If you have any plans to drive through this chaos, the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI (starting MSRP $23,095, $25,610 as tested) should be on your short list of cars to choose from. Despite its shortcomings, the all-new diesel Golf is just as comfortable scooting around the city as high-tailing it onto the nearest highway.
The seventh generation Golf takes everything we've loved about VW hatchbacks past, but ups interior volume while simultaneously shedding weight. That makes it feel roomier and more nimble. Backseat room is adequate, and those seats fold down if you're bringing home ready-to-assemble furniture or bulk-bought groceries.
Most importantly, the car itself fits just about anywhere. You'll have no problem squeezing down narrow streets, and the Golf's truncated trunk should make parallel parking a breeze.
But the best thing about having a car in the city? Getting out of the city. And that's where the Golf TDI shined. My highway mileage matched the EPA's estimate of 43 mpg, and on a full tank I could've driven all the way from Boston to the mountains of West Virginia on a single tank of diesel, if I'd so desired.
To put it another way, if you buy the TDI and drive 10,000 miles a year, you'll only have to fill up about every three weeks.
The tradeoff? Well, with its 150 hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine, you won't mistake the Golf TDI for a performance car. But it's no slouch if you're merging into traffic, and—thanks to the diesel engine's high torque—should feel most lively in city driving. This is the first Golf to feature electronic power steering, but it didn't feel flighty or numb.
The tester I drove also featured VW's optional six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, which occasionally had difficulties downshifting. Revs tended to hang, and more than once I had to double check to make sure I hadn't accidentally shifted into Sport mode.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play with VW's upgraded navigation system, as the car I drove only had the base infotainment setup.
Remarkably, there's no USB connection—there's only a Lightning plug that fits newer iPhones. VW says it's remedying that omission for the 2016 model year, and I say the sooner the better. Android, Windows, and Blackberry users can still stream audio over Bluetooth, but that's it.
Oddly, there are a multitude of places to insert SD cards—and there's even a CD player in the ventilated glovebox.
As for the infotainment system itself, it relies on a small screen—but it does let users choose whether to use a touchscreen or physical controls. Overall, I found it to be more responsive and easier to use than systems in previous VWs, but nothing special when compared to the competition.
But if you're willing to put up with tech that's anything but cutting edge, the rest of the Golf's dashboard looks quite modern. Clean lines, easy-to-read dials, hidden storage, and wide expanses of open space feel more Scandinavian than German.
It's precisely that simplicity that makes the TDI so appealing. There's room for you, room for your stuff, and no wasted space. Add in miserly fuel economy and a small footprint, and you've got the ideal car for driving through—and getting out of—a crowded city.
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