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by Greg Wilson
With fuel costs rising, I thought it would be a good time to test one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in Canada. No, it’s not a hybrid, although gas-electric hybrids do seem to be getting all the publicity these days. It’s the diesel-powered Golf TDI, a car usually overlooked by the buying public.
Only Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz offer diesel-powered automobiles in Canada, and since the Mercedes E300 diesel is a luxury car, it’s really only Volkswagen that offers affordable diesel-powered cars: the Golf, Jetta and Passat.
The 2004 Golf TDI-PD has an updated 1.9 litre four cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that offers up to 6.2 l/100 km (46 mpg) in city driving, and 4.6 l/100 km (61 mpg) on the highway. This new ‘pumpe duse’ turbocharged diesel engine with new high-pressure Bosch fuel injectors has an increase in horsepower from 90 to 100 over last year’s TDI model, and an increase in torque from 155 ft-lbs to 177 ft-lbs. However, fuel consumption is slightly worse than the previous 1.9 litre turbo-diesel engine.
Still, you have only to compare it with the 2.0 litre four cylinder gas engine in the Golf to see the dramatic difference in fuel economy between diesel and gasoline. A Golf with the 2.0 litre gas engine delivers 9.8 l/100 km (29 mpg) in the city and 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg) on the highway. The Golf TDI-PD offers a substantial 59% and 52% improvement in city and highway fuel economy.
The downside to owning a Golf TDI is the lack of filling stations that offer diesel fuel – it seems to be about one in five stations in my area. Generally, you need to know where the diesel stations are in your neighbourhood so you can plan to be in that area when your tank runs low. It’s not a good idea to wait until the tank is almost empty, and then go looking for a diesel station.
The other traditional drawbacks to diesel engines have been mostly eliminated by Volkswagen over the years: lack of power, noisy engine, smoky exhaust, and unpleasant diesel odours.
The Golf TDI’s turbocharged 1.9 litre four cylinder engine offers 100 horsepower at 4000 rpm compared to 115 horsepower at 5200 rpm for the 2.0 litre gas engine. But more importantly, the TDI offers maximum torque of 177 lb-ft at just 1800 rpm compared to 122 lb-ft @ 2600 rpm in the gas-engined Golf. The TDI’s higher torque at lower engine rpms means that the TDI feels more responsive when you press the accelerator even at low engine speeds. Though the TDI engine has a lower redline – about 4700 rpm – it’s not necessary to rev the engine that high.
Engine noise has also been reduced to an acceptable level. The Golf TDI’s clattering engine is only audible under maximum acceleration, but during typical driving and highway cruising, it’s fairly quiet. The engine turns over only 2,100 rpm at 100 km/h in fifth gear, and 2,600 rpm at 120 km/h. However, open the window or step outside while the car is idling, and the clattering is noticeable.
My test car had the standard five-speed manual shifter – the shifter is easy to shift and the clutch pedal is easy to modulate. A folding centre armrest folds out of the way so it doesn’t obstruct your arm when changing gears. The Golf TDI is also available with a 5-speed automatic transmission with the Tiptronic manual function ($1,400 extra). I didn’t try it, but it does offer the choice of automatic or manual shifting. Interestingly, the Golf 2.0 is only available with the standard 4 speed automatic transmission.
During normal driving, you won’t see oily smoke coming from the exhaust pipe, and diesel odours are minimal. The only time I noticed a puff of smoke is when I started the car up in the morning after it was cold. Early VW diesel owners will remember that they had to wait about 20 seconds for the ‘glow plug’ to warm up before they could start the car, and that every time the car accelerated up a hill, a cloud of black smoke would billow out the exhaust pipe, infuriating the driver following. Today’s TDI engines can be started right away and are much cleaner.
One problem I encountered with refuelling the TDI is that the oily diesel fuel often got on my hands and was hard to clean off. As well, if you step in a puddle of diesel fuel at the filling station, you can slip on it, or bring it in to the car with you where the diesel odour clings.
None of these problems, with the possible exception of the availability of fuelling stations, are serious enough to make owning a TDI any different from a gas Golf. Diesel engines are known to be reliable, and the Golf is a great car in itself – roomy, nicely finished, easy to drive, great handling, easy to park, and a good value at $22,290 for the base Golf TDI GL and $24,720 for the Golf TDI GLS.
2004 Golf TDI GL models include the standard 5 speed manual transmission, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, central locking, power windows, 60/40 folding seatbacks, AM/FM/CD stereo, two cupholders in front and one at the back, 12 volt powerpoint on console and in trunk, rear privacy cover, 15 inch tires, and four disc brakes and ABS.
The GLS adds air conditioning, 8-speaker Monsoon sound system, centre armrest, improved door and seat trim, and Engine Braking Assist, a new feature that prevents compression-induced skidding in slippery conditions. My test car also had optional ESP (electronic stabilization program) $430; side curtain airbags $220; and power moonroof and alloy wheels package $1,440, for a total as-tested price of $27,465 with Freight and federal A/C tax.
As far as competitors go, there aren’t any other diesel-powered cars available, but one possibility is the fuel-efficient Honda Civic Hybrid.
Technical Data: 2004 VW Golf TDI-PD GLS
|Base price (GLS)||$24,720|
|Options||$ 2,090 (Luxury Pkg power sunroof, 15 in. alloy wheels $1,440; side curtain airbags $220; electronic stabilization program $430)|
|Price as tested||$27,465|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact hatchback|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.9 litre 4 cylinder diesel, turbocharged, SOHC, 8 valve|
|Horsepower||100 @ 4000 rpm|
|Torque||177 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm|
|Curb weight||1348 kg (2972 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2511 mm (98.9 in.)|
|Length||4189 mm (164.9 in.)|
|Width||1735 mm (68.3 in.)|
|Height||1439 mm (56.7 in.)|
|Cargo area||500 litres (17.7 cu. ft.) seats up|
|1180 litres (41.7 cu. ft.) seats down|
|Fuel consumption||City: 6.2 l/100 km (46 mpg)|
|Hwy: 4.6 l/100 km (61 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|