5 Jun, 2009 6:07pm Diether Rodatz

It looks like a GTI, but can fuel-sipping diesel hot hatch cut it on the road?


Has Volkswagen created a diesel GTI? Not quite. The GTD is a fast car, but it lacks that vital injection of visual drama and driver appeal that the petrol version has in spades. While the GTD falls slightly short as a hot hatch, it’s still enjoyable to drive. It handles extremely well, and is equally at home on the motorway as it is on a twisty road. The price is on the expensive side, although amazing economy of 50mpg and low CO2 emissions will help offset some of that.

It's the Golf GTI that does 50mpg! These days, even hot hatch drivers have to keep an eye on running costs, and although Volkswagen’s latest GTI is very efficient, the company has introduced a fuel-sipping diesel version.

Called the GTD, it gets a 168bhp 2.0-litre oil-bunner, the same suspension settings as the GTI and a subtle bodykit. The Golf GTD goes up against other oil-burning hot hatches such as the SEAT Leon FR TDI and Skoda Octavia vRS TDI, and it’s on sale now.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the VW Golf

Frugal it may be – but the GTD certainly isn’t cheap. Priced from £21,850 in three-door form, it costs only £500 less than the petrol GTI version. So does it offer enough to tempt buyers to go diesel?

The GTD badge is rather unfamiliar, but it’s not a new one for VW – back in the Eighties, the firm offered a 1.6-litre turbodiesel-powered clone of the Golf GTI MkII. This time around, VW has tried harder to give the GTD a look of its own. The major change is the addition of silver trim on the honeycomb grille in place of the GTI’s red stripes. Below that the front bumper is pretty much the same, but at the rear the exhaust pipes are twinned, rather than located at either side of the car, as they are on the GTI.

New 17-inch alloys, or optional 18-inch wheels, and GTD badging complete the changes. However, to our eyes the look is too subtle to call this Golf a true hot hatch, particularly in five-door form as seen here. It’s better inside, as the GTI’s flat-bottomed steering wheel and tartan-trimmed sports seats are carried across – and really look the part.

Under the bonnet, the super smooth 168bhp 2.0-litre common-rail turbodiesel is 39bhp down on the 207bhp GTI. However, it makes up for that with 350Nm of torque – compared to the GTI’s 280Nm – which is available from 1,750rpm-2,500rpm. The 0-62mph sprint takes 8.1 seconds (about a second down on the GTI), while top speed is 138mph (the GTI manages 149mph).  

On the move, the diesel certainly offers very strong mid-range punch. The huge torque means it’s easy to leave the GTD in a high gear, such as fourth or even fifth, when overtaking on a country road. Our car came with the £1,305 optional twin-clutch six-speed DSG gearbox – a six-speed manual is standard – and the result is smooth, seamless pace. The engine makes a decent noise, too. VW has equipped the diesel with a clever electromagnetic sound generator, which tunes the unit’s note
so it’s smooth, strong and rather sporty!

However, while the GTD is fast, the petrol version has the edge for driver appeal, boasting a wider rev range and more electric throttle response. The diesel counters when it comes to fuel consumption – VW claims 53.3mpg combined, which means it’s possible to cover 640 miles on one tank! Emissions of 139g/km are another bonus, leaving owners with a yearly road tax bill of £120.

As with the GTI, ride comfort is taut, but the car manages to soak up bumps very well indeed. The GTD doesn’t get the GTI’s XDS electronic limited-slip differential, but there’s no wheelspin, and it grips hard when accelerating out of tight bends. What’s more, the steering is well weighted and accurate, allowing you to corner with precision. Ultimately, though, while it’s an enjoyable fast car, the GTD lacks the excitement of the GTI.

Rival: SEAT Leon FR TDI
It packs the same engine as the Golf GTD, so the Leon FR is quick. It’s a wilder hot hatch and, apart from a firm ride, a fun drive, too. At £18,000, it’s much cheaper as well.

Key specs

* Price: £23,740
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 168bhp
* Torque: 350Nm
* Transmission: Six-speed DSG, semi-auto ’box, front-wheel drive
* Top speed: 138mph
* 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
* Economy: 53.3mpg
* CO2: 139g/km
* Equipment: Knee airbags, stability control, traction control, 17-inch alloys, climate control
* On sale: Now