Volkswagen GTD First Drive

The Volkswagen GTD looks to add diesel efficiency to GTI performance.

What It Is
Hot-hatch with GTI styling and performance, diesel efficiency.
Best Thing
Downright fun, practical daily driver.
Worst Thing
Not available in North America.
Snap Judgment
A turbo-diesel hatchback with GTI styling and greater performance than the Golf TDI? The GTD may be the best of all worlds.

The Volkswagen GTD is currently available in Europe, and if American buyers were given the chance, they might be as eager as Europeans to get behind the wheel. Volkswagen already sells a Golf TDI in the U.S., a model that accounts for more than half of Golf sales, outnumbering the gasoline variant. And the pricier, high-performance, gasoline-powered GTI adds to the style and fun quotient. So where does that leave the GTD?

Like the GTI, the Volkswagen GTD ups power considerably compared to the TDI, from 140 horsepower to 184 hp. Most remarkably, Volkswagen expects the GTD to be just as fuel efficient, if not slightly better than the TDI. Built upon the automaker's newest architecture, the Volkswagen Golf is lighter, which also helps out in the efficiency department. While not in the U.S., and a long way from EPA testing, Volkswagen's spokespeople say the GTD is estimated to get about 35 mpg combined by U.S. measurements, with highway mileage well in the 40s. When compared to the current, 140-hp Volkswagen Golf TDI's 34 mpg combined figure, the case for diesel in America is becoming increasingly relevant.

On a varied drive route starting from Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, we logged city driving before heading on to the Autobahn, where we got to push the GTD to the limit. From the autobahn we climbed up through the storied Harz mountains--Walt Disney was said to have spent time and taken inspiration from here--and descended through the silent Alpine-like forest eventually making our way to eclectic Berlin. And with such a diverse drive, what did we think of the GTD? You can read our impressions and get all the details, below.

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The Volkswagen Golf is one of the greatest selling cars of all-time, and not wanting to disturb an illustrious recipe, the evolution has been gentle through the years. The GTD delivers the same classic, sporty nature of the GTI, with minor differences. But while keeping the classic essence of the Golf, the GTD has an allure that begs further inspection. A slightly lower stance, and dual-exhaust pipes on the left side -- compared to the GTI's two single pipes on either side -- add distinction. While 17-inch "Curitiba" alloy wheels are standard, both 18-inch "Nogaro," and 19-inch "Santiago" wheels are available, as on the GTI.

Sitting Down

Once inside the Volkswagen GTD, you're greeted by a sporty, uncluttered cabin. The red cloth tartan-patterned bucket seats of the GTI are replaced by gray in the GTD. A leather-wrapped, white-cross-stitched steering wheel feels nice in hand, as does the golf-ball shaped and textured shifter. The GTD is available with three new touchscreens, and our models featured the largest, 8.0-inch screen with navigation. The new Danish Dynaudio system utilizes eight speakers and can pump out 400 watts; a little tweaking with the settings and we found great sound coming through.

"Checkered black" accents complement brushed steel and a soft-touch dash adding to a sporty, premium feel. The headliner is black and cushioned, and three rotary dials on the center stack for climate controls offer a familiar Volkswagen setup. Drivers will find plenty of headroom, and sitting behind myself, I found ample head and knee room, though actual foot room was limited. Cargo is ample for a large suitcase, a couple of carry-ons or a dozen grocery bags. The seats have a 60-40 split, and can be folded almost completely flat, to store larger objects. Build quality and overall fit and finish are excellent.

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We began our drive on the streets around Volkswagen's Wolfsburg headquarters in a six-speed, manual transmission GTD. One thing struck me right off: the engine doesn’t have that typical whirling noise that I'm accustomed to on other VW and Audi diesel cars. And the sound emanating from the exhaust when blowing through the lower gears, was simply marvelous; the Volkswagen GTD sounds great. While some enthusiasts will tinker with it aftermarket, rest assured that the GTD you buy will be plenty sporty in stock form. The pedals and shifter are well spaced, and the clutch engages nicely about a quarter of the way through. Most pleasing was the longer gear ratios, meaning in most traffic choked cities you can you do fine with keeping the GTD in the first two gears. Even when we got on the autobahn, it wasn't until we got up to speeds that would otherwise be illegal in the U.S. that we even had to sample the fourth and fifth gears.

Being on stretches of unregulated autobahn also meant we got to push the Volkswagen GTD to the limit. On a couple occasions we pushed our model to about 140 mph without much effort, coming a couple mph shy of the technical limit, impressive for a diesel. For a more pronounced experience, there are four different drive modes, and we tinkered with the Sport, Comfort, Regular, and Custom settings. There is a pronounced difference from Sport to Comfort, but we're not even sure these modes will make it to a potential U.S.-spec car; A couple years ago when we drove the European Volkswagen Golf R, there were three settings to choose from, but when it came to the U.S. last year we only got one standard driving mode. The brakes were called upon to cut our excessive speed in a hurry, and that they did without feeling squishy or putting up a fight. In fact getting both up to speed and quickly getting back down to more pedestrian levels, the GTD fell safe, planted, and capable. Snaking our way through the dense forests of the Harz mountains we got a feel for the Volkswagen diesel's handling, which much like its steering feel, is similar to the GTI, attributes that bode well for the hot hatch.

For our grand finale we hopped into a DSG automatic transmission with shift-paddles to get a feel for the other transmission. Shifts are ultra quick, and entering the heart of congested Berlin traffic, we were thankful for it, since manual transmissions are only really fun when you get to actually row through the gears, and go at least double-digit speeds.

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The Volkswagen GTD is currently only offered in Europe, but it appears Americans may have a chance to drive them on these shores as well. With the classic and sporty looks of the GTI hatchback, and the fun to drive nature paired with added efficiency, Volkswagen has created an appealing offering to broaden the Golf family. Both transmissions are capable, ultimately what you opt for will really depend on a matter of preference. And while this model runs north of $40,000 in Europe, Americans will more likely pay a much more reasonable $3,000-$4,000 premium over the Volkswagen GTI. The catch? We'll have to wait a couple of years. But given the option to get a 184-hp, more efficient, diesel cousin of the VW GTI? It just might be worth the wait.

Basic Specs

2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI clean diesel, six-speed manual transmission, six-speed DSG automatic transmission with steering-mounted shift paddles, FWD, 184-hp, U.S. pricing and fuel economy not available.

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