We sample VW's zippy, high-mpg forbidden fruit... a model that's probably headed to U.S. showrooms soon.
Over the past decade and a half, what was once a collection of tantalizing forbidden fruit has evolved into a tasty, all-you-can-eat automotive buffet.
Celebrated machines like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Nissan GT-R, once denied to U.S. buyers, have become as readily available as hot dogs and apple pie. And now, to sate the increasing American appetite for diesel vehicles, Volkswagen is weighing whether to bring another delicious morsel - the GTD - to these shores.
Offering all of the poise and practicality of the GTI with the added bonus of an efficient, performance-tuned turbodiesel motor, the GTD seems to have the right ingredients to be a superb all-rounder.
Jump in the passenger seat as we head to Germany's autobahn for a taste of a model that Volkswagen says could potentially arrive in the U.S. as soon as a year or two down the line.
The diesel hot hatch
Originally introduced in Europe back in 1982, the GTD was recently redesigned along with the rest of the Golf lineup around Volkswagen's new MQB architecture. Described by the automaker not as a scalable platform but rather a family of modular chassis, powertrain and electronics components, MQB will eventually underpin almost all of VW Group's small and midsize mainstream models.
For the GTD and other seventh-generation Golf variants, the switch to MQB means a 2.1-inch increase in wheelbase and roughly an additional inch of width, changes that result in an appreciably airier-feeling cabin. Material quality inside has also moved further upscale, with some hard plastics south of the equator serving as the only reminders that one isn't sitting in an Audi.
As with previous GTDs, the latest model wears only a few discreet cues to distinguish itself from the GTI. Unique wheels, a chrome trim strip in the grille and dual left-mounted exhaust tips mark the diesel model's exterior, while grey (instead of the GTI's red) plaid seats are the interior tip-off.
Despite an increased level of standard equipment, weight has been reduced by roughly seventy lbs. to 3,036 - another benefit of MQB - meaning there's less machine for the new GTD's redesigned oil-burning motor to pull around. Sharing almost nothing except for displacement with the last-gen GTD's motor, the 2.0-liter direct-injected turbodiesel four-cylinder produces 184 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque.
Surprisingly, that torque figure isn't significantly higher than the 258 lb-ft served up by the latest GTI, which also churns out up to 230 horsepower. Of course, the GTD sets itself apart by way of power delivery; with peak twist arriving like a tidal wave at just 1,750 rpm, there's little need for - or benefit to - exploring the upper reaches of the tach. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on personal taste more than anything else.
Shifting duties are handled by either a standard six-speed manual with smooth shift action and an extremely easy to modulate clutch, or a refined six-speed dual-clutch "DSG" automatic that's well-behaved even in the low-speed situations that confound many similar gearboxes.
Volkswagen reckons that the GTD can dispatch the 0-60 mph sprint in roughly 7 seconds - that's reasonably fleet, but more than a second off the GTI's pace. However, the GTD never feels close to slow thanks to the ample low-end muscle - and it boasts a significant advantage in the realm of fuel economy. In the European testing cycle, which differs dramatically from that in the U.S., the GTD returns 56 mpg to the GTI's 39 mpg.
Should it come to the U.S., Volkswagen expects that the GTD will hit at least 40 mpg on the highway, meaning its increased performance relative to the standard Golf TDI isn't likely to entail much of a mileage penalty.
In Europe, the GTD is available with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC), a variable damping system with Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. Comfort mode mellows out the ride noticeably for easy cruising on the autobahn, and toggling to Sport minimizes body roll on the back roads without excessively accentuating pavement imperfections - though such blemishes were admittedly were few and far in between on our drive route.
It isn't clear whether Volkswagen would offer the U.S.-spec GTD with DCC, but the automaker's XDS+ electronic locking differential system, which can work with the ESC and all four brakes to improve traction and reduce understeer, would likely make it across the pond.
Another element of the GTD's technological arsenal is a variable-ratio electric steering system that's designed to lower effort at parking-lot speeds and increase effort at higher velocities. We found that the system worked as intended while also providing a pleasing amount of feedback - further evidence that electric-assist steering doesn't automatically equate to a numb tiller, just as a hydraulic setup doesn't guarantee tactility.
Leftlane's bottom line
Spacious, comfortable and efficient for commuting, yet torquey and engaging when you're in the mood for fun, the GTD is an appealing take on the familiar GTI recipe.
If it ends up in U.S. dealerships, Volkswagen says that the GTD will likely carry a base price of around $27,000. That will probably constitute a premium of about $2,000 over the new-gen GTI - a reasonable sum, we think, for an accomplished diesel hot hatch that can be many things to many people.
Words and photos by Nat Shirley.