New engine technology aims to restore credibility for TDI power, and the Mk8 Golf benefits handsomely

What is it?

Not so long ago, if you wanted an everyday car with good performance, excellent fuel economy and even better ergonomics, you bought a turbodiesel Volkswagen Golf.

British roads overflowed with these cars, whose relative dullness, it seemed at the time, was the reasonable price to pay for vice-free motoring in many other respects.

But we all know what happened next, and lately the pick of the Golf’s engine line-up has been the 1.5-litre TSI – a smooth-spinning, downsized petrol that for the eighth-generation car has also been fitted with 48V mild-hybrid tech.

It’s unlikely any diesel-propelled Golf will ever again enjoy such popularity, but the Mk8 version is nevertheless here and, according to Volkswagen’s engineers, TDI power is now even cleaner than the equivalent petrol model.

That’s because a new ‘twin-dosing’ system hits exhaust gases with AdBlue upstream of not one but two selective catalytic reduction (SCR) sites that together act on the gases over a broad temperature range to cut nitrogen oxide concentrations by 80% compared with the old model.

It all sounds quite heavy duty, but it makes the latest diesel Golf exceptionally clean too. Of course, this car also needs to bring owners the more tangible benefit of sipping fuel in religiously frugal fashion. Volkswagen hasn’t released official numbers yet but, on the basis that fuel consumption is said to be 17% better than the outgoing TDI engine, the combined economy figure should better 60mpg by WLTP standards.

On paper, it is an almost unbelievable improvement, but then again this EA288 Evo engine is almost entirely new, with significantly lower mechanical losses than the old unit. A full road test will help reveal the truth, but it seems likely that this TDI will be the most frugal Golf in the current line-up, more so perhaps than the 245bhp GTE plug-in hybrid due next year, depending on your mileage.

As for the engine itself, displacement is two litres, with the old 1.6-litre now history not only in terms of hardware but in concept. There are, however, two power outputs for this larger four-cylinder in order to cater for both those who want nothing more than a steady tool car and also those who would like some bite to match the Mk8’s visual bark.

You can then have either a seven-speed dual-clutch or six-speed manual transmission, and it’s the former Autocar has driven, mated to the more powerful 148bhp engine (versus 109bhp), which generates its peak torque output of 266lb ft from only 1750rpm.

What's it like?

Out on the road, the plain, easygoing drivability of bygone TDI Golfs remains. Overly conservative gearshift mapping has become a problem in petrol-engined cars programmed to game economy tests, but here diesel torque smothers the issue and the shifts themselves are, for the most part, impressively smooth.

There is genuine progress elsewhere, too. As we discovered during our recent first drive of the mild-hybrid 1.5 eTSI, this new Golf steers with genuine precision on its stiffened-up MQB chassis. In a first for any VW Group product, the dampers now firm up on outside and soften on the inside to further help the car rotate into and through bends, and you really need to go looking for it to experience any meaningful understeer.

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Ride quality is generally good – supple, and mostly without the float – though our car was fitted with DCC adaptive damping and, as with all Golf variants touting 148bhp or more, independent rear suspension in place of the standard torsion beam. High-spec, in other words, though on our test route there was still just enough fussing over bridge expansion joints and the like to suggest that 18in wheels will be best avoided in Britain.

As for the engine, perhaps as a consequence of the progress made in curbing emissions, under load its note is coarser than expected. It's not a deal-breaker, just a little out of step with an interior and ambience that otherwise reeks of polish and maturity.

Volkswagen's decision to deploy its new 'Innovision cockpit', with almost entirely touch-sensitive switchgear, isn't entirely successful and finding the right control or command can be a frustratingly iterative process. However, the architecture of this new cabin and materials quality at times makes a Mercedes A-Class seem cheap and a BMW 1 Series just a touch claustrophobic.

And, consequently, for a family hatchback that now offers maturity in spades, we'd expect a touch more class in the engine bay. This lack of sophistication is especially noticeable when pulling away from junctions or out of third-gear corners, when the TDI unit growls too enthusiastically. 

Which isn't to say that this engine is unrefined in general. At motorway speeds, when seventh gear will drop crankshaft speeds to just 1500rpm, it's so discreet as to be undetectable, and even the small amount of wind noise generated by the shapely door mirrors is exposed.

For many, that will be a price worth paying in return for the balloon of easily accessible torque. It’s still the defining characteristic of the car, and something that will make this TDI usefully more responsive than the TSI or even the hybrid eTSI when loaded up with passengers or luggage.

In the lower gears, the power delivery can seem hesitant before dramatically piling on propulsive force at around 2000rpm, but once into third gear it will spin out in impressively linear fashion for a diesel workhorse, even if there’s no point in ever venturing beyond 4000rpm.  

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Should I buy one?

Without knowing the exact price of the car or how far it will go on a tank of fuel, we can't answer this. As with the Mk7, the Mk8 Golf is probably now the car with the greatest all-round appeal in this class, and an economical diesel engine so refined at a cruise will do nothing to stunt its appeal as an everyday proposition for high-mileage drivers, even if the TSI is the more engaging motor.

Admittedly, we could argue that the engine in the equivalent BMW 1 Series has greater breadth. That car's handling is also more involving and the interior technology quite a bit more intuitive, but ergonomics and in particular rear head room remain a problem. It's also debatable whether the Mercedes A-Class rides well enough to properly challenge this new Golf, while the Audi A3 is ageing and the latest Focus desperately lacks the air of sophistication.

All of this before you consider the Volkswagen's vast suite of safety technologies and a cockpit that, for its usability foibles, looks and feels the part. So, if you'll forgive the cop-out, we'll reserve judgment until there's been a proper diesel-hatch showdown with all the major players back on British roads.  

Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI specification

Where Porto, Portugal Price £28,000 (est) On sale Spring 2020 Engine 4 cyls in line, 1968cc, turbodiesel Power 148bhp at 3500-4000rpm Torque 266lb ft at 1750-3000rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1400kg (est) Top speed 139mph 0-62mph 8.8sec Economy WLTP figures tbc CO2 WLTP figures tbc Rivals BMW 118d, Mercedes A220d

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

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Add a comment…
Mini2 5 December 2019

Focus... lacking sophistication?

I might be biased but from what I've seen I don't know how the Focus particularly lacks this new Golf's sophistication. The Focus has soft touch materials all over the front and rear doors - these have been deleted on the new Golf's rear doors, resulting in a cheaper feel. The Focus also has more legroom in the back. Everyone that steps in to mine is amazed at the perceived quality. It's got proper heating switches. And loads of standard spec that I know just won't be standard on the equivalent Golf of the Mk7.5 was anything to go by. I like it, but this Golf hasn't moved the game on in the same way as the Mk7 did back in 2012.  

Also, plenty of people will still need a diesel like this if they drive high mileages on motorways and don't have driveways to charge an EV. There's still 5-10 years left of that as we continue the move across to electric. 

jagdavey 5 December 2019

Just a "facelift" of the Mk8 really!!

If you look closely at this allegdly new model you'll see that all the glass is carryover & the wheelbase is exactly the same. So it's not really new is it??? I bet this will be the last Golf before it's replaced fully by the electric ID 3.

Pawel72 5 December 2019

Just disappointed....

Car of the Year 2020
Seven candidates form the list of nominees for Car of the Year 2020 award after a first vote of the 60 Jury members
1. BMW 1-Series2. Ford Puma3. Peugeot 2084. Porsche Taycan5. Renault Clio6. Tesla Model 37. Toyota Corolla..
Do they have forgotten the "new" Vw Golf.., oh mein Gott and why !??
Maybe he interior looks cheap ..?
And what about engines .., do they aims to restore credibility for TDI power..??
Of course we are all blind and brainless...