In the ongoing power struggle between VW of America and the German parent VW AG, the Rabbit is the latest victim. All of VW's entry-level hatchback models will again be called Golf, from the 2.5 to the TDI and GTI. It makes sense on a global scale but Americans have a fondness for the Rabbit. The name also spawned a number of amusing rodent-sex badges that will be sadly missed.
Thankfully, it's not all bad news. The Mk6 Golf is a great car. In fact, fully-equipped its close to spectacular, particularly in its TDI guise.
On paper, the 170hp Golf 2.5 five-cylinder is the more promising option with its 0-60mph time of 7.8sec. But on the wide-open German autobahns (where we sampled both cars), the 140hp Golf TDI 2.0 had a mid-range advantage that gave better in-gear acceleration despite a 0-60 time of 8.6sec
That can be attributed to the TDI's 236 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm, compared to 177 lb-ft at 4250rpm for the 2.5. Throw in the TDI's frugal 30mpg city and 42mpg highway (DSG transmission) and you have a recipe for success. Especially since the 2.5L returns 23mpg city and 30mpg highway (six-speed auto), which seems rather ordinary in comparison.
The real strength of the new Golf 2.5 two-door five-speed manual is its starting price of $17490. This is a real bargain for such a competent car with an equipment list that includes a trip computer, eight-way adjustable seats, eight-speaker CD stereo, the wonderful four-link independent rear suspension, front, side and curtain airbags plus stability control. Admittedly, it comes on 15" steel wheels, but you were going to change them anyway!
Our choice, though, would be the two-door TDI with six-speed manual from $21990. It includes all the good stuff above plus an in-dash CD changer, Sirius, iPod cable, leather steering wheel, lower sports suspension and 17" Porto wheels. For $22590 you get a four-door manual, and DSG carries an $1100 premium however many doors you choose.
We spent time in a fully equipped four-door TDI six-speed manual because the diesel benefits from stirring it by hand. The DSG version we drove was an equal delight, but we fail to see the need for lightning-fast gear changes when the engine responds rather prosaically.
Regardless of transmission, the 140hp TDI motor carried over from the current Mk5 Jetta TDI is superb. You ride the wave of torque through the gears and then cruise at a relaxed RPM with the fuel gauge barely moving. Even when bouncing off the 120mph speed limiters on the autobahn, we were still seeing average consumption in the mid-thirties, and getting near its maximum 42mpg didn't require special skills.
Another reason we'd take the TDI over the 2.5 is its standard sports suspension, 17" wheels and 225/45 performance tires. These gave the car much greater poise, making it feel GTI-esque. It also gets a sporty three-spoke leather steering wheel with multi-function controls. And while both models get sports seats similar to the GTI with adjustable lumbar, you quickly forget you're in a base model Golf. Add the optional touchscreen nav package, xenon lights and you'll be wondering why you need a GTI at all. In fact, it starts to look much like the GTD model available in Europe (see panel), which we lusted after
Where previous Golf generations were heralded by the GTI and slightly embarrassed by the cooking versions, the Mk6 has made real progress in providing a sound alternative to the flagship model. In fact, the Golf has been voted World Car of the Year by an international panel, so it isn't just our biased opinion.
Thanks to a dynamic new nose section that includes the wide front grilles and large, squinting headlights, the Mk6 Golf looks great from almost every angle. And by using more vertical lines on the back, the car no longer looks so tall from the rear.
So it's another gushing et review of a new VW. And we're delighted VW has built another car with a level of refinement and poise that we can recommend it so wholeheartedly. And to ice the cake, the new Golf's are available with VW's 3-year/36000 mile no-charge scheduled maintenance program.
Golf GTD Since we were in Europe we took the opportunity to sample the Mk6 Golf GTD. As it's name implies, this is marketed as a diesel version of the GTI and it gets a 170hp version of the 2.0L common-rail TDI motor with 258 lb-ft of torque, allowing 0-60 in 8.1sec and a top speed of 138mph. It's similarly available with a six-speed manual or DSG tranny, is lowered 15mm compared to the regular Golf and sits on 17" Seattle Shadow wheels. Visually, it has the GTI's honeycomb grille and front spoiler, with chrome trim in place of the GTI's red.
It's undoubtedly a good-looking car. In fact, the GTD is the VW diesel driver's wet dream. It has power, an abundance of torque, GTI heritage, excellent fuel economy and is utterly low-key.
While stopping for a rare fill-up, we were surprised to see a van driver wander over to take a closer inspection: "I bet that's fast," he suggested. As we confirmed his suspicion he gazed at the car and nodded slowly
It says a great deal about where we've come in the past five years when a van driver lusts over a warmed-up diesel hatch. And yet these are the new performance cars of the 21st century, especially in Europe where economy is as much a badge of honor as horsepower or acceleration.
As we left the gas station, his lustful gaze tracked us. We felt slightly soiled, but knew we were kings for that moment. A scrabble of wheelspin on the damp road no doubt sent shudders down his spine.
While VWoA is considering plans to bring the GTD to the US, it would actually be relatively simple to recreate. Starting with a regular Golf TDI, you could simply add a GTI front spoiler and a software upgrade to reach your goal. Of course, the real changes run deeper but it's heading in the right direction.
The Transparent Factory About three hours from Wolfsburg is the beautiful city of Dresden, which has been painstakingly rebuilt to its historic glory. On the outskirts is VW's Gläserne Manufaktur, or transparent factory. Opened in 2001, the Phaeton is assembled in this 186 million euro facility that is an enthralling place to visit. Guided tours are conducted on most days and the glass walls allow you to witness car production in a clean and quiet environment like no other car factory in the world.
Viewing areas allow you to observe the workers on the maple wood floor who are supplied parts on time by robotized delivery modules.
The facility has a glass vehicle tower where owners can collect their car in person, enjoying the building's superb bar and restaurant during their visit.
Die Gläserne Manufaktur is another venue every VW enthusiast should experience firsthand. Details about the factory and arranging a tour through the Customer Care Center can be found at glaesernemanufaktur.de which is available in English.
While in Germany for the Golf drive, we had the opportunity to visit the Wolfsburg Autostadt. It's a complex built on a 62-acre site in the shadow of VW's Wolfsburg assembly plant that cost 430 million euros to build.
Taking two years to construct and open since 2000, it's received more than 19 million visitors to date, with almost two million of those coming from overseas.
The Autostadt is best described as a VW Group theme park and is a must-see venue for any diehard VW enthusiast. It features separate halls for Audi, Skoda, Seat and Lamborghini - with a Diablo fixed to a rotating wall that emerges outside amid smoke and lights at regular intervals.
Other attractions include an excellent car museum, driving training facility and you can take factory tours as well (book in advance). The site also boasts two giant glass towers in which new cars are stored until their owners arrive for an elaborate collection ceremony (similar to BMW's European Delivery program we've covered in the past).
The beautifully sculpted grounds include artwork, displays, a technology center, restaurants, a children's area and even a boat trip on the canal. They also hold many exhibitions and concerts in the Autostadt, making it a popular location for visitors from across Germany and Europe.
For more information on this incredible park, go to autostadt.de and click on the "English" button in the top corner.