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What’s actually new about the new VW Golf GTD? If I’m completely honest with you, not a great deal. The VW Golf range’s diesel hot hatch still uses the same 2.0 turbodiesel four-cylinder to send the same 184bhp and 258lb ft to the same front wheels. It still takes 7.5 seconds to reach 62mph, will cover 50mph to 75mph in 6.0 seconds and hits a 143mph top speed. The claimed economy is 64.2mpg, emitting 114g/km of CO2. Looks a tiny bit different… There’s an all-LED light set-up for the front and rear clusters and ever-so-slightly tweaked 18-inch alloys.
Inside, there’s the option of Active Info Display dials, the new Discover Pro touchscreen system and utterly useless gesture control we found to be a holy trinity of tedious gimmickry in the new Golf GTI. Which, come to it, isn’t hugely new either. But the GTD’s always been good, right? Yep, and the GTD is also Britain’s most popular Golf. Among the 130 or so permutations of engine, gearbox, body style and trim, no version of Golf is more popular than a DSG-equipped GTD - it makes up three per cent of all Golfs shifted. It’s a fleet sales phenomenon, qualifying for Band C tax while offering young professionals an incredibly complete and rather classy company car. The poor old GTI is outsold six-to-one by its diesel twin. For the time being… Is it good to drive? Pretty damn great. We’ll come onto diesel’s impending problems shortly - which stretch far further than hashtag dieselgate - but as a product, as a fast and frugal all-occasion family car, the Golf GTD slots right in alongside a BMW 335d Touring or Volvo V90 Cross Country as one of those ultimate ‘all the car you’d ever really need’ machines. It’s quick – quick enough to make the front tyres hunt for grip in first and second – but never unruly enough to trouble the sharp, ideally weighted steering with yobbish torque-steer. The six-speed manual is just as satisfying as in the GTI (even if the reward for extending revs isn’t), the driving position is irreproachable and the monochrome tartan seats pretty much perfect. The TDI engine itself spins pleasingly freely, idles incredibly smoothly, and thanks to some speaker cheating, delivers a fairly bassy if not entirely interesting noise that does just enough to remind you that this is the quick one. If you’re wondering where exactly the GTI claws ground back on the crushingly complete GTD, it’s in the corners, where there’s no avoiding the extra 31kg the GTD saddles over its nose. It’s not quite as keen to turn in, not quite as settled in direction changes, and leans harder on its tyre sidewalls. Still, it’s a mighty effort for a turbodiesel hatch to feel anything like this enthusiastic. So, if it’s so complete, why do we fear for the future of the GTD’s sub-niche? Because diesel, off the back of the VW emissions scandal, is coming under major pressure from exactly what propelled it to major success in the first place: government. The same legislatures that lauded its low-CO2 and concocted tax breaks to match are now plotting heavy penalties for lung-harming particulate emissions, with London, Paris and Barcelona all proposing to ban diesel passenger cars from their city limits within the decade. That means we could small urban-suited cars switch to petrol and electric power, returning diesel to long-distance and freight-hauling duties. VW has mooted the next Polo will be the last to feature a diesel. Diesel Golfs, including the GTD, will likely survive for the Mk8 generation that’ll arrive by 2020. But beyond that, the car you see here may well be usurped by the likes of an updated plug-in Golf GTE hybrid…
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