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Tony O'Kane | Jan 22, 2010 | 6 Comments

2010 Volkswagen Golf 77TDI Road Test Review

LAUNCHED LATE LAST YEAR, Volkswagen touts its Golf 77TDI as being the most fuel efficient VW ever to go on sale in Australia.

A claimed fuel consumption figure of 4.9 l/100km is certainly impressive (if not hybrid-beating). Volkswagen says it will cover 1100km at highway speed before needing to stop for a refill.

It’s also the new entry-level model to the diesel Golf range. The question is however, given that its on-road price is $2700 higher than the petrol-powered Golf 90TSI (that's also got a miserly thirst) and comes with an engine that’s 23kW less powerful, is the 77TDI worth the extra outlay?

We set out to find out.

 

Styling

It is good news that the 77TDI doesn’t look cheap, despite its entry-level Trendline specification.

The same smart lines and crisp styling that adorn other Golf models remain unspoiled on the 77TDI. It's a design unburdened by fussy detailing.

Unlike other fuel-efficient cars in its class, the 77TDI is no eco-extrovert either, with only a modest “TDI” badge applied to its hatch.

A set of hubcap-wearing 15-inch steel wheels are standard, however our tester was equipped with a quartet of optional 15-inch “Wellington” alloys. Alloys up to 18 inches in diameter can be optioned, and there are 11 different wheel designs on offer.

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Aside from wheels, the two other main points of difference between the base Trendline and up-spec Comfortline models are foglights and some metallic trim pieces in the upper grille.

The Trendline’s nose is clear of both (foglights are optional), but, other than that, both spec levels are virtually identical from the outside.

 

Interior

Inside, the 77 TDI’s budget posture is a little more obvious. The steering wheel is a basic urethane three-spoke number, black cloth is the only upholstery available and aside from a few alloy-look trim pieces on the dashboard and door panels, it’s very dark inside.

But those are about the only negatives. Cabin plastics are of exceptional quality, fit and finish is superb and it’s a huge improvement over the last-gen Mk V Golf’s interior.

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It’s also well laid-out. The gearshift falls readily to hand, the centre stack isn’t far from the driver’s reach and the window controls have been moved up the door panel to within a hand-span of the steering wheel.

The steering wheel itself adjusts for reach and tilt, and the driving position is a good one.

The driver’s seat adjusts for height as well as slide and backrest tilt, but the passenger’s seat misses out on height adjustment and neither feature the adjustable lumbar support that’s found in higher-grade Golfs.

The front seats are comfortable and well-cushioned, even if the bolsters are a little shallow.

The rear bench is a bit flat and the centre tunnel eats into centre passenger legroom, but under-thigh support is good. The base Trendline models miss out on a fold-down rear armrest, though.

There are three child seat anchorages built into the rear backrest, and two ISOFIX attachment points on each outboard seat.

Two cupholders, a sizable glovebox, two centre console bins and amply-sized door pockets are provided up front, and the rear seats get two flip-out cupholders, door-mounted bottle holders and a pair of airconditioning vents.

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The boot space measures in at a handy 350 litres with the 60/40 split rear seats up, and 1305 litres with them folded down.

The rear backrest doesn’t fold flush with the boot floor, but there are at least several tie-down points to help keep loads secure. Shopping bag hooks, which are fitted to Comfortline-spec Golfs are conspicuously absent from the Trendline’s boot area.

 

Equipment and Features

In standard form, the 77 TDI Trendline is pretty basic when it comes to 'the toys'.

Semi-automatic airconditioning, a basic AM/FM tuner with CD player and 3.5mm auxiliary input, trip computer and heated power wing mirrors are standard on the 77TDI, but that’s it.

Cruise control, reverse parking sensors, foglights, a premium sound system with iPod integration, a sunroof and satellite navigation are all optional extras, and power adjustable seats are not available for the Trendline models at all.

Our tester was fitted with the optional Comfort Package, which added dual-zone climate control, a more versatile trip computer and multi-function display, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, cruise control, illuminated footwells, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, auto-on headlights and rain-sensing wipers.


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Standard safety equipment is generous, however, and includes ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and stability control.

Passive safety equipment comprises a suite of seven airbags – dual front and side airbags for front seat occupants, full-length curtain airbags for both rows and a driver's knee airbag – and three-point safety belts for all seats.

 

Mechanical Package

The 77TDI is powered by a 1.6 litre turbodiesel inline four, which produces 77kW at 4400rpm and a healthy 250Nm between 1500 – 2500rpm. Like all cooking-model Golfs, power is taken to the front wheels only.

It can’t match the 103kW/320Nm output of its larger cousin, the 2.0 litre diesel used by the Golf 103TDI, but the 77TDI’s engine is a winner in the fuel economy stakes.

VW claims the 77TDI equipped with the standard five-speed manual is good for 4.9 l/100km on the combined cycle, while the optional seven-speed DSG automatic returns 5.1 l/100km under the same conditions.

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A gearshift prompt tells drivers of manual-equipped cars when to change gears for maximum fuel economy, and resides within the multifunction display within the instrument cluster

Our testing only managed to deliver a 5.9 l/100km average fuel consumption figure. A lot of urban driving may have had something to do with that, but as our drive report below reveals, there may be another reason.

The 77TDI rides on MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear.

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An optional Adaptive Chassis Control package can be had for a little extra expense, and adds electronically variable dampers to the Golf’s suspension, allowing the driver to adjust the ride towards comfort or responsiveness.

Steering is electrically, rather than hydraulically, assisted, and braking is handled by ventilated rotors up front, solid discs at the rear and sliding calipers all around.

 

The Drive

On the road, the 77TDI is a good car for general purpose around-town motoring.

Outward visibility is good, the steering is light and the suspension – although a touch on the firm side – is unruffled by most surfaces. Our tester was equipped with the five-speed manual, and the clutch pedal was pleasingly light and the shift throw precise and smooth.

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The engine has a fair amount of pep for a small-capacity diesel, and displays an eagerness to rev that’s normally only exhibited by petrol-powered engines.

However, while VW says peak torque is available from just 1500rpm, it just doesn’t feel that grunty in day-to-day driving. Instead, under normal throttle application boost starts to build from 1800rpm, with the majority of torque feeling as though it is available from 2000rpm onwards.

Torque starts to rapidly drop off from 2700rpm though, meaning fast getaways either need lots of gearchanges, or high revs.

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The gearbox compounds the issue. The ratios in the five-speed box are spaced well-apart (for a tall final drive) meaning that the driver has to alternate between working the engine hard and then lugging at low rpm when changing gears.

Highway cruising in top gear has the engine rotating at only 1800rpm. Perhaps the addition of a sixth gear and closer ratios would allow better use of the engine’s powerband.

The combination of the engine’s torque delivery and the box’s widely-stacked cogs means most drivers will elect to rev the engine higher than they normally would (for a diesel anyway).


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For us, keeping the engine below 1600rpm felt unnatural and sluggish, and we were inclined to drive it more like a petrol-engined car to keep pace with traffic.

We’ve no doubt our 5.9 l/100km average fuel economy could have been improved upon by keeping the engine down in its low-rpm “sweet spot”.

Powertrain aside, the rest of the package is excellent. The robust build quality meant we heard nary a single squeak from the cabin during our time with the car. Road and wind noise is beautifully suppressed by the Mk VI Golf’s revised aerodynamics and sound-deadening windscreen.

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The engine is muted from within the cabin (still detectable as a diesel when idling), but when given some beans it manages to sound almost sporty. There’s also a decent amount of grip from the Golf’s skinny 195-section tyres and handling in corners is confidence-inspiring.

A minor gripe though: the electrically-assisted steering rack might cancel out most torque-steer, but is devoid of feedback (something that won't bother a lot of drivers).

The Verdict

So is it worth the money? Despite our heavy-footed driving, the Golf 77TDI still delivered a very respectable average fuel consumption figure, and with great on-road dynamics, it is a car that is easy to live with.

It does, however, deserve a better gearbox than the old five-speed manual. And, arguably, the optional seven-speed DSG automatic would deliver lower fuel consumption figures more consistently.

The manual costs $28,690 but the Golf 77TDI DSG retails for $31,190, and therein lies the rub: the 77TDI is simply a bit expensive for a small, relatively underpowered hatchback.

The more powerful 118TSI Comfortline costs $30,490 with a six-speed manual and is more generously appointed, yet consumes a still-respectable 6.2 l/100km on the combined cycle.

A cheaper prospect is the Hyundai i30 SLX CRDi, which has more power, more torque and officially uses 4.7 l/100km. Its costs just $26,390, but admittedly you don't get the same high-grade Teutonic feel as the VW (although you are unlikely to be disappointed).

The Fiat Ritmo 1.9DT is in a similar boat as the Hyundai, although it costs even less at $25,990.

The Ford Focus TDCi occupies the same price bracket as the 77TDI, but gives you 23kW more power and 70Nm more torque for your money.

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If you must have a German, the entry-level Golf 90TSI is the same price as the Fiat and offers the same outstanding comfort and build as the 77TDI for less expenditure - although its 6.4 l/100km average fuel consumption may be a little higher.

We really do like the Volkswagen Golf 77TDI, and, more to the point, the Golf is without doubt one of the best-built cars in its segment (if not THE best built). That said, the shortcomings of the 77TDI's drivetrain coupled with its generous pricetag diminishes its value proposition.

Should you place a premium on using the least amount of fuel and emitting as few grams of carbon dioxide as possible, then the 77TDI deserves a place on your shopping list.

If however you are satisfied with excellent, rather than exceptional efficiency, and place more importance on the value offered by the overall package (including purchase price) then there are arguably better options available to you - one of them being the Golf 90TSI.

 

Likes and Dislikes

Likes
  • Outstanding build quality
  • High-grade interior plastics
  • Comfortable cabin
  • Restrained styling
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Rev-happy engine
Dislikes
  • Five-speed gearbox is one cog short
  • Low-down torque not quite there
  • No centre rear armrest
  • Equipment list is quite spartan in base form
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