Volkswagen Golf GTD review

4.5 out of 5
from £24,675 | £27,635 as tested

For

All the usual Golf benefits, thumping mid-range performance, sharper GTi-like looks

Against

Not as sharp as the GTi, 6-speed isn’t as smooth as new 7-speed, struggles to put power down in the wet, not as economical as some rivals

If logic is followed and the status quo is upheld, then the Volkswagen Golf GTD is a shoo-in for a five star review. When we saw the regular Golf Mk7 last year, we called it "all the car you'll ever need - no more and no less". So you'd expect a diesel version, in top-of-the-line GTD trim and packing 184bhp, to gild the Golf lily.

The Golf GTD has quickly become one of the most popular models in the range, retaining the aesthetic of the GTi but costing that bit less to buy and run thanks to its diesel flavour. Given that many cars at this level are bought as company cars, it's unsurprising that by the time the sixth-generation Golf made way for Mk7, GTD was outselling GTi by around three to one.

Diet Golf?

There are two key aspects to its appeal: performance and looks. VW has carefully honed the Golf's image over the years and the new Mk7 perfectly encapsulates Golf-ness in a more chiselled form than before - with sharper detailing and a more cab-rearward proportion than before.

To this design base the regular GTi has historically added a special colour, a deeper valence and spoiler, unique grille textures and discrete GTi badging. It doesn't sound like much, but adds up to a lot. GTD follows the GTi design rulebook closely in this regard. Except that where the petrol car uses red detailing, the GTD uses a silver-grey.

READ: Hands-on: Volkswagen Golf GTi (Mk7) review

The wheels are different too, so the overall effect is "GTi lite". It's not quite as in-your-face boy racer without its red pinstripes. But it does still look that bit meaner than a regular Golf, especially from the front with those U-shaped daytime running lamps.

GTi performance without the wallet hit?

You don't buy a GTD to save money per se - otherwise you would just buy a regular diesel Golf. But you do buy it because the performance is borderline amusing for a diesel, and because it'll still do 50mpg, whereas the GTi won't (at least in theory). Cheaper tax and lower CO2 emissions come your way with the GTD too.

However, the reality is that despite spending most of our 400-miles in the GTD on a motorway, it refused to return more than 45mpg. We're pretty sure the GTi would be returning around 40mpg in similar conditions, so the difference in fuel economy perhaps isn't as massive as you might think.

More noteworthy is that a similar run in a diesel BMW 120d netted over 10mpg more. How much this has to do with our driving style and how much might be down things like the 6-speed DSG gearbox fitted to this VW test car, we're can't calculate. All we know is that we didn't find the fuel economy as impressive as we had anticipated.

It's worth adding that the regular Golf diesel has never struck us as particularly slow, yet is cheaper to buy and would, we suspect, return better fuel economy. Meanwhile, the GTD's performance - though impressive - never comes close to the kind of performance edge the petrol GTi offers. So what's the appeal?

A surfeit of torque

While most figures you read about cars are concerned with their power, out in the real world it's the torque - a measure of twisting force - that matters on the roads for how easy and flexibly a car drives. Basically, diesels typically have more torque from low down the rev range than petrol engines, which typically means you have to rev them less hard and change gears less often than in a petrol car.

And the GTD has torque to spare - 280lb/ft from 1,750-3250rpm - which simply means it picks up and goes from very low revs. Fitted with the 6-speed auto gearbox it made for very brisk and easy progress. You simply identify a gap in traffic, point the car at it and squeeze the accelerator. Rapid, stress-free driving has never been so easy. And it's another reason you might choose "D" over "i" in the GT-something world of Golf. Life in the diesel is less frenetic than the petrol.

READ: VW Golf GTi 1.4 TSi review

Yet this surfeit of torque does create a couple of issues. The GTD has so much of it on offer that it's got too much for VW's new 7-speed DSG auto gearbox to cope with. The older 6-speed is from a bad box, but if we're nit picking, we did notice that it was a degree less smooth in its changes than the new 7-speed. And that slug of low-down torque creates other problems in wet, slippery conditions, where we found the Golf at times struggling to put its power down without spinning up the wheels. The gearbox at times even sets off in second gear to overcome these issues. It's a very small point but so much else is impressive - nigh on perfect - with this car, the small niggles stand out.

Otherwise the drive is pure Golf, with a bit more vim and firmness from the big wheels. The performance really is quite impressive once it's rolling and the ride, steering and handling balance are second only to a Ford Focus in this class of car. But the VW is far more refined with it.

Golf-goodness abounds

Step inside and, like any Golf Mk7, you get a welcoming interior that makes you feel warm deep inside (though the heated seats might have had something to do with that). It's very easy to get comfortable and feel at home. So good is this driving cockpit - yet so low key and unfussy - that it's only when you drive other cars that it's inherent rightness and ease of use is brought into relief.

The dials are clear and legible, the centre display between the gauges allows you to call on pretty much any piece of info you want - from turn-by-turn satnav functions, to oil temperature to a large digital speedo - which we increasingly find a boon in a world of 20-mile long stretches of average-speed-monitored motorways.

GTD spec nets you some nice extras too: little GTD inscriptions, bits of stitching and flashes of chrome you don't get on mid-range models. Most noticeable is the GTi-like "Jacara" upholstery though, which looks like tartan chequer and has featured on every GTi-model Golf. Anecdotally, every guy who rode in the car seemed to like it, while every girl seemed to find it hilariously naff.

The Golf is generally well equipped these days too. DAB, Bluetooth connectivity and parking sensors front and rear are all standard. What's nice to get for extra with the GTD is a 6.5-inch touch-screen interface, Xenon headlights and radar cruise control which automatically maintains a distance to the car in front and will auto-brake it to a complete stop.

Of the additional options fitted to our car, we found the 8-inch colour screen and the "discover navigation pro" satnav upgrade (£1,165) a nice-to-have rather than an essential. The basic system is pretty good, but we'd go as far as to say that this is probably the best touchscreen we've used in any car (regular readers will know we're not great fans of touchscreens in vehicles). We'd tick the (£375) box for the winter pack too, which includes heated seats and washer jets. But we could live without the keyless start (£355).

Verdict

A car that gets so much right throws greater light on any small quibbles. And we have a few with the GTD, which might make this sound like a nit-picking review. So let's set the record straight: the Golf GTD is a great car. It sits, at the very least, near to the top its class. Its panache and class should make you think hard about spending extra on an Audi A3; its general polish and design integrity sits it head and shoulders above a Mercedes A-Class.

The real question - both for our review and your buying consideration - is more in relation to the rest of the Golf range. We get why the GTD is popular: it looks a good deal butcher than a regular Golf and whichever way you cut it, it's going to be cheaper to run than the GTi.

And yet we can't help but feel that the regular Golf diesel is an equally complete car, one that ticks all the boxes but will save you a lot of money. Meanwhile the petrol GTi is only a little more money yet a good deal sharper and more fun to drive for those looking for a Golf with a few more thrills. One of those two would be our choice, which leaves the GTD sitting somewhere in the middle.

That the Golf GTD isn't the best out of its range is to damn it with faint praise. It's still brilliant, but strangely marred by its existing siblings. Ultimately, though, that won't matter to most of its buyers because it still ticks more boxes than any of its rivals.