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First drive: Bigger, more refined, and ultra-thrifty 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Eric Evarts

Volkswagen's strategy for its new cars seems to be more about evolution than revolution. That approach certainly holds true for the 2015 Golf TDI, due next spring—it's an all-new car that doesn't look very new.

The current Golf is an impressive, high-scoring package, with great handling, solid feel, comfortable seats, well-finished interior, and hatchback practicality. Based on our initial time behind the wheel, the new car builds on those strengths and feels a little more refined. The 2015 Golf grows slightly bigger, gaining two inches in length and a half-inch in width. The stance is further enhanced by an inch lower height. With the repackaging comes an increase in rear leg room and cargo space. So far, so good.

For the longest time Volkswagen never had a competitive four-cylinder engine. And to that end, VW has introduced a range of new engines in the Golf, with better fuel economy. The biggest news is the new 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged base engine which replaces the old, unloved 170-hp, 2.5-liter five-cylinder.

To improve emissions and fuel economy, the new gas engine has an integrated exhaust manifold, with its own cooling system inside the cylinder head. Given Volkswagen’s reputation for reliability and cost of ownership among subscribers in our annual survey, that strikes us as an expensive risk in the long run. Time will tell.

After a technical presentation, Volkswagen left a new European-spec Golf TDI at our test track (for a rental fee). Although not on sale stateside for months, these new models are already on sale in Europe. (Read our 2015 Volkswagen GTI first drive.)

At first blush, color us impressed. The new car feels more grown up and refined than the old model, albeit incrementally. Modern turbodiesel engines develop lots of torque at low rpm, which makes them feel powerful in routine driving. VW’s new TDI sounds a lot like the old one on paper: 2.0-liters, turbocharged, and 236 lb.-ft. of torque. It now makes 10 more horsepower than before (for a total of 150), and so far we haven’t encountered the occasional breathless feeling under sustained acceleration that the old one occasionally did. Unlike the current TDI, for the U.S, the new engine will feature diesel exhaust fluid injection to clean up emissions, which means it has a urea tank that needs to be refilled with every oil change. Bummer.

Although it’s one of the best-selling cars in the world, the Golf is a niche model for Volkswagen in the United States. Perversely, that means the company didn’t cheap out on the interior as it initially did with the current Jetta and Passat for the American market. The dashboard is cushy foam, the fabrics are high-class, and vents, controls, door panels, the steering wheel rim, parking brake, and climate controls are all attractively detailed.

The Golf will offer VW’s new Car-Net telematics system, which includes automatic crash notification, geo-boundaries for teen drivers, remote vehicle access to lock or unlock doors or locate the car via smartphone, and service alerts, for $199 a year.

In the end, we didn’t find anything revolutionary in the new Golf TDI. But we did find the same blend of big-car comfort, small-car frugality, and engaging driving experience we’ve come to expect from the Golf.

For added appeal, VW diesels continue to have among the best resale value of any cars available. And perhaps the best news for driving enthusiasts with a family: VW promises a new SportWagen based on this Golf.

Eric Evarts

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