Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
As the only diesel-powered compact wagon available in Canada, the VW Golf wagon TDI offers a rare combination of outstanding fuel economy, generous cargo capacity, and everyday driveability at a price starting under $30,000. The fact that this alternative fuel wagon was voted Best New Family Car in the 2010 AJAC Canadian Car of the Year Awards, and the VW Jetta TDI sedan was voted Best New Family Car in 2011, says a lot about how good today’s diesel engine technology has become.
It’s amazing, really, that Volkswagen is still the only automaker in Canada offering diesel engines in vehicles priced under $30,000. Sure, you can get a diesel engine in a $50,000 BMW 335d or a $70,000 Mercedes-Benz E-Class or a $50,000 Dodge pickup, but where are the affordable diesel cars? Now that we have ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel, and cleaner, quieter and more powerful diesel engines, past objections to diesel engines no longer apply. Even so, vehicle manufacturers are reluctant to offer diesels in Canada. The first generation Smart Fortwo model had a small diesel engine, but it was discontinued in the second generation car in favour of a small gas engine, primarily because Smart’s surveys showed that American buyers didn’t want diesels – so we didn’t get one either. Apparently, Canada is just too small a market to justify a Canada-only diesel car.
However, Volkswagen should still get a lot of credit for continuing to offer affordable diesel cars in North America at all, since no one else will. The Golf hatchback, Golf wagon, Jetta sedan, and the upcoming 2012 Passat sedan all offer optional diesels. In the U.S., the Golf wagon is called the Jetta Sportwagen (with an ‘e’ like Volkswagen), but it’s basically the same car.
The subject of this road test is a 2011 Golf wagon TDI in the mid-range Comfortline trim level. Interestingly, while Golf Wagons with the standard 2.5-litre gasoline engine are offered in base Trendline ($22,975) and mid-level Comfortline ($24,075) trim, the Golf wagon TDI comes only in mid-level Comfortline ($26,875) and top-of-the-line Highline ($30,775) trim. Among other things, that means that you can get leather seats and optional navigation in the TDI Wagon (Highline) but not in the gas model (Comfortline).
Our 2011 Golf wagon Comfortline TDI test model has a base price of $26,875. It’s well equipped with such features as 16-inch all-season tires and alloy wheels, front fog lights, chrome trim around the windows and grille, remote central door locking, air conditioning, height-adjustable front seats with lumbar adjusters and seat heaters, CD player and eight speakers, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and hand brake, split folding rear seatbacks with centre pass-through and cargo cover.
Our test car was equipped with all the options that could be added to the Comfortline trim level: a six-speed DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode ($1,400), “Panoramic” power sunroof ($1,780); Multimedia Package that includes a “Premium 8” AM/FM radio with touch-screen, 6-disc CD changer, and Sirius Satellite radio; iPod connector, Bluetooth hands-free phone setup, multifunction steering wheel, trip computer, and digital compass ($1,300); and rear side airbags ($450), for a total of $4,930 in options.
With a $1,365 Freight and PDI charge and $100 air conditioning tax, the as-tested price came to $33,270 (not including taxes).
Since the main reason people buy the Golf wagon instead of the Golf hatchback is the extra cargo space, let’s start with the cargo area. As the Golf wagon is about 355 mm (14 in.) longer than a Golf hatchback, it adds a considerable amount of cargo space. With the rear seats up, the Golf wagon has more than twice the amount of luggage space: 930 litres (32.8 cu. ft.) vs 410 litres (14.6 cu. ft.). With both rear seatbacks folded down, the wagon offers 1,890 litres (67 cu. ft.) vs 1,300 litres (45.9 cu. ft.) in the Golf hatchback.
Unlike Ford’s Sync system, VW doesn’t offer a voice-activated audio system, however, the Multimedia Package does include a voice-activated Bluetooth cell phone system which can be initiated using a button on the steering wheel. Inside the centre armrest is an iPod connector and a slot to place your iPod or music player. There’s also an auxiliary jack on the outside of the centre console, and a 12-volt powerpoint in a small bin in front of the shift lever.
Also part of the optional Multimedia Package is a trip computer that displays information on the small screen between the speedometer and tachometer. The driver can scroll through different information options using the buttons on the right steering wheel spoke, and these include average and current fuel consumption, range, average speed, travel time, compass, outside temperature display, and various settings for lights and displays.
Considering all the features offered in the $1,300 Multimedia Package, it seems like a very good value to us.
Another option our car had was the Panoramic sunroof: this consists of front and rear glass roof panels, and a power sliding sunshade. The front glass panel tilts and slides back like a normal sunroof and includes a wind deflector, while the rear glass panel is fixed in place. When the sunshade is fully retracted, it allows plenty of natural light to illuminate both the front and rear seating areas, giving a more open feeling to the cabin, and a view of the sky. It’s a bit pricey though at $1,780.
While VW’s standard “Climatic single zone climate control” sounds like automatic climate control, it includes manual temperature control, manual fan speed, manual vent selection, and manual air conditioning button. Air conditioning is standard.
For front occupants, storage space for odds and ends is limited to the glovebox and door pockets – the centre storage box between the front seats is only big enough for an iPod and a small camera. Another small gripe: the two cupholders between the front seats have no cup grippers.
All Golf Wagons come with standard front, front-side, and overhead curtain airbags. Optional rear side airbags in our test car ($450) provide extra protection for rear adult occupants in a side collision, but I’m not sure of the safety implications for children in outboard car seats.
When it comes to performance, the generous low-end torque (236 lb.-ft. at 1,750 – 2,500 rpm) of Volkswagen’s turbocharged 140-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel TDI engine provides excellent throttle responsiveness in the 0 to 50 km/h range, and the ability to cruise at very low revs and climb mild grades without gearing down. While its 0 to 100 km/h time of 10.2 seconds (AJAC) may not be quick, its perky around-town performance, leisurely cruising ability, and excellent fuel economy makes up for it. And besides, it’s a utility wagon, not a sports car!
Contributing to its zippy low-speed acceleration and good fuel economy is the Golf’s optional six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (which always pre-selects the next gear for quicker shift times). It enhances the engine’s performance with shift points timed for quick acceleration, rapid shift times, and leisurely top-end engine speeds when cruising on the highway – the tach reads just 1,800 r.p.m. at 100 km/h. It also shifts down automatically when descending a hill for engine braking. While driving around town, the engine likes to spend most of its time below 2,000 rpm which not only contributes to good fuel economy, but also to quiet running. In fact, it’s only when idling with the windows down, that the clatter of the diesel engine is really noticeable.
The DSG tranny includes a “Sport” mode which delays upshifts and quickens downshifts for higher revs, better performance, and more aggressive engine braking. However, this also increases fuel consumption, and is probably an unnecessary feature in a car like this.
Drivers have the option to shift the DSG manually in a sequential fashion without a clutch pedal: the shift lever is moved into a separate gate on the right, and pushed forwards to shift up and back to shift down. It’s easy and quick, but the Golf TDI doesn’t have paddles shifters behind the wheel like the GTI.
For those who prefer a traditional manual transmission, the Golf TDI is available with a standard six-speed manual transmission.
Fuel consumption, when equipped with the DSG transmission (as published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. which uses more realistic testing methods than Canada’s Energuide), is 8.1 L/100 km city, and 6.0 L/100 km highway with a combined rating of 7.1 L/100 km. Equipped with the manual transmission, the EPA rating is even better: 7.8/5.6 city/hwy, or 6.9 combined. During our week with the DSG-equipped car, we averaged 7.1 L/100 km in a 50/50 mix of city/highway driving. But if you do a lot of highway driving, you can lower this by at least one litre per 100 kms.
For comparison, a Golf wagon with the 2.5-litre five-cylinder gas engine gets 9.8/7.6 city/hwy with the automatic transmission. Perhaps the only competitor with better fuel economy is the Toyota Prius Hybrid which offers an outstanding 4.6/4.7 city/hwy. Even more competitive will be the new Prius Hybrid wagon which will be joining Toyota’s line-up later this year. However, the Prius is a completely different driving experience for a number of reasons, and we don’t really see much cross shopping there.
Unlike the new VW Jetta sedan which switched to a semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension, the Golf wagon still has a fully independent multi-link rear suspension which contributes to more car control over bumpy surfaces. The Golf wagon is not as nimble or as light as the Golf Hatchback (it’s 102 kg heavier), but it still handles with confidence and feels well-planted when cornering hard. We found the Wagon’s ride comfortable but firm and the body felt tight. My test car had Bridgestone Turanza 205/55R-16 inch all-season tires which proved quiet and grippy in the wet conditions we experienced. Consumer Reports says of this tire: “A very good choice for three-season driving, if tread life is not a high priority.” Standard electronic stability control is there to mitigate loss of directional control in slippery situations.
The Golf wagon’s standard electromechanical rack and pinion steering requires a medium steering effort which might be a bit stiff for some people when parking, but its turning diameter of 10.9 metres (35.8 ft.) is reasonably tight, and the Golf Wagon tracks well at high speeds.
Braking chores are handled by four discs with ABS. AJAC’s braking tests show a braking distance of 43 metres (141 ft.) from 100 km/h in the dry, neither outstanding nor shameful in this class.
Overall, we liked the Golf wagon TDI’s everyday driveability, interior roominess, and fuel efficiency, but we wish VW would offer a base model in the $25,000 range. As a compact car, it would be nice to see a model that could be bought for under $30,000, all in.
Pricing: 2011 Volkswagen Golf wagon TDI Comfortline
Base price: $26,875
Options: $4,930 (DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode, $ 1,400; Panoramic power sunroof $1,780; Multimedia Package $1,300; rear side airbags $450)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $33,270
Crash test results