Test Drive: Volkswagen Golf TDI

?The drive from the Portland, Oregon area, where I now live, to my home town of Deer Lodge, Montana is 630 miles.? For me to make that drive, I wanted a car that was comfortable, fun-to-drive and very fuel-efficient.? From experience, I have found the cars that best fit my criteria tend to be diesels.? They get excellent fuel economy, the high torque gives them very good acceleration and passing power and generally the cars fitting those requirements have been quite comfortable.

I had not spent much time recently in a Volkswagen diesel, so I called a friend at VW to see if I could borrow one of their cars for the trip. ?He happened to have a two-door Golf TDI available and that seemed like a perfect car for my road trip.

Starting early one weekday morning I began driving east up the Washington side of the Columbia River, hoping to make Kennewick, Wash. for a late breakfast.? Highway 14 snakes along the Columbia offering spectacular scenery.? In the early stages of my morning drive, I climbed towering Gorge cliffs and glanced at similar scenery across the wide river on the Oregon side.? As I drove upstream, I passed scenic views of Mount Hood and the river traffic, which includes massive barges being pushed by powerful tugboats and kite and wind surfers taking advantage of nearly constant winds.

Highway 14 is a popular east-west route for drivers wanting to avoid Oregon?s Interstate Highway 84, which follows the southern bank of the river.? With all the scenery and perhaps less traffic enforcement, Highway 14 traffic includes abundant slow-driving gawkers and truckers.? This kind of traffic and with limited passing zones, meant I needed to make fast, efficient passes to keep up a quick pace, and for that, the Golf TDI excels.

A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine with direct injection powers the Golf TDI.? Rated at 140-hp with 236-lb.ft. of torque, the engine accelerated from 0 to 60 in 8.6 seconds.? Although that number doesn?t seem very quick, the car feels much faster.? It?s especially impressive when you down shift the smooth six-speed manual transmission to third gear and turbocharged torque catapults the Golf around slow moving vehicles.? The acceleration isn?t sudden, it feels more like a bungee cord returning from a full stretch.

The TDI comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional ($1,100) DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) six-speed automatic.? My personal choice would be the DSG, but the manual is very smooth and positive, and especially nice for a road trip like this.

Arriving in Kennewick, Wash, 200 miles later, the trip computer said I was getting 39.6 mpg, after a fairly aggressive drive.? The EPA rates the TDI at 30 mpg city and 42 mpg highway. The fuel gauge is just below the three-quarter mark. ?I?m not tired, or sore, I?m just enjoying the drive.

After a brief stop for a fast food breakfast, I?m off again, driving through central Washington, running at about 10 mph over the posted 70 mph speed limit, and the trip computer shows my fuel economy running at the same pace as before — just below 40 mpg.

I drove north from Kennewick to Interstate 90 then east through Spokane, Wash. and Coeur d?Alene, Idaho before crossing into Montana at Lookout Pass and then dropping down to Missoula.? In Missoula, my fuel gauge was below a quarter of a tank, so at 530 miles I decided it was time to fill. According to the trip computer and my actual calculation, I had averaged just under 40 mpg and even with the higher price of diesel fuel, I filled the VW for $50.

I made a short detour out of Missoula, to pick up my wife, Barbara, who was staying at the Paws Up Resort for a Mercedes-Benz ML introduction, before we headed on to Deer Lodge.

Several days later, I reversed my route and drove back to the Portland area still averaging nearly 40 mpg, enjoying the good handling, acceleration and comfort of the Volkswagen Golf TDI.

The 2012 Golf is available as a two- or four-door hatchback with a standard 170-hp 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder gasoline engine or the optional TDI diesel.? The gas version has one upper level Convenience trim package while the TDI has one well-equipped level.? The Golf gas version has a base price of $18,765 for the two-door and the four-door is $1,800 more.

The TDI two-door has a base price of $24,765 and the four-door is only $700 more.? Two major option packages add a sunroof, navigation system, premium audio system and Bi-Xenon lighting system, which tops the two-door price at $28,135.

By Bill Schaffer

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