"Is this a diesel?", my inquisitive passenger asks with a slight hesitation, not sure if the semblance of clatter briefly heard at take-off was really from our car. I'm tempted to say it isn't, and rely on the new Golf oiler's cultured mid-range note and smooth rev-ability to fool and disguise. But the fact this question was posed at all should spell success for any diesel engineer.
Despite making the same 103kW and 320Nm outputs as the MarkV Golf TDI, this Mark VI scores an all-new direct-injection 2.0-litre design. And, unlike the previous donk, the new car scores a particulate filter, eliminating the blasts of black smoke sometimes seen when behind an accelerating Golf V or Jetta. The only thing that carries over is the six-speed DSG, as the seven-speeder found in petrol Golf VI variants apparently can't handle torque over 280Nm.
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So it's a Golf 103TDI Comfortline for the weekend, to take a bunch of celebrating end-of-season cricketers and a boot full of sleeping bags and fishing rods to NSW's mid north-coast for a two-day getaway. Optioned with leather trim ($3300), sunroof ($1900) and three-mode adaptive dampers ($1500), the 103TDI Comfortline DSG's $35,690 base price quickly spiralled to $40,890.
The dampers - Adaptive Chassis Control, in VW speak - quickly came under scrutiny. With a varied mix of peak-hour pottering (escaping Sydney's CBD on a Friday arvo is always painful), freeway cruising, and back road punting, the merits or otherwise of its Comfort, Normal and Sport modes were clear. Comfort is an obvious choice for the freeway, with superb absorbency and a fine ability to lope over large undulations with only the slightest hint of float. Normal, surprisingly, isn't the happy medium I expected, firming-up the dampers ever so slightly, but retaining the Comfort setting's overly light steering. For almost every situation except cruising, it was Sport that proved most impressive. The steering weights-up nicely, the body immediately feels more tightly screwed down, yet the ride never hints at harshness.
Sport is obviously the default setting for corner carving, too. Likewise, slide the DSG into Sport (so Sport and Sport, right?) and it'll hold gears to keep you in the diesel's luscious mid-range and flick back a ratio or two when you're hard on the brakes. And, quite simply, the new Golf's handling is outstanding. Its mighty resistance to understeer, even when riding a diesel-sized shot of torque mid-corner, is surprising, and there's a level of poise and balance that marks the VI as a demonstrable improvement over the outgoing V. As one car-nut friend opined, "the new (Mazda) 3 is gonna have to be pretty bloody good to beat that". Agreed.
Okay, the Golf isn't cheap, it's a tad conservative, and it's smaller than, say, an Accord Euro or Commodore Berlina, which are both similarly priced at around $40K.
But, in addition to its palpable sense of quality and refinement, there's the fuel economy: over the course of our trip, the Golf slurped to the tune of 5.3L/100km, giving it a range of a whisker under 1000km.
This again surprised my passengers. But this Golf isn't just a very good diesel ... it's a very, very good car.