A diesel hot-hatch with good looks, plentiful pull and frugal thirst
Fuel prices aren't as expensive in NZ as they are in the UK - yet. But fuel-frugal cars will become increasingly desirable in coming years, and increasingly acceptable.
Acceptable enough for hot-hatches to take the diesel route? It's already happened in Europe, hence my UK drive of this Volkswagon Golf GTD.
It's a sibling to the petrol GTI, so there are dynamic and cosmetic changes inside and out. The sports suspension is also lowered - by 15mm for the GTD, not the GTI's 22mm. And of course there's the engine. It's a 2.0-litre common rail turbo diesel, with 128kW and 350Nm of torque put to the ground via a six-speed DSG double-clutch transmission.
That's an impressive torque figure, 70Nm more than the petrol, and you certainly feel it. Hit the torque band and the car's little more than a leaf cresting a surging tidal wave of grunt; stirring stuff.
Shame it doesn't handle well enough to make the most of it. Not that I noticed at first - English roads are so crowded with traffic - and heavily policed built-up areas - that initial impressions all involved the torque's ability to shove you off the line.
It took a very early Sunday morning to discover empty roads and the car's Achilles heel. Or heels. For it's over a second slower than the petrol GTI from zero to 100, the engine's response a sledgehammer that lacks the instant pick-up of the petrol car.
Likewise the handling is less immediate, less nimble - and too prone to understeer. Despite the adjustable dampers. 'Sport' was too firm for everyday driving, 'comfort' almost too plush. I mostly stuck to 'normal', but whatever I chose the car attacked any set of bends with a disappointing lack of agility.
That said, on UK roads the GTD's benefits - good looks, plentiful pull and frugal thirst - were always appreciated.
I averaged 5.4l/100km after one long trip largely spent on motorways, albeit traffic-choked ones, and my average for around 500km of largely urban-style motoring was 6.5l/100km.
The cabin's smart and well laid out; the rear seats as comfy as the five door car's, albeit slightly less easy to access via those wide-opening front doors.
The boot is roomy enough and well finished, and the honeycomb grille and various GT flourishes are all guaranteed to please.
This car isn't yet available in NZ, though it's under consideration. If it undercuts the GTI it could find a market for folk seeking a more frugal alternative, that nevertheless looks and handles a little better than the standard diesel Golf runabout.
But if it's pitched at GTI prices it will not sell, for it doesn't offer the driving thrills GTI buyers seek, and the reduced thirst won't be sufficient compensation to offset that.