2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SEL Review

Steve Lynch
by Steve Lynch
2015 volkswagen golf tdi sel review

Why yes, it has been only three weeks since our last Volkswagen Golf feature story. Why do you ask?

Maybe it’s because the little VW is on fire. The car is nearly single-handedly bringing back hatchback sales with the introduction last year of its 7th generation model. Winner of numerous national and international auto journo awards, MkVII Golf sales in the U.S. are up 230% through June over the same period last year, and are tracking towards a record-setting 84,000 sales for 2015.

There are two 2015 Golfs in my driveway this week: my own two-door GTI 6-speed and today’s tester, the above four-door TDI SEL with the DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. This is not a comparison test but the variation between the two cars’ equipment levels makes for some interesting perspectives.

The wide range of 2015 Golf models and drivetrain options available is one reason for all the hype and sales growth. From the base Golf to the sporty GTI, the all-electric e-Golf to the 292 hp all-wheel drive Golf R, and even this TDI Clean Diesel, Volkswagen has all hatchback prospects covered.

The Golf TDI’s turbocharged and intercooled 4-cylinder diesel motor produces 150 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and 236 lb-ft of torque at only 1,750 rpm. Our tester came with Volkswagen’s slick dual-clutch six-speed DSG transmission. A handful of diesel TDIs are produced with a 6-speed manual transmission, but are actually slightly slower in acceleration than DSG-equipped cars. (A friend at a West Coast Volkswagen/Audi store thinks that VW only builds stick-shift diesels to satisfy the TDI “evangelist” — owners who are on their third diesel and sit around his showroom while their cars are in for service, telling everyone how their 200,000-mile TDI is still on its original clutch. He says they are the same folks who ask about “that European diesel that gets 70 mpg that Volkswagen won’t sell in the US.”)

The car comes in three versions, all available as a four-door model only. The base S model starts at $22,345 and comes well equipped with heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, side curtain airbags, a hill holder (!), split folding rear seats, rear wiper and washer, and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

Step up to the $25,895 SE model and you add 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a power glass sunroof, heated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front fog lights, a rearview camera and a 400-watt Fender audio system.

Our tester is the top of the line SEL model wearing an MSRP of $28,329. It adds 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a navigation system, automatic climate control, keyless entry, push-button start and a 12-way power driver’s seat. Our tester had pleasant grey and black “pleather” seats. (In the strange world of Volkswagen option packages, leather seating is only available on the sporty GTI and R models.)

Our car also came with the $995 Lighting Package, which features bi-xenon headlights and an adaptive front-lighting system I found far superior to the standard lighting on my GTI. The $695 Driver Assistance Package, which includes front and rear parking distance control and a forward collision warning alarm, was a bit sensitive. I also think the package needs to add blind spot warnings in the mirrors to make it a worthwhile value.

The total MSRP of our TDI was a heart-stopping $32,005. According to auto broker TrueCar, the average discount available nationwide on this model is around $1,050. Volkswagen is currently offering 1.9% APR financing for up to 60 months on all TDIs, as well as a $249/month lease special for 36 months on the base model TDI.

A full 76% of the TDIs available for sale within 200 miles of me are the base S model. My Volkswagen dealer friend says the SEL variant sells well but availability is scarce so, like I learned with my GTI, getting the exact options and color you want will be near-impossible unless you are willing to order one and wait 6 months.

The TDI’s 18-inch wheels and Night Blue Metallic paint actually makes the hatchback look downright luxurious. (I wanted to use the phrase “screams luxurious” but then I would have to determine what my two-door GTI “screams” and all I could think of was “USC exchange student.”)

I have previously lamented how I should have purchased the 4-door variant of the GTI and the TDI drives the point home: while interior volume is identical on two- and four-door Golfs, ingress and egress to the roomy back seat can be a pain. Fold down the rear seats and you have the cargo room of a small CUV.

I have also learned why I’m apparently the only Golf owner who likes the 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment center: my GTI does not have navigation. This TDI has this option and, between the too-small screen and its too-low location (not to mention its silly graphics), the system is awful. Word is that an 8-inch touchscreen is coming next year on all VWs. As I said about my GTI, the dash and controls are near Audi-worthy.

The TDI’s keyless start/stop button is located on the console next to the shift lever — exactly where it belongs — rather than on the dash. You can push the button and grab the shift lever in one simple move. Why do most other carmakers put it on the dashboard?

At idle, the torquey diesel is barely louder than a direct injection Mercedes. Hit the accelerator from a standing start and you discover what may be the TDI’s biggest glitch: a hesitation followed by a too-sudden drivetrain engagement, enough to squeal the tires at three-fourth’s throttle. Our esteemed Managing Editor noticed the same thing in his test of a TDI Jetta. After a week in the saddle, I barely noticed it.

The TDI has been clocked at around 8 seconds for the 0 to 60 sprint. For most traffic situations, the car responds instantly to your right foot. It could use a little more highway passing power, but that is the price you pay for great fuel economy. The DSG shifter lived up to its hype: shifts are crisp and quick whether in automatic or manual mode.

While not quite a GTI, the TDI is also a lot of fun in the curves. It remains stable and firmly planted, though does share the slightly-sloppy steering of other Golf models. I did miss the World’s Largest Dead Pedal from my GTI in the turns.

The TDI eats up the miles on the open road with little tire or wind noise. My only complaint was a bit of monkey butt after a few hours from the seats being a bit too hard, but I will take that as the seats are super-supportive.

The TDI is EPA rated at 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway. This car’s fuel consumption indicator showed 41.0 mpg after a spirited mixed-use 350 mile run. I was skeptical of this number and sure enough, upon fill-up I hand-calculated the drive at 38.6 mpg. It turns out that other media outlets have also spotted this over-optimism of the fuel economy calculator. Let us hope that at least the Golf’s speedometer is accurate. (Perhaps we should add the feature from 1970s buff book tests that measured “Actual” vs. “Indicated” speedometer numbers. I seem to recall “Indicated” speed was usually 3 to 10% higher than “Actual” speed before Japanese brands came along and started hitting the mph number on the head.)

Two- and four-door Golfs have the same exterior dimensions and interior volume.

What kept running through my mind as I was testing the TDI was that this automobile is two steps away — leather seats and better navigation — from being an Audi A3. Apparently Audi agrees as they are bringing back the A3 Sportback this year and among its engine options will be the TDI motor.

My friend at the VW/Audi dealership notes that the A3 hatch may hurt the TDI as Audi’s superior residual values means that lease payments on a higher-priced Audi may actually be lower than those on a VW TDI, as is currently the case on the A3 TDI Sedan. Although few diesel customers lease their cars, this payment disparity is one of the challenges created by Audi and Volkswagen sharing platforms.

The Golf TDI is a sophisticated high-mileage hatch that does a lot of things well. It is the most fun you can have at 40 mpg.


  • Another variation of the all-around goodness of the Golf
  • Smooth and quiet TDI diesel motor
  • An Audi in disguise

Nit Pics:

  • Out-of-date navigation system and display
  • Loaded SEL model is pricey at $32,000
  • Off-the-line acceleration hesitation

Wife Sez: So tell me again why we did not get a moonroof in our GTI?

Volkswagen provided vehicle for one week along with insurance and one tank of gas.

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3 of 89 comments
  • Analoggrotto As we Tesla owners receive our life energy from the greatest son of the gods of all time, Elon Musk; His cherubs and His nephilim may remove whatever they wish from us for unto him we owe all for our superiority above all the rest of humanity.
  • Kcflyer Nice to see California giving NY some competition to be the worst run state in the union.
  • Wolfwagen I see my comment was deleted (BTW nice way to censor) so i will say it again:GTFO here with the pseudo "wealth distribution" BS. A crime is a crime is a crime.Its a slippery slope, what happens next, Jail a rich guy when he kills a pedestrian and let the poor guy who kills a pedestrian walk? What about if the poor guy is a crappy driver and has the record to prove it then what?Or we could go crazy and just institute the death penalty across the board for every driving infraction. That will make people better drivers or stop driving altogether which will make the greenies happy (damm it I just gave them an idea - SOB!!!)
  • Wolfwagen No. Bring back the J80 with an inline six and reduced electronics (i.e. no giant touch screen) and they will probably sell like hotcakes
  • David S. " test vehicles sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic."??? Test vehicles are programmed by humans, HUMANS sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic, Duh!!