Motoring: Road Test / Just a little injection does a world of good: Volkswagen's Golf TDI is a diesel to please environmentalists, it ekes out the fuel, but is fast and fun to drive, thanks to a little squirt, says John Simister

I have driven the engine of the future, and it works. All right, that is over-hyping things very slightly: the engine rattles a bit and its sound will not bring tears of joy to a Ferrari fancier. But the car it powers will keep up with a GTi on all but the fastest roads, and use just two-thirds of the fuel in the process.

This car, which can do 112mph, can sprint from a standstill to 60mph in 11.2 seconds, bound up a steepish hill in fifth gear and still return at least 44mpg, is Volkswagen's latest Golf - the TDI. It is a 'green' diesel that will please environmentalists, yet is genuinely fun to drive.

TDI stands for Turbo Direct Injection. The turbo bit you probably know about; it is an exhaust- driven compressor which forces extra air into the engine, so it can mix with more fuel and deliver extra power. Lots of diesel engines are turbocharged. But not many have direct injection, in which the diesel fuel is squirted straight into the top of the cylinders instead of into a pre-chamber joined to the cylinder by a narrow channel.

To the non-expert, direct injection might sound a much more obvious way of getting fuel in than a complicated system of pre- chambers and channels. But no: all other things being equal, a direct-injection engine is noisier, rougher and smokier because the burning of the fuel is more difficult to control. Just look at (or listen to) a diesel Montego or Ford Transit for proof.

These snags mean that, despite a direct-injection motor's better fuel economy, indirectly injected units are much more popular. Introduce some electronics, though, and

the picture changes. Volkswagen's Golf TDI has a 'drive-by-wire' accelerator, whereby your right foot is connected to a computer which ensures that exactly the right amount of diesel oil is delivered to the engine to satisfy its needs. This stops most of the exhaust smoke that normally results from overfuelling under hard acceleration, and a catalyst cleans up the rest.

The Golf's other trick is two- stage fuel injectors, which let the fuel in gradually instead of all in one go. This means there is less of a bang when the fuel ignites, so the engine is smoother. The electronics and the gentle injectors have been found in expensive, upmarket diesel motors before, and indeed the Audi 80 TDI has used a less muscular version of this Golf's engine for the past couple of years. But it is the first time an engine such as this has appeared in a mainstream family hatchback.

You know there is something different as soon as you start the engine. It goes straight away, even from cold, without making you wait for the glow-plugs to warm up. Then, when you drive off, you will hear the turbocharger's siren- like whistling more loudly than in most turbodiesel engines, as the power floods in. The most remarkable part, though, is the crisp, near-instant way the engine responds to the accelerator. Rival diesels from Peugeot and Citroen, the best available until now, more-or-less match the Golf for outright pace. But they feel much softer underfoot, unable to compete with the Golf's solid thrust from low speeds.

Nor can they compete with the Volkswagen's economy. When I drove the Golf and its Peugeot 306 rival over the same roads, I squeezed 44 miles from a gallon of fuel in the new car, compared with just under 37 miles in the Peugeot. If you want a diesel for economy (the main reason for having one), the Golf does the job better than any other car of its size.

There are, however, three drawbacks. First, the engine is noisier than the Peugeot/Citroen unit, although not unpleasantly so. Second, the Golf TDI is expensive: whether in CL or plusher GL trim, it costs pounds 1,200 more than

the slower, thirstier 75bhp Golf turbodiesel (which continues in production) and a good deal more than rival models from other manufacturers. Third, while the Golf has all the usual Volkswagen virtues of quality, solidity and rational design, its steering is soggy and its suspension bouncy and squashy.

Peugeot's 306 and Citroen's ZX manage to smother bumps while responding crisply to the driver's commands, so the Golf's ineptitude here is puzzling. But if you can live with that, and you want to enjoy peppy performance with eco-friendliness, the Golf TDI is your car.

Alternatively, you can have this engine in the Golf estate, the Golf- based Vento saloon or, soon, in the larger Passat.

SPECIFICATIONS

Volkswagen Golf TDI GL, pounds 14,149

Engine: 1896cc, four cylinders, direct injection turbodiesel, 90bhp at 4,000rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 112mph, 0-60mph in 11.2 seconds. Fuel consumption: 44- 50mpg.

COMPARISONS

Citroen ZX Aura Turbo D, pounds 12,065

Virtually matches the Golf for outright pace, though less energetic at low speeds. Economy, however, is merely good. A smooth-riding and well-equipped car which is fun to drive and excellent value. Volcane version is that novel idea, a diesel hot hatchback.

Ford Escort 1.8TD Ghia, pounds 12,495

Again, cheaper than the Golf and as well-equipped, but the turbodiesel-powered Escort is a pointless car. It is noisy, not especially economical and the engine is feeble at low speeds. An old-school diesel.

Peugeot 306 XTDt, pounds 12,580

Same blend of virtues as the ZX, whose smooth, muscular engine it shares, but with better rear seat space, more interesting styling and even more fluid handling. Greater weight blunts performance slightly.

Vauxhall Astra 1.7TD CD, pounds 13,340

Closest rival to the Golf on price (there are cheaper versions), but includes anti-lock brakes and, as with Escort, an airbag. Japanese-built engine is reasonably smooth and willing, but cannot match Golf for energy and economy.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

    £7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor