In July last year, I reviewed my then-new 2011 Golf TDI. I talked about the car’s standard features and gave my overall driving impressions, but with just 2,000 miles clocked on the odometer, I hadn’t yet become aware of some of the issues and conveniences that may come up on a lengthy road trip. I also couldn’t report real-world gas mileage since the car was still in the break-in period. However, having just completed a two-day, 1,100+ mile trip from Tampa, FL to Alexandria, VA (with a stop in Atlanta), I can safely say the Golf TDI is a great car for long hauls.
The biggest support for this claim is the diesel engine’s insane highway efficiency. At the end of day one (June 9, Tampa to Atlanta on I-75), the Golf’s trip computer showed that I traveled 502 miles and achieved 45.3 miles per gallon (MPG). The Road Trip App was used to calculate gas mileage for this segment, and came out slightly lower, at 44 MPG–either is method is perfect, so for me the two are close enough. Had I driven it to empty, info from the Road Trip App indicates that the 14.5 gallon tank would have been good for 638 miles. After day two (June 10, Atlanta to Alexandria via I-85 and I-95), the display indicated that I drove 615 miles, while returning an impressive 48.8 MPG, which yields a theoretical range of 708 miles. I noticed the average go way up during moderate traffic, which slowed speeds to around 55 MPH. Based on numbers in a MotorTrend article, the fuel consumption on the second day was roughly equivalent to slightly more than one teaspoon of diesel burned every four seconds. My explanation for the nearly 5-MPG discrepancy is the fact that Atlanta’s elevation (738-1,050 ft) is higher than that of Tampa (48 ft) and Alexandria (39 ft).
Despite my results, the Environmental Protection Agency’s highway rating for the Golf TDI is just 42 MPG. The best part, however, was that I didn’t have to try very hard to beat those numbers. No hypermiling techniques were used–just mindfulness of fuel consumption and cruise control. I drove with the AC on and with the flow of traffic. Average speeds for the two-day trip were 66 MPH on the first day and 64 MPH on the second day. The only time I watched my speed was when it got into the mid- to high-70 MPH range. Using the instant MPG display, I realized that 72-75 MPH is the threshold for 40+ MPG. Yes, there are people who claim to have achieved 84 MPG in a VW Passat equipped with the same engine, but I really wanted to see what the car would do under normal driving conditions.
In addition to the liberating highway range, the modern amenities in the Golf also shone on my road trip. Bluetooth streaming proved to be invaluable on my trip. Whenever I got sick of my own music, I just fired up Pandora and played it wirelessly for hours over the stereo (thank you soon-to-depart unlimited data plan). The sound quality is surprisingly good, and the music info is even displayed in the media/navigation screen if the phone is plugged in. Another entertainment-related convenience is the inclusion of an iPod/iPhone connector as standard. I’m thankful the cable was even included since most carmakers charge a ridiculous fee, but I have three complaints: (a) the cord is too short, (b) it sometimes takes a while for the car’s media screen to recognize that inputs have been swapped (eg, switching from a wired input to Bluetooth), and (c) you have to plug-in your Apple device after starting the car for it to be recognized, even if it was plugged-in when the car was previously started (this became very annoying after leaving rest stops).
The last complaint I have about the Golf TDI involves its power delivery. As I mentioned in the last article, the Golf suffers from a rubbery powerband due to a peaky torque curve (see this graph from Malone Tuning) and turbo lag. Since I have a manual transmission and try to follow the car’s gear suggestion prompt in the instrument cluster, I’m usually in sixth gear by 45 MPH. It’s great for fuel efficiency, but you always have to be ready to shift down a couple gears on hills or if you’re speeding up to merge in traffic.
You might think I’d be tired of the Golf after driving it over a thousand miles in two days, but I’m not. The seats proved to be very comfortable, and despite the long solo trip and its shortcomings in terms of power, I still enjoy driving it as much as I did when I first got it.