation is its ability to put the power down through its front tires. The Golf GTI has an “anti-slip regulating electronic differential.” That means it puts the brake on the first wheel you spin. Without this, the car would just burn rubber up to about 40 MPH.
2016 VW Golf TDI vs. GTI – Interiors
Bearing in mind that VW can do a nice interior in any Golf it chooses, we found the lower-cost TDI to be less than thrilling. The manually adjusted seats were rubbery and hard to find a comfortable position in. There was no navigation and no back-up camera on our tester. VW is going to wait until the folks at NHTSA show up with handcuffs before they put a back-up camera into their affordable cars.
By contrast, the VW GTI Autobahn has wonderfully leather seats, a simple to use infotainment system with navigation we used frequently in testing, and a kicking audio system with deep bass and sharp sounding mid-range and treble. The power seats had lumbar adjustability and were perfect for their mission of holding a diver in place while the engine pulled this car form point to point with an urgency usually found in sports cars. The GTI also has nifty red interior light bars. And a back-up camera.
Fuel Economy VW Golf GTI vs. TDI
The TDI diesel in our testing returned 42 miles per gallon of the most expensive fuel you can possibly buy in New England. How’s that for faint praise? In one experiment, we filled up before and after a long highway trip during which we kept the speed down and used cruise control. We recorded 50.2 MPG. Pretty impressive. However, in another test around town we only got 32 MPG. If you are looking for a great commuter that is super-frugal, start with a car that can match this one’s combined EPA rating and that uses regular unleaded. The Sentra and Mazda3 have an equally-low cost per mile for fuel and emit less CO2 per mile. If you love to see the magic 50 MPG on the screen and only drive on the highway, this is a great car for you. Of course on the highway, the torque of the diesel isn’t a useful advantage. The similarly sized Prius is 50 MPG all the time and uses the least expensive fuel available in New England (and we are including electricity).
The GTI has a sticker on its fuel door that begs you to only use premium unleaded fuel. That’s a shame, but considering this is a car tuned for performance, we think it will fit in with other cars of its type most of which also want premium. Our combined mileage was a respectable 32 MPG. It is hard to imagine another model that can beat this mileage with this much capability. In smiles per mile, the GTI is the winner, but if you have to pick the more affordable commuter car between only these two models, the TDI wins.
This is not an objective analysis of the Golf. It is a recount of the feelings one tester got from two well-built cars with the same name, but a $5K difference in price. Feel free to give us your opinions in the comments below if you have had a chance to drive either.