Gobs of torque, efficiency make the TDI the best of the Mk7 Golfs

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/ Updated: May 15, 2014 6:47 PM PDT

Editor's note: Portions of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI review have been reproduced here. Aside from their different power-trains, the vehicles' tech, styling, and safety features are largely identical.

This is the 2015 Volkswagen Golf, the seventh-generation (or Mk7) of the hatchback. Doesn't look much different from the last, does it?

The Golf's understated, timeless style may not change much from generation to generation, but there's quite a bit new happening under the skin. For starters, the overall length from nose to tail has been stretched by 2.1 inches with 1.7 inches of that being occupied by an elongated wheelbase. This nets the Mk7 more shoulder and leg room for people and cargo -- VW claims that the new Golf's hatchback volume is now greater than any midsized sedan, even with the rear seats up.

Though it grows in footprint, the new Golf's height has decreased by 1.1 inches, which gives the hatchback a low-slung sporty look and keeps the car feeling compact. The Mk7's new MBQ (translated from German to "Modular Transverse Matrix") chassis makes increased use of lightweight materials with more high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel. The bare body-in-white is 51 pounds lighter than the previous model and curb weight is up to 82 pounds lighter, depending on trim and options.

The lighter MBQ chassis is also stiffer, which results in a more controlled ride and predictable handling.

Under the hood, you'll find any of a variety of engine choices, including gasoline, diesel, and even an electric option. We've already discussed the base model's 1.8-liter TSI engine and the GTI's 2.0-liter TSI, but today we're talking about the new turbodiesel engine of this TDI model.

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The TDI engine has less horsepower than the gasoline version, but boasts so much more torque Antuan Goodwin/CNET

VW's engineers refer to the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder TDI Clean Diesel engine as the EA288. Though it shares its displacement with the TDI engine of the previous generation Golf and Jetta, we're told that the EA288 is new from the ground up. One of the first in the new MDQ (or "Modular Diesel Matrix") series of engines. It's lighter, more compact, and more thermally efficient than its predecessor. The throttle is more responsive and engine vibration has been reduced.

I won't go into the particulars of counter-rotating balancer shafts and low friction camshafts, but the upshot is that the new TDI gains 10 horsepower over the old 2.0-liter. Even then, maximum power is still just 150 ponies, but the strongest argument for diesel has always been the torque, which sits at 236 pound-feet.

WIth the standard six-speed manual transmission, the 2015 Golf TDI should roll an estimated 31 mpg in the city and 42 miles on the highway. Fuel economy estimates for the optional six-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission are yet unpublished, but shouldn't be far off of the manual gearbox's benchmark.

I tested the Golf TDI that was equipped with the DSG. On the road, the TDI is perhaps best described as "effortless." With gobs of torque on tap and short tachometer swing that keeps the RPMs low, the Golf TDI never really feels like it's working hard even when moving along at a reasonable clip. Press into the throttle and the hatchback surges forward, not overwhelmingly so, but with confidence.

A fat, flat torque curve, quick shifts by the DSG, and better spaced gears mean that the TDI was never caught outside of its engine sweet spot or between gear ratios like the 5-speed TSI was. Were I choosing a non-GTI Golf model, I'd be seriously considering paying a few bucks more for the TDI/DSG combo.

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The Golf's interior continues to improve as it enters its seventh-generation. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The interior features upgraded materials and visual textures. I was fooled momentarily into thinking that was real metal trim on the dashboard. A probing tap revealed it to be metallic plastic, albeit attractive plastic that I wouldn't mind staring on my daily commute.

The controls for the HVAC system and stereo system were logically laid out and clearly marked. The chunky steering wheel feels good in the hand, but I found the thumb-activated buttons to be a bit oddly organized. Then again, I only had a few hours behind the wheel to deal with that learning curve.

In classic Golf fashion, the instrument cluster uses simple white on black graphics that are easy to see in all conditions. Between the large analog gauges is a monochromatic multi-information display that puts everything from hands-free call information to audio source data at a glance.

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Whether you choose navigation or not, all 2015 Golf models will feature MIB touchscreen infotainment. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In addition to that screen, all 2015 Golf models will feature a 5.8-inch touchscreen as part of the new MIB infotainment system, which stands for "Modular Infotainment" Something-in-German. The list of standard audio sources is admirable, including HD Radio, USB and SD card connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming and being a modular system, it's easily upgradable to add other features, such as GPS navigation. It would appear that the upgrading happens in the glovebox, where you'll find optical media slots and way more SD card slots and holders than you'll probably ever need.

Navigation was simple enough to use and featured decent graphics, but I couldn't help but think that the map imagery seemed oddly low-resolution, particularly when compared to the rest of the MIB system's crisply rendered graphics for menus and audio source display. The Mk7 Golf with its MIB system is also one of the first vehicles that we've seen with a native Apple Lightning dongle hanging out of it's center stack for fast iPhone connectivity. Our iPhone-toting Senior Editor was happy to see this addition, even if he poo-pooed VW's continued use of the awkward, proprietary MDI connection.

VW's Car-Net telematics system makes a return appearance for this generation, but we weren't able to spend a lot of time poking around for new features.

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The Golf adds a few new driver aid technologies, such as forward pre-collision alert, but continues to lag slightly behind the competition in this respect. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Driver aid and safety tech is limited to an available forward-collision warning system, rear camera, and park distance sensors, all of which are optional features. It's slightly disappointing to see the VW lacking a blind-spot monitoring system, which you'll find on its competitors, but the Golf's corner visibility is pretty good.

The most unique safety feature is one that you'll never hope to use: a post-collision braking system that automatically engages the Golf's brakes in the event of a collision to prevent secondary collisions after the initial impact.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI and TDI will launch alongside the GTI Mk7 this year and be joined by the Golf R and Golf Sportwagen in 2015. Pricing for the TDI will range from $21,995 for the entry S trim level to $27,995 for the range-topping SEL model. Generally speaking, the TDI is about $2,000 more than its gasoline turbo counterpart and you'll add $1,100 more for the DSG transmission -- money well spent, in my opinion.

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