'Greener motoring' is the mantra of the modern automotive age. Any manufacturer not looking for greener credentials through improved fuel economy and environmental performance in the cars it makes, is getting pounded in the showroom.
Such is the 'showroom power' of the environmental argument that even leisurely performers - like the Toyota Prius and Civic Hybrid - have found success in a market that would have eaten them alive ten or fifteen years ago. (Efficient it may be, but the Prius in its current iteration is better described as "intriguing" rather than a "scintillating drive.")
But perhaps the answer to greener, planet-friendly motoring is closer than we think. Perhaps those looking for fuel economy, lower emissions, and with sufficient dynamics to satisfy the more primal urges, need look no further than turbo-diesel power. Perhaps Rudolf Diesel's astonishingly efficient and technologically simple 'oil burner', patented in 1892, holds answers for motoring in the 21st Century.
That sounded like a challenge to TMR. Something we had to check out.
So, with this in mind, the TMR team of latter-day scientists set out to see just how well-balanced the diesel equation is. We'd need a long trip. And we'd need a car - a proven diesel performer. (Done... and done.) Steane tee'd up one of the most popular diesel options in the market right now, Volkswagen's Golf 2.0 litre TDI Pacific (thanks to Karl and the crew from Volkswagen Australia), and we assembled the TMR four man research team (all mental giants).
We chose the drive from Sydney to Melbourne, some 1000 kilometres - and a nice neat number for such a test. The combination of hills, long flat sections and regular interludes slowing to 50km/h for small towns - we reasoned - would test the Golf over all manner of driving conditions. During the course of the journey, we'd be driving with an eye for economy, but not ridiculously so, to see just how far we could stretch the Golf's 55 litre tank. (And that's not a big tank.)
As Mike is not known for his soft touch and Tony seemed like he could nod-off at a moment's notice ("Wake up Jeff..."), driving duties would be mine alone. We loaded up the Golf with our luggage and over 320 kilograms of TMR's finest and set our sights for Melbourne. At this point we realised that the 103kW turbo-diesel engine would be hauling over 1700 kilograms on the trip; definitely a real world test then.
Aside from the smaller rev range, once on the road you could easily forget you were driving something with a diesel engine up front. The Golf was quiet, comfortable and effortless as we navigated our way through Sydney's many perilous streets to hit the open road. The 320Nms of torque on tap between 1750-2500rpm makes city driving a breeze. Our only gripe in this environment is the Golf's light clutch. It takes more than a few minutes behind the wheel to get used to it - and we stalled once or twice on take off (leaving one red face at the wheel). Once you're sorted there, rowing easily through the nicely-weighted six-speed box becomes second nature.
Just as the Golf began to settle into a rhythm, one of the mental giants in the back began agitating for lunch - "I'm starvin'... we gotta eat first." Ok, great. This meant a detour back into the 'burbs before we could really get underway. A serious chow-down and another few kilos later, we were once again on our way, though having consumed more precious fuel in the process.
Back on the highway, air-con on, and cruise control set, the Golf never appeared laboured as it maintained a steady speed on the many ascents through the Blue Mountains and down toward Goulburn. For now I was happy to let the Golf do its thing. This gave me time to become more acquainted with the cabin and driver ergonomics.
Starting at $32,490, the Golf Pacific sits a rung above the entry level 'Edition' in the Golf line-up and features most notably, a choice of premium diesel and petrol engines (larger and more powerful) and an impressive pair of sport bucket seats. The Pacific is surprisingly well-appointed with a feature list more like you'd expect on vehicles over and above the $40k mark. Cruise control, heated power windows and mirrors, traction control, an MP3 compatible stereo, and a leather steering wheel, gear-knob and handbrake cover all come as standard. Take another breath though because the Golf also receives Electronic Brake-force Distribution, a full compliment of airbags, and an electronic anti-glare rear view mirror - one of my favourite features of the car. Entry level to the diesel Golf club begins at $27,990 for the 1.9 TDI Edition 5 Door 6 Speed Manual.
We did notice some minor discrepancies with trim fit, but overall the build quality is good. Switchgear falls easily to hand and everything can be operated with minimal effort or thought. We'd taken the liberty of stocking up the cooled glove box (also a standard feature) earlier in the trip and while our cans now had a reasonable chill, best results would be seen with pre-cooled items.
In the hills, putting the Golf TDI through more than a few of the choicer turns and highway sweepers on offer, showed it to be quite capable through the corners. The independent front and rear suspension provide excellent ride quality but also endow the Golf with enough cornering ability to inspire confidence. This diesel Golf was starting to shape up as a car I could live with.
Approaching Yass, Mike, musical director and taking his role seriously, insisted we pull over for a CD as the radio selection had "turned to crap" many kilometres back (and we'd gotten sick of playing "I spy"). So, another diversion while we sorted the music situation.
Getting back on the highway, the eight-speaker stereo proved its mettle as 90s hits filled the cabin.
The Golf had done a great job to here, but, after two diversions, now it was time to really start driving for economy. With cruise switched off, I began to allow the Golf to wash off a little speed on each ascent with the intent of re-gaining that lost momentum on the next descent - all without any adjustments to throttle input. This tactic, combined with the occasional downhill coast in neutral, saw further improvements in our fuel economy figures as reported by the Golf's fuel use read-out.
As the kilometres ticked by, our only fuel economy challenge was the constant need to slow down then regain speed carefully when passing through the many small towns through southern NSW. As we approached Albury, we were now well under Volkswagen's combined quoted figure of 5.7 litres per hundred kilometers. At this point, fuel economy was looking great so, through Albury and onto the freeway out of Wodonga, a quick flick of the wrist had the cruise control re-set at 110km/h. We were now growing in confidence that we'd be making the entire trip on one tank of fuel.
A final dinner stop was made on the leg from Albury to Melbourne but otherwise we just kept on truckin'. The Golf's fully adjustable seats and ample rear leg-room ensured we arrived in surprisingly good condition given we'd covered almost 1100 kilometres and had been traveling for around 11hours straight.
A quick splash and dash before dropping people home, more to be on the safe side and to keep up good relations with Volkswagen press-fleet staff ("oh, hey guys, we've run out of fuel..." no, not an option), revealed that we'd completed the entire trip with an average fuel economy figure of just under 5.2 l/100kms. To say we were impressed is a monumental understatement.
Fully laden, and in less than ideal conditions, Volkswagen's 2.0 litre Golf TDI had ferried us from Sydney while returning figures that would surely have had many Prius owners questioning their purchase. While there's little doubt the Golf could do even better, our combination of undulating highway and stop-start city driving, detours, and constant speed changes as road conditions and legality demanded, best reflected the way most people use a vehicle.
Sure, we were driving for economy, but not rigidly. Four sizable blokes, their clobber, and a Sydney to Melbourne run, is a genuine real world test for any car.
The Golf represents an exceptionally well-balanced package for many reasons. For a very reasonable asking price you can snag a fully-optioned stylish car that handles well, can tackle short and long distances with ease, and still give you something to smile about should you find a tight and twisty mountain pass. All this comes in a car that returns fantastic fuel economy and won't unduly punish your wallet or the Earth.
Prior to this trip I had my reservations about turbo-diesel power but to say I'm a convert now goes without saying. My experience with the Volkswagen Golf left little doubt in my mind that, for the carbon conscious among you looking for good fuel economy without sacrificing driving enjoyment, your local Volkswagen dealership is a 'must see'.
There are cheaper and greener ways to commute but if you, like us at TMR, need your ride to meet certain performance criteria as well, then anything with turbo-diesel power is worth a look for starters. Volkswagen's Golf 2.0 TDI is such an excellent package for the money though that you'd almost have to be completely bonkers not to give it a red-hot go.
+ Dan Likes
- Excellent value for money, rich standard feature list
- Torquey engine and six-speed box
- Well balanced ride quality: sporty yet compliant.
- Comfortable seats
- Anti-glare rear-vision mirror
- Dan Dislikes
- Light clutch is easy to get wrong (initially)
- Indicator stalk on the wrong side, pet hate
- Non body-coloured bumpers
|Type:||Diesel 4 cyl inline turbo|
|Capacity:||2.0 litres / 1968cc|
|Bore/Stroke:||81.0mm / 95.5mm|
|Power:||103kw @ 4000rpm|
|Torque:||320Nm @ 1750 ? 2500rpm|
|Fuel System:||Bosch EDC 16 with unit injectors (Pumpe D?se)|
|Emission Level:||EU IV|
|Fuel type:||Diesel 51CZ|
|Transmission:||6 Spd manual or 6 Spd DSG|
|Driven wheels:||Front wheel drive|
|0 ? 100 km/h:||9.3 sec (manual) 9.3 sec (DSG)|
|Top speed:||(manual) 203km/h (DSG)|
|Combined Economy:||L/100km: 5.7 (manual) 6.1(DSG)|
|CO2 emission:||154 g/km (manual) 165 g/km (DSG)|
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||55 litres|