Back in 2010, we attended the launch for the sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTD, an event set on the scenic roads of the cult car's natural habitat – southern Bavarian curving two-lanes complete with shocking views of the majestic Alps. We've now returned to the exact same location for the Mk7 GTD that will come to North America in – brace yourselves – mid-2015 as a 2016 model. It's like anticipation gone bad in light of the spoiled immediacy of today's Internet Age.
On the very positive side, while the US never got the last GTD, at least we are assured of getting this one. And it's a better car than its predecessor, and better is better in our book, so the wait may be worth it depending on how rabid you are for a hot diesel Golf. Will our GTD be built in Puebla, Mexico, along with all other Mk7 Golf models bound for North America? That's a question VW experts couldn't yet answer for us.
At our first opportunity, we jumped in this Tornado Red GTD equipped with the optional 18-inch Nogaro wheels that come with the optional Sport & Sound package. (Europe's standard wheel is the 17-inch Curitiba). Plunking down in the standard, GTI-style, Clark tartan-clad sport seats, gripping the sport steering wheel and palming the heritage golf-ball manual shift knob all seemed very familiar, as the appointments reminded us of our April drive in the new GTI.
Push the clutch pedal, press the start button on the center console and prepare to enter the world of diesel hot hatchery. Well, not quite right away, since it takes about two seconds for the ignition to get the glow plugs... err... glowing. Even at idle, this 181-horsepower version of the VW's new EA288 2.0-liter TDI is rather less clackety-clack than the company's non-GTD TDI fours. That's a welcome dash of refinement in a model that will most likely carry a price tag of nearly $27,000 for a two-door, six-speed manual model – if indeed Volkswagen North America brings over the most basic configuration.
Push the clutch pedal, press the start button and enter the world of diesel hot hatchery.
Lucky us, this particular GTD is specced pretty perfectly for our tastes: Four doors, six-speed manual shifter, not too discomforting 18-inch wheels, and the Sport & Sound package. You'll be able to opt for a 19-inch Santiago wheelset, and they look good in those wells, but we'd prefer to preserve the car's everyday ride quality to keep things practical. Besides the 18-inch Nogaro alloys and 225/40 Bridgestone Potenzas, the Sport & Sound package includes VW's Driving Profile Selector (with Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual modes), ventilated compound brake discs with flashy red calipers, and a bit of active sound trickery that delivers either a normal or throatier soundtrack depending on a sensor in the engine compartment.
When we had our shot at the 168-hp mint green Mk6 GTD on US soil, we were pretty happy with the six-speed automated DSG dual-clutch gearbox. But anything with the letters "GT" from VW makes us want a solid go with a manual transmission as well. This updated shifter makes for a much better experience versus any soured experience we had with our long-term 2011 Jetta TDI and its six-speed manual. Which is great, because the characteristics of small, direct-injected diesels really do feel more at home with a good manual.
Small, direct-injected diesels really do feel more at home with a good manual.
Naturally, our tester came fairly fully optioned, and the drive profiler came with the added Comfort calibration that's included with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) and adaptive dampers. This DCC setup goes way beyond anything the outgoing GTD's dual-mode optional dampers ever offered. Of course, the six-speed DSG shift timings also offer both a sport and manual mode – fun stuff in conjunction with the paddle shifters – but we were more than content to shift for ourselves using our right arm and left leg. With the GTI, it would be a difficult choice between DSG and manual, but in this case, we'd go manny.
Standard on the GTD, as on the GTI, are both progressive electrical steering and the XTS+ brake-steer torque-vectoring differential. It's a system that now works on both axles, and not only under braking. The electrically actuated mechanical locking front differential offered on the GTI Performance model is not available on the GTD, but honestly we didn't miss it as much as we thought we might. Pushing hard in the diesel universe really only gets revs up to between 3,800 and 4,200 rpm, so the multi-mode stability program – On, ESC Sport, and Off – really is enough, as it collaborates swiftly with both DCC and XDS+. All of the three-lettered dynamics systems aboard work plenty well with the GTD's lower stance (minus six-tenths of an inch), firmer springs, and the steering system from the GTI. The latter is getting very close to feeling hydraulic now, and its quick 2.1 turns lock-to-lock makes for very efficient hand movements.
VW's estimate for the outgoing GTD's 0-60 time was 7.9 sec, in this Mk7 GTD you can get there in 7.5 or less.
Power is up by 13 horses to 181 hp, and it's all there between 3,500 and 4,000 rpm. Torque is now up 22 pound-feet to 280, and it's much more spread out than in the Mk6 GTD, served up between 1,750 and 3,250 rpm. While VW's estimate for the outgoing GTD's 0-60 time was 7.9 seconds, in this Mk7 GTD you can get there in 7.5 seconds or less. This quicker sprint time is due certainly to the added power and torque numbers, but also due to 110 fewer pounds of curb weight thanks largely to the new MQB modular platform lurking underneath.
Overtaking between 50 and 75 mph in either fourth or fifth gear is now accomplished a half-second quicker, and top speed is increased to 143 mph. What's more, both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions versus the former GTD's EA189 engine have improved by nearly 20 percent, with estimated EPA ratings hovering around 26 miles per gallon city and 35 mpg highway.
Throw all of this together, and you don't have a diesel GTI – you have a very sporting, well put together and pretty damned quick TDI. Whereas you can call the new GTI Performance a sports car when all of the car's systems are set the right way on, the GTD at its most aggressive is still more of a sporting little family GT. The latter's attack drive mode is frankly a very separate science from that of the GTI, what with the slight diesel and turbo lags working with the engine's lower and narrower rev range.
You don't have a diesel GTI – you have a very sporting, well put together and pretty damned quick TDI.
What starts to happen, though, is that you become very adept at looking ahead in order to anticipate dynamic transitions on your favorite roads. There is more body English involved once your mind and the GTD's ECUs are working together in that characteristic performance-diesel dance. Those who think diesel is goofy anyway will just think a GTD is super goofy, but people who love alternatives to sparking unleaded fuel will put it on a pedestal as a clear statement: I am different from the pack and you'd be surprised how much butt this thing kicks while going long distances between fill-ups. The 13.2-gallon tank can theoretically last over 450 miles – depending on the frequency with which you use the GTD to kick butts.
The Mk7 Golf GTD is 19 horses down on a base, North American GTI, but then the GTD's torque is up on the GTI's by 80 lb-ft. Yet the GTD weighs about 40 pounds more than our GTI, a fact reflected in a 0-60 that is 0.6 seconds behind the gas-propelled icon. As you'd expect, there are a number of European tuners who thrive on chipping and dropping the GTD to the point where they actually run like a factory-fresh GTI, if not better. Expect plenty more of that by the time it reaches our shores.
Of course, as with the rest of the Mk7 Golf lineup, it still figures to be a very long vigil before the GTD shows up in a showroom near you, let alone in US tuner garages. At least it appears to be worth the wait.