Pros: Cool Euro styling, outstanding fuel mileage, well-built German car
Cons: no major complaints - I love this car!
Why a TDI?
My wife and I were looking at used Jettas two years ago. We went to the dealership, and they showed us a 98' Jetta TDI. I didn't think of getting a diesel at the time, but also was unaware of the great improvements to diesel engines that VW has done since my dad owned a 1981 VW diesel pickup. Test driving that thing changed my mind! We ended up passing on the car, but later wished we had bought it, since we later learned that used TDIs with good mileage would be very hard to find. The TDI engine of today has the driveability of a regular gasoline car. It smokes very little, but only when you mash on the gas pedal, and is actually quiet inside. VW has insulated the cars very well, and even with the windows rolled down, it's not that bad. So with about the same performance as a gasoline engine, not really that noisy, hardly smokes at all, plus the great mileage, why not? Shortly after that dealership experience, we ended up buying a new Jetta TDI, and a few months later, my Golf TDI, new as well. I swear by them so much, I bought two of them!
The TDI is a turbo diesel, with sticker mileage of 42/49 city highway. Performance is shockingly good. I have the 5 speed manual transmission, which I recommend over the automatic. The automatic gets slightly lower fuel mileage, and acceleration is slightly less. The engine has almost the same torque (155ft-lbs) as the 1.8T engine, which reveals itself especially when climbing hills. Put the pedal down and it just keeps accelerating. I loaded my Golf up when I moved from TX to AZ, and with 700 pounds of stuff on board, air conditioning blasting, and cruise control set at 80mph, it still got 45 MPG. Around town, I average 43; for highway cruising with a normal load, it tops out around 49 MPG. The engine is very smooth. Turbo lag is unnoticeable, and the only thing about the TDI that's weird to get use to is how low an RPM it takes to get up and going. Normal driving, plus acceleration, can all be done under 3200 RPM.
I bought my Golf new at Herb Easley VW in Wichita Falls, TX. After much study and research, I had decided on two specific options: 1) Luxury package, which is power sunroof and alloy wheels, and 2) the Monsoon sound package, which adds a 180 watt amp to the stereo. With a little research on the Internet, I found the car, options I wanted, color inside and out, but in Tulsa, OK. VW has a program that gets you the car you want usually with 24-48 hours, with the options you want. I actually drove off the Texas dealership lot 48hrs later with the car I found in Tulsa! They had it trucked down to me, and I got it brand new with 26 miles on it. Because of this and the high demand for the TDI model, I could haggle very little on the deal. I paid $19,100 for it, which was about 300 below sticker. My dealership experience was actually very good. Their VW financing actually beat my personal bank by a lot. Their service department was great, and they paid for all the tune-ups through 20,000 miles as part of VW service.
How is it to Drive?
I absolutely love to drive this car! It's zippy and got a fair amount of punch. Handling is smooth, with a nice balance between highway comfort and firmness in cornering. Around town, in and out of traffic is great, with excellent visibility and responsive steering. On the highway, set the cruise control and enjoy the ride. Driving nearly 550 miles before the low fuel light even comes on is a joy. My longest range on one tank was almost 650 miles, which was 10 hrs of non-stop driving. (Bathroom stops not included!) This MORE than makes up for the sometimes lack of diesel fuel at the pump. When on long trips, it's never a problem, as truck stops obviously have the diesel. It's neat when someone asks you, "Is that a diesel?" Around town, I usually track down a couple gas stations that have it at the normal auto pump, then I always go back there. When it's cold, I'd add some anti-gel fuel additive to the tank. My rule of thumb is when it gets below 20F. The owner's manual states that there is a fuel heater somewhere in the system that allows the car to function normally to temperatures down to -5F. I've actually have driven this car when it was around zero degrees out, and not having added any fuel additives to it, and it runs fine; it just makes a little more clattering when you start it up, but once it's warmed up you're fine.
Is it reliable?
Looking at reviews, the Golf ranks very well. Look for yourself. Even though the Jetta is virtually the same car, the Golf outranks it in everything. Theres actually a half inch more rear seat head room in the Golf than the Jetta, due to the hatchback roofline I think. Personally with my Golf, I have had no major problems, nor have I heard of anyone that has. But Ill tell you what Ive experienced with mine. Upon delivery when new, the drivers seat made a creaking noise when I pushed my back into it. The dealership found a cracked seat frame and replaced it free under warranty. More than a year after owning it, the back windows (both sides) had a glitch when I rolled them down, they worked fine, but occasionally when I went to roll them up, they would come up a little, then roll back down all by themselves. I took it to Beaudry VW in Tucson and the service manager said it was a pinch sensor fault, and it happens quite frequently. The power window somehow senses resistance when going up, falsely thinking somethings in the way (i.e. a persons arm, hand, etc) and as a safety measure, rolls back down. VW knows about the problem and replaced my window motors free under warranty. I believe theres no mileage limit on this problem. Maintenance wise, VW uses Castrol Syntec 5w40 full synthetic oil. You will never find this weight oil on the shelf at any auto parts store. VW is the only seller of it, and their oil changes can cost $50. My service manager advised me of this, and said you can substitute Castrol Syntec 5w30 oil, buy it and bring it in to save a few bucks. The owners manual says 5w30 is authorized. One difference with the TDI is that the water separator needs to be drained every oil change. This removes water from the fuel. I'd verbally remind the service manager to make sure this gets done. So far, Ive always paid the money to have my car serviced by VW. I bought the car new, and want it to last. I may do my own oil, but thats it. From what people tell me, diesel engines last significantly longer than gasoline engines, and I want to make sure my lasts a good long life!
I bought the car new, because I couldn't find a used one - they're nearly impossible to find with good miles on them. However, I don't regret it for a minute. I got the exact car I wanted, and cannot be more please with it. Go out and drive one and see for yourself!