The Gold Standard Of Compact Cars: The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SEL

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI.
If you have not noticed it, there is a game of follow-the-leader that's been going on in small cars for exactly 40 years now.  It began with the original Volkswagen Rabbit (which was the Golf in Europe). Each time a new generation of the Golf is introduced, it is so right, so clearly focused, that it becomes the template for a contemporary compact.  And then, over the next five years, competitors catch up. Thankfully, five years is the product cycle for the Golf.  The previous generation came along in 2010. Now, in 2015, we have a new Golf.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI
2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI.
The great thing about the Golf is that it is one car with multiple but separate and distinct personalities, depending on the model you choose. A gasoline-powered Golf is a fine all-around compact four-door hatch.  The GTI is a budget sports car.  And the TDI, which we drove, is a fuel economy champ, with performance and efficiency improving with each generation.

The Golf TDI is powered by a 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder clean diesel engine. You can get it with a six-speed manual transmission, in which case the EPA fuel economy estimate is 30 city/45 highway. Select the $1,100 option of a six-speed DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic and sport mode and that improved efficiency I mentioned comes into play.  Unlike the old days when automatics came with a mileage penalty, the automatic transmission actually improves the EPA estimate in the city to 31 miles per gallon.  You are still better off shifting yourself when it comes to highway mileage, though, which drops to 43 with the automatic.

If you have never driven a diesel, or if it has been a few years, there are more surprises.  Apart from a slightly louder idle and some added volume under acceleration from standstill, there are no clues that it's a diesel engine. Smell, smoke and clatter have all been banished.  Despite worries that Volkwagen is losing its German-ness in pursuit of greater market share, that's nowhere in evidence when you drive the 2015 Golf TDI.  It is strong, solid, still possessed of, as they called it 25 years ago, Fahrvegnugen.

Interior view of 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI
2015 Volkswagen Golf interior.
There are three trim levels of Golf TDI:  The base S starts at $22,345 nicely equipped.  The SE adds a panoramic sunroof, a Fender premium audio system and a rearview camera and begins at $25,895. Ours was the top-of-the-line SEL, which includes a touchscreen navigation system, keyless access with pushbutton start and power-adjustable front comfort sport seats. Starting price is $28,395.  So it is possible to get close to the $20,000 mark with an S (you may even find a dealer willing to bargain a bit), or you can hit targets nearer $25,000 and $30,000.

As with most press fleet vehicles, ours came with options.  The Lighting Package includes Bi-Xenon headlamps, and adaptive front lighting, so the headlamps turn with the front wheels.  That was $995. Another $995 went for the Driver Assistance Package, with Park Distance Control and Forward Collision Warning).

With $820 destination charge, the as-tested price was $32,005.  That puts it very close ($545) to the base price of its upscale cousin, the Audi A3 TDI sedan, which our Publisher and Executive Editor will be reviewing in a few days. But there are people who will pay it for the best-equipped Golf TDI.  And, as noted, the SE and S models are nicely-equipped cars for significantly less. It would be hard to go wrong, since the basic Golf underneath it all is so good.