The sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf, heralded by European automotive media as World Car of the Year, finally comes to U.S. showrooms this fall and instantly is the most fuel-efficient, non-hybrid compact car for 2010.
The top fuel mileage rating for the 2010 Golf is 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 42 mpg on the highway. This is for a Golf with diesel four-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission and no electric motor hybrid technology.
Don't worry. The Golf's real claim to fame -- its decades-long reputation as a fun, sporty, little hatchback -- remains.
In fact, the 2010 Golf with its fuel-sipping engine -- a 2-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel with direct injection -- generates the most torque at the lowest engine rpm of any small, sporty, non-luxury hatchback on the market.
The peak torque of 236 foot-pounds comes on by 1,750 rpm, which explains why the heads of passengers in the 2010 Golf TDI can push back into the seats even when the driver pulls away from city stop signs.
The strong power can come on so quickly, the driver had better pay close attention to the speedometer.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price including destination charge is $18,190, $1,190 higher than last year's base model.
This price is for a two-door Golf with 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, gasoline-powered, five-cylinder, manual transmission and a fuel economy rating of 22/30 mpg. Torque tops out at 177 foot-pounds at a high rpm of 4,250.
The most prized Golf -- with a 140-horsepower, turbodiesel engine under the hood -- has a starting retail price of $22,890 with six-speed manual transmission.
2010 VW Golf TDI 4-Dr
- BASE PRICE: $17,490 for base 2-door, gasoline model with manual transmission; $18,590 for 2-door, gasoline automatic model; $19,190 for 4-door, gasoline automatic; $21,990 for 2-door, diesel, manual model; $22,590 for 4-door, diesel manual model; $23,090 for 2-door, diesel automatic; $23,690 for 4-door, diesel automatic.
- AS TESTED: $24,589.
- TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact hatchback.
- ENGINE: 2-liter, turbocharged and direct injection, diesel, inline four cylinder.
- MILEAGE: 30 mpg (city), 42 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 125 mph.
- LENGTH: 165.4 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 101.5 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,041 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Germany.
- OPTIONS: None.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $700.
A diesel Golf with six-speed automatic starts at $23,989. Note this is a Direct-Shift Gearbox automatic with sequential shift that a driver can operate without using a clutch pedal. DSG transmissions, also sometimes called "manual automatics," are better than regular trannies for fuel economy and faster shift times.
The Golf diesel pricing compares to the $23,195 for a 2010 Mazdaspeed3 hatchback with 263-horsepower, turbo four-cylinder gasoline engine, manual transmission and 18/25 mpg fuel rating.
It also compares with the $20,510 starting retail price for a 2010 Honda Insight hatchback with 98-horsepower, gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain and 40/43-mpg fuel mileage rating.
The new Golf's modern "clean diesel" meets emissions standards in all 50 states, including California's stringent standards.
Last year's Golf was called the Rabbit -- a moniker that was on the first generation of this car in the 1970s. VW officials went back to the more well-known Golf name for 2010.
The new Golf is restyled, but it's more of an update to last year's look. Casual car buyers might not even notice how the 2010 Golf is styled to look wider and lower to the ground than last year's car.
What they will notice is that the look overall is clean and free of embellishments. Inside, all controls and gauges are well-arranged and within easy reach.
Golfs are offered with choice of five-cylinder gasoline engine or four-cylinder diesel, a choice of manual or automatic transmission, and a choice of two- or four-door hatchback body.
I prefer the four-door Golf, which was the test car, because access to the second row seats is much easier than it is in the two-door Golf.
But both models offer more passenger room in the back seat than what you'd expect by just peering inside through a side window. There's 38.5 inches of headroom in the back seat.
Legroom in the back seat was acceptable at 35.5 inches, but if the front seats are back a long way on their tracks, rear legroom shrinks precipitously.
There's a sizable hump in the middle of the rear-seat floor, so anyone sitting in the middle must contend with it. It's much better back there to just have two people.
But the best place to sit is behind the steering wheel. Steering is responsive to driver inputs, and the suspension keeps the car surprisingly poised and comfortable on twisty roads. Yet the suspension also is tuned to prevent a harsh, overly sporty ride.
When I pressed the accelerator pedal, the test diesel Golf with automatic zoomed forward and tapped the torque readily.
I appreciated that the torque doesn't shut down after 1,750 rpms. It stays at the peak to 2,500 rpm, which provides good power to the next gear shift.
Engine sounds were strong, too, and the typical buzzy sounds that come from a four cylinder weren't so pronounced here. Instead, there was a near-growl from the engine.
The Golf is front-wheel drive; front wheels pulled the car impressively through standing water and in the rain. And the during heard acceleration, the steering wheel does not pull strongly to one side or the other.
Major safety equipment, such as curtain air bags, traction control and electronic stability control and antilock brakes, is standard. The Golf is one of the few non-luxury cars to offer the option of side-mounted air bags for the outsides of the backseats, at as price of $350.
Keep in mind that the Golf comes with VW's three-year/36,000-mile free scheduled maintenance program, so services like regular oil changes are taken care of at dealers for free.