Yet diesel hot hatches still exist, most famously with the Golf GTD.
In the past few months of Golf GTI ownership, I often spot what I think to be a fellow GTI owner, yet closer inspection of the bootlid reveals it to be a GTD, complete with its 181bhp, 280lb ft, 2.0 TDI diesel engine.
Anecdotally, in the south of England where I live at least, there seem to be more people taken in by the prospect of a diesel ‘hot hatch’ than a petrol one. Welcome to 2018, everybody.
So what’s all the fuss about? A week in a GTD left me scratching my head, to be honest. Surely, it must be the fuel economy, the reason so many buyers have flocked to diesel for a generation? It can’t be that: I only managed just shy of 45mpg (official figure of 60.1mpg, but we all know what that number is worth) from a week’s worth of driving no more or less enthusiastically than in the GTI, a car I’m now seeing return more than 40mpg on a regular basis.
I’d put that below-par economy down to the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox. It has a tendency to fidget around the gears and a reluctance to go into top gear, as well as a low-speed jerkiness in stop-start traffic that two passengers also noticed. Give me six gears that I can use with my left hand any day to add some extra range to a tank of fuel, and I’ll also have more fun in the process.
Could it be the GTI experience that GTD buyers think they’re replicating? Hmm, can’t be that, as the two cars are so different that it’s not as simple as them being two sides of the same coin.
The GTD is a hoot off the line if you’ve turned up the radio so you can’t hear the diesel clatter and it grips very well while cornering.
There’s no problem with the ride, either – it’s firm, but in an involving way, much like the GTI – yet it’s the handling where it falls down as a hot hatch. There’s just no encouragement from the chassis for you to want to push it, nor much reward for doing so.
The GTD, then, feels more GT than GTI: lose a letter off the bootlid and you’ll find where the car’s appeal lies. It’s a way to cover big miles quickly and effortlessly; a quicker, better dressed diesel Golf rather than a true alternative to the GTI. For that, it has its place in the Golf range, and that’s why you see so many of them.
And at least you can buy one. For sad, shock news in the Autocar long-term test fleet car park: the manual, non-Performance-Package Golf GTI has been axed from VW’s range.
WLTP, the new real-world fuel economy tests that all manufacturers must comply with by the end of the month and produce a figure for, has done for our version of the GTI, as the Mk7 Golf hasn’t got long enough left in production for it to be worth upgrading to the new requirements for every single model in the Golf range, particularly given how vast VW’s range of cars is and how many tests it has to do to meet the deadline.