Volkswagen is one of the few automakers to have consistently produced diesel-powered cars for the U.S. market. In fact, we told you last week that a 1974-1983 diesel VW Rabbit was still one of the most fuel-efficient classic cars you could buy.
Its direct descendant -- the 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel -- is one of the best diesel cars on the market today, but with many consumers uneducated about clean diesel technology it is often ignored by new car buyers.
To help you decide if it should be among your list of cars to try, here are five things we think you need to know about the 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel
The 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel is available as both a two-door compact-class hatchback and a four-door compact-classhatchback.
Starting at $23,995 for the base 2-door model married to a 6-speed manual transmission and rising to $29,165 for a 4-door model with technology package and 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automatic transmission, the 2012 VW Golf TDI isn’t cheap.
For comparison, the mid-sized 2012 Toyota Prius starts at $23,520, the subcompact 2012 Honda Insight starts at $18,200, while the compact 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid weighs in at $24,050
2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI Clean Diesel
With a 2-liter engine developing 140 horsepower and up to 236 pound-feet of torque, the 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel can get to 60 mph in an acceptable 8.6 seconds. faster than the comparable hybrid competition.
Thanks to VW’s DSG, the automatic version of the 2012 Golf TDI is just as sprightly as the manual version, shifting gears much faster than traditional automatic gearboxes as well as eliminating the power losses found in a traditional fluid automatic gearbox.
Both manual and automatic versions of the 2012 Golf TDI feature a high sixth gear, lowering engine speed and giving it a relaxed feel on freeways. The sixth gear is also responsible for the car’s long-legged highway EPA rating of 42 mpg -- although the EPA's previous testing of diesel VWs tends to underestimate true fuel economy.
Around town, fuel economy drops to just 30 mpg -- making it far less economical than a hybrid or electric car for urban driving.
And with diesel costing on average 23¢ more a gallon than gasoline, you’ll be spending more at the gas station than a Toyota Prius, Honda Insight or Honda Civic Hybrid owner would, although trips to the gas-station will be pretty infrequent thanks to a 14.5 gallon fuel tank and estimated range of well over 600 miles.
While the 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel may not win when over other cars on pure fuel economy, it can do one thing that isn’t officially supported by any hybrid automaker: Tow
With a 1,000 pound towing capacity and a torquey engine, the 2012 Golf TDI Clean Diesel is a great choice for anyone wanting to take a camping trailer or even something larger on regular trips.
And while towing is technically possible with cars like the 2012 Toyota Prius Hybrid, it isn’t officially approved and may not be covered under warranty if anything goes wrong.
2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI Clean Diesel
Like other diesels, it is technically possible to buy a modification kit to allow the 2012 VW Golf TDI CleanDiesel to run on refined biodiesel. However, Volkswagen does not approve the use of diesel fuel that contains more than 7% biofuel in the Golf TDI, so if you want to experiment with B30 or 100% Biofuel it will be at your own risk and will probably invalidate your car’s warranty.
[Disclaimer: Most diesel cars require a series of modifications before they can safely run on any biodiesel. Failure to do these modifications can damage your car permanently.]
But perhaps the most fun fact we’ve found out about filling up the 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel is that you are allowed by law to pump your own diesel in the two states -- Oregon and New Jersey -- which prohibit you pumping your own gasoline.
The 2012 VW Golf TDI Clean Diesel is a fuel efficient, versatile car with plenty of character, style and practicality.
While it can't compete with most hybrids on city fuel economy, its long-legs and towing capability make it a good choice for those outside of large cities, those who make long trips, or those who need a car that can regularly tow loads.