HATCHBACK ICON: The Golf is probably the most recognizable hatchback car on the road.
HATCHBACK ICON: The Golf is probably the most recognizable hatchback car on the road.
GEORGE KENNEDY

In 2000, Volkswagen created the modern version of the TDI engine; it arrived in the United States a year later. Since 2001, the Volkswagen Golf TDI has been one of those great niche vehicles that offers fuel economy and power while retaining all the practicality of a hatchback.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI continues that tradition, with a Turbocharged-Direct-Injected (TDI) four cylinder diesel engine. With plenty of torque, it provides economy and excitement, and is one of the standard-bearers for the growing diesel passenger car movement in the Unites States.

This year, diesel sales accounted for 3 percent of the new car market, but sales of diesel cars are actually up 25 percent, outpacing a 4.2 percent increase for the overall car market. Vehicles like the Golf TDI are powering that growth, offering all the advantages of diesel with minimal sacrifices in terms of everyday usability.

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The overall hatchback shape of the Golf has been continued, with a flat roof profile that drops off abruptly at the hatch. One design hallmark of the Golf is the “blade,” a thick C-pillar panel that spans from the rear hatch to the rear door. Out front, the Golf features a more aggressive look than in previous years. In some ways, the Volkswagen has gone back to basics, with more straight lines than the bulbous styling of mid-2000s Golfs. That said, the new-look Golf has a meaner streak than ever before.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI starts at $22,815, which represents a $3,000 premium over the similarly equipped 1.8T model Golf. Our test model, with options, came in at a little over $28,000.

The menacing front clip hides behind it the power plant for which the TDI is named. The 2.0-liter clean diesel inline-4 makes a respectable 150 horsepower and an impressive 236 lb.-ft. of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels through either 6-speed manual or the 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox, which we had in our test model.

With the added torque, the Golf TDI delivers competent acceleration. Because of the torque curve, it is more of a groundswell than an instant, whiplash-inducing blast, but the Golf TDI still moves along at a solid pace. The DSG transmission can be operated in normal driving mode, sport, or manual models. Sport mode quickens throttle response and hold shifts for longer, while manual allows you to tap up and down to switch through all six gears on your own. That said, the torque curve is different from that of a gas engine, and sport mode will adjust for this better than you trying to select gears on your own.

More than the sport mode, the Golf TDI’s performance cred resides in its tight steering. The steering is firm and, despite the fact that the TDI doesn’t have a performance-tuned suspension, it makes its way through corners with a sports car’s ease.

We suspect fuel economy is more important than power and agility for the daily driver. Luckily, the Golf TDI has both, delivering 32 mpg in city driving and 44 mpg on the highway. In a week of mixed driving, we achieved 38.7 mpg, and many TDI owners have claimed much higher in their experience.

Inside, the Golf delivers the same practicality as its fuel efficient power plant. Where many automakers are opting for dramatic interiors with sharp angles and lines, the Golf’s cabin layout is refreshingly clean. It is almost Apple-inspired in its simplicity and usability. The benefit of this design choice is that controls are placed in a simple and ergonomic manner, which is not always guaranteed in new cars.

Another simple yet refreshing feature is the thoughtful combination of tactile and digital controls. Our test model featured a digital touchscreen for controlling the stereo, phone, and various vehicle settings, but, thankfully, we could still control the volume and tune the radio through conventional knobs.

The touchscreen features a proximity sensor, so when controls are not in use, they disappear, leaving only the most critical information. As you raise your had toward the screen to change the preset, the system senses your movement and brings back all of the toggles—another simple, yet effective feature.

Our test model had a backup sensing system, which identifies objects in your path and presents warnings visually and audibly, but is not as good as a backup camera. With a vehicle such as the Golf, which has unique sightlines because of its body style, we would have expected a full rear view camera.

Another puzzling choice is the use of a dedicated iPhone5 cable for connectivity. This is a little shortsighted, as it assumes that all Golf TDI buyers are on the latest version of the iPhone—if even using an iPhone at all. It makes far more sense for automakers to have one or more USB ports to provide connectivity and power.

But these are small prices to pay for the rewards of the Golf TDI. The enthusiast will appreciate the performance from the added torque, the aggressive looks, and the responsive handling. The daily commuter will enjoy the easy-to-use controls, attractive cabin, and, of course, the impressive fuel economy of a clean-burning diesel engine.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

THE BASICS

Price: $22,815. As tested: $28,000. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 32/44. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 37.8 mpg. Drivetrain: 2.0L turbocharged diesel I4, 6AT, front-wheel drive. Body: 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 150. Torque: 236. Overall length: 167.5 in. Wheelbase: 103.6 in. Height: 57.5 in. Width: 70.5 in. Curb weight: 3,000 lbs. (est).

THE GOOD

Lots of torque, responsive handling, attractive inside and out.

THE BAD

Backup camera would be nice considering poor sightlines. Substandard charging-connection options.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The ideal daily driver for city or suburb.

ALSO CONSIDER

Ford Focus Hatchback, Honda Fit, Audi A3 TDI.