With over 700 miles and a first fill-up under our belt, we’ve gotten better acquainted with our 2012 Golf TDI. So far we like what we’ve experienced, with few exceptions. Our impressions follow.
Although the MKVI is fairly new (this is its third year in the US), it’s an evolution from the MKV and most of you are pretty familiar with it by now. What’s special about the MKVI Golf is the bolstered seats, and nicer interior finishes. The interior looks durable, is great quality, but not luxurious. If you’re used to VWs you’ll be comfortable here. Finishes are excellent, the instruments are very readable, the MFD and stereo work well.
The rear seating area is more spacious than the MKIV, although the luggage area seems smaller. Sightlines are good, the cowl is low enough to provide good visibility, bu vision to the rear is more difficult. The C-pillar is wide and the rear window is fairly small, making parallel parking more challenging than in the MIV.
So what is It like to drive? Not a lot like a TDI to those of us who’ve driven earlier TDIs for years. The engine is quieter, smoother, and more powerful than we’re used to. Cold starts are much quieter, and when warm the old saw “it doesn’t sound like a diesel” really is true. But there’s also good news: VW seems to have sorted out the driveability issues of the ’10 and ’11 cars. No stalling, lots of low speed torque, no stumbling. Power is good, impressive, even. We noticed that power seemed to be fading in 4th gear on a recent drive until we noticed we were passing 4000 RPM and 100 MPH. It got there remarkably easily.
But as excellent as the common-rail TDI is, it’s the six-speed manual transmission that is the star. Light clutch, clear sift gates without being notchy, and gear ratios that are any diesel driver’s dream. 4th is good to over 100 MPH, 5th provides a great loafing gear on state highways, and 6th is a dream: 2000 RPM is 72 MPH, 2200 at an indicated 80. This gearing can’t help but contribute to the car’s fuel economy: we saw 42.8 MPG on our first tank despite a brand new engine, mixed driving, no special mileage techniques, and highway driving at 70+ MPH.
One major disappointment for MKIV owners was the mushy stock ride and lackluster handling. Understeer ruled. The MKV was considerably firmer, but in the MKVI VW got it right. The Golf still understeers, but you can get the rear to rotate by lifting in a corner. Turn in is crisp, the steering is linear, although the steering is somewhat numb. This may be in part because of the mediocre Continental all-season tires. Although they keep quiet, they’re eager to scrub in hard cornering and don’t provide much feedback. A good set of summer tires would be a big improvement.
The combination of firmer suspension, lower ride height than the sedan or wagon, and 17” wheels with 45 series tires makes for a firm ride. Road noise is noticeable on some surfaces, and the ride can get harsh on bad roads. Overall the ride-handling compromise is a good one, although some drives may prefer the taller ride height and 16” wheels the sedan provides.
Brakes? They work fine. They’re classic VW: sensitive to initial braking, spongy pedal, don’t inspire a lot of confidence in hard braking, ABS isn’t too easy to invoke. No surprises.
So what do we think so far? We’re very impressed. Roomy, refined, easy to drive, very quiet, spacious, tight and rattle free, great handling with acceptable ride quality. Although it’s too early to draw any conclusions on fuel economy, preliminary data is positive. This car could be a winner.