First Drive Comparison: 2013 VW Golf TDI Vs. 2015 VW Golf TDI

JamesHamel-First_Drive_Comparison-_2013_VW_Golf_TDI_vs__2015_-img_0970In case you were unaware, Volkswagen has already launched an all-new generation Golf hatchback in Europe, but the United States isn’t scheduled to see this seventh-generation model for another year, meaning it will debut as a 2015 model.

Why such a delay? First, production of the Golf is moving to VW’s Puebla, Mexico manufacturing plant, and transitions like that take time. Second, the hatchback Golf will be priced and marketed above the Jetta for the first time, so there’s an unspoken yet obvious need for the quality to be just right.

Volkswagen lovers with an eye on a Golf TDI hatchback are no doubt asking themselves if they should hold out until model year 2015 for the update or snap up a sixth-generation version like the 2013 model. (FWIW, there will be a shortened 2014 model year for the Golf made up of leftover stock of the current version.) To address such dilemmas, we thought we’d pit the two against one another.

Unfortunately, there are no production 2015 VW Golf models yet here in North America, we’re basing this comparison test on an exclusive first drive in a European spec Golf TDI model that we were privileged to experience at an event in Napa recently. (There was also a 2015 VW Golf GTI on hand, but after driving it we felt it was pretty much the same as the last generation GTI: quick yet fluid and comfortable to live with every day. The TDI, on the other hand, was a whole other matter.)

For comparison, we’re using our own 2013 VW Golf TDI — the same one that serves as our daily driver. We love its firm yet smooth six-speed manual gearbox, the effortless torque that makes speeding all too easy, and of course the ability to average 50 miles per gallon on trips from Orange County, California into Los Angeles or down to San Diego. And that figure is without driving so slowly we endanger the lives of other motorists via reckless hypermiling.

JamesHamel-First_Drive_Comparison-_2013_VW_Golf_TDI_vs__2015_-img_1080What Else is Good About the 2013 VW Golf TDI?

We absolutely love our four-door 2013 VW Golf TDI — in part because of its cavernous cargo hold, which offers 15.2 cubic feet of storage underneath the hard cargo cover. The space expands exponentially once the cover is removed or we fold down the split 60/40 second row of seats, creating a mini-SUV level of space. The 2013 Golf TDI comes with a four-wheel independent rear suspension tuned like the GTI, along with a lowered ride height for sure-footed handling. Quite honestly, we look at our TDI as a GTI with lower insurance rates and a greater reputation for reliability.

The Volkswagen Golf has been a brilliantly designed and expertly packaged automobile for decades, and the 2013 model is no exception. There’s plenty of room for four adults, the ride is smooth for a compact car, and wind and road noises are better muted here than in most competitors. Impressively, the clatter of the diesel engine is also inaudible from inside the car once you close the bank vault-solid doors. The only noisy element of the Golf is the air conditioning fan if you turn it up past the lowest setting. On cold mornings, the heater also takes a bit too long, since to the diesel needs more time to warm up. Ah, the drawbacks of 50 miles per gallon.

The 2013 VW Golf TDI is powered by a well-proven and reliable 2.0 liter, 140 horsepower, 236 ft-lbs of torque turbodiesel four-cylinder engine that nets a rather conservative 30 city/42 highway rating from the EPA. Combine that with a 14.5 gallon fuel tank and the typical diesel’s ability to top EPA estimates, and you ensure good cruising ranges.

We’ve also driven the Golf TDI with the optional six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic, and while it’s by no means what we’d prefer, it does manage to make good use of the TDI diesel engine’s plentiful torque. Still, a skilled manual transmission driver will find plenty of fun doing the same thing for herself.

JamesHamel-First_Drive_Comparison-_2013_VW_Golf_TDI_vs__2015_-golf_tdi_interior_2Now How Has VW Improved the 2015 VW Golf TDI and is it Time For a Trade-In?

We were sure we’d made the right buying decision with the 2013 VW Golf TDI until we sped off in the new 2015 model. Now we’re wondering how VW could improve a great all-around vehicle this much. Surely some black magic must have been involved.

In the cabin, the 2015 VW Golf impresses thanks to upgraded plastics quality, a huge audio/phone/navigation screen that’s intuitive to use, and an increased feeling of airiness that makes this car feel anything but compact. On the road, performance is just as good as it’s always been, but there’s now a laser-sharp precision in the six-speed manual gearbox and in the behavior of the 2.0 liter turbodiesel engine. Put simply, the updated diesel is one smooth operator.

On the outside, the 2015 VW Golf TDI may look similar to its 2013 sibling, but honestly, it’s quite a different beast.  First off, the new Golf is over 220 pounds lighter than the last generation, which helps the TDI feel quick off the line. Tweaks to the suspension and steering make the 2015 VW Golf feel not only sportier but also more refined. VW hasn’t been afraid to push the 2015 Golf TDI upmarket even in North America — and given the company’s success with diesels in the U.S. the past few years, we think the confidence is justified.

It probably doesn’t hurt matters that the 2.0 liter turbodiesel has been almost entirely redone with new part designs. Also, like every member of the new EA288 VW engine family, this one has a unique integrated exhaust manifold to improve how quickly the motor warms up, meaning lower emissions and greater efficiency. All of this has led to a power rating of 150 horsepower, 236 ft-lbs of torque, and a VW-estimated improvement in fuel economy of 23%. (Give or take a percent or two depending on the mood of the EPA that day.)

Trade-in the Original or Stay Faithful?

Thankfully, auto journalists don’t make much of an income, so our likelihood of trading in our 2013 VW Golf TDI is slim to remote. Besides, we bought the Golf TDI based in part on its reputation for being able to withstand epic mileages without problems and its ultra-strong residual values. (That is, if we ever sell it. While we would no doubt have bought a 2015 VW Golf TDI had it been available when we were in the market for a car, our 2013 model has now wormed its way into our hearts, meaning the act of selling it to a stranger would be like dropping off our dog at the pound.)

That said, we’re sure our feeling would be the same if we owned a 2015 model — perhaps even more so. The 2015 VW Golf TDI is a definite, marked, and impressive improvement over its already amazing forebear.

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