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Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit/Jetta TDI

Welcome to my VW Golf TDI Review and Long Term Road Test

(Biodiesel capable, better alternative than Prius and hybrid electric technology)

By Paul Vachier

Read User Reviews for the Volkswagen Jetta

The Volkswagen Golf and Jetta TDI (Turbo Diesel) are amongst the most fuel-efficient cars available in America and remain extremely popular in Europe where diesels claim more than 50% of new car sales. Currently Volkswagen is selling both the Golf and Jetta TDI models in the USA and Audi also sells its A3 with the same TDI engine, so there are several options available to US buyers (in Europe there are many, many different diesel powered cars to choose from). I own a 2002 Golf TDI, and this page chronicles some of my experiences and impressions of this vehicle.

Most people in America have never thought about buying a diesel automobile due to bad perceptions about diesel engines and/or diesel fuel. I had the same preconceptions but starting researching fuel efficient vehicles 2 years before I bought this car. I had test driven scores of cars and the only one that put a smile on my face was this one. I loved it from the moment I got in the driver's seat. Besides being very peppy, it's a joy to drive. You wouldn't even know it's a diesel except when you go to the filling station. VW has done a lot to modernize their diesel engines and make them less polluting as well as easier than ever to live with. It's also a solid car, built of quality materials, as opposed to the cheap plastic you find in other cars of this price (and even more expensive ones!). I've been really happy with my Golf so far and think it is one of the most amazing cars on the planet! Below you can read more about my long term road experience with this car.

VW Golf TDI biodiesel capable Volkswagen Golf runs on biodiesel
Volkswagen Golf TDI engine Volkswagen Golf Fuel Economy

Long Term Road Test @ 25K Miles:

After a little over a year of driving my Golf now has about 25K miles on it. It's getting around 42 - 47 MPG overall and the only mechanical problem has been the left front wheel bearing that went out at around 20K miles (replaced for free under warranty). I've only had Japanese cars before this including Mitsubishi, Toyota and Subaru, but also had front wheel bearing problems on both my Mitsubishi Colt and my Toyota Tercel.

In terms of driving and overall satisfaction, this is my favorite car to date. It handles great and has extremely comfortable seats and I absolutely love the gas mileage. It is German engineered through-and-through which means it is designed for the driving experience despite its frugal nature and can move along very quickly thanks to the turbo charger. This car is only a few horsepower short of being a sports car. Hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius simply do not have the fun-to-drive character that this car has. You sacrifice nothing in return for stellar fuel economy. Note that the car I have has a 5-speed manual transmission, this car and engine combo will suffer notably in both power and fuel economy with an automatic transmission, your mileage will probably drop to under 40PMG overall.

Long Term Road Test @ 35K Miles:

Still getting 42 - 47 MPG. Highest trip mileage was about 49 MPG. Engine doing well in the cold northern NM winter thanks to glow plugs; always starts fine even in 5 degree F (-15 C) weather although cold starts can be smoky. The heated seats are great since it takes the diesel a long time to warm up and provide heat to the heat vents (though it drives fine after a minute or two of warm up). I also use it a lot in the snow for ski trips and it does great with a decent set of snow tires. I've passed up many stranded SUVs trying to get out of snow drifts with their bald tires and 4WD.

I have had had a few mechanical problems which were all fixed under warranty: (1) Replaced faulty glow plug (2) Replaced Mass Air Flow sensor (this was replaced 3 times until VW discovered a problem with faulty wiring). Well, it doesn't seem to be quite as trouble-free as a Honda or a Toyota, but fortunately everything was fixed under warranty and VW service in Albuquerque (University Volkswagen) has been really great. Each time they gave me a free loaner car while my car was in the shop and once I even got to drive the 1.8 L gas turbo which is a real pocket rocket!

Long Term Road Test @ 50K Miles:

Still getting 42 - 47 MPG all around. No mechanical problems since the Mass Air Flow sensor problem was fixed. The car is running great and I'm still totally happy with it (great since it's no longer under warranty). I did damage the flimsy plastic covering on the bottom of the engine from hitting a curb in a parking lot. This car has kind of low ground clearance so you need to be careful with avoiding rocks and other things that could damage the undercarriage. For the past few months I've been running B20 biodiesel almost exclusively and the Golf seems to be very happy with it. Continue reading further down for additional discussion of biodiesel.

How does the Golf TDI compare with Hybrid Electric vehicles?

I support all efforts to decrease petroleum fuel consumption and think that hybrid electric vehicles are an important step in this direction. However, Hybrid electric is an expensive and unproven technology compared to the simplicity of the diesel engine which has been time tested for over 100 years. Cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are great cars, but who knows how their exotic and expensive hybrid components will hold up over time? What will it cost to replace the batteries for example? Diesel engines routinely last for hundreds of thousands of miles and the Golf offers the added benefit of running biodiesel and/or vegetable oil, the ultimate green fuel. Plus, the Golf offers the thrill of fahrfergnugen - a car designed and engineered for the joy of driving. The Japanese cars are relatively dull to drive by comparison.

On the plus side for Hybrid Electric Vehicles is the fact that they do very well in stop-and-go urban traffic. Diesel engines perform better on long trips and their mileage decreases in the city. If you're buying a car and live in a city where you make frequent short trips, HEV's may be a better alternative. But if you're buying a car to commute long distances, a diesel engine is a better option since the electricity won't be recharged in an HEV while driving on the highway. In short, if you do live in a city, make frequent short trips, and don't care about sporty handling, the Prius or another HEV may be a better choice for you.

Running Biodiesel:

Biodiesel is a 100% vegetable fuel that doesn't derive from petroleum. The diesel engine, invented in Germany by Rudolf Diesel in 1893, was originally designed to run from peanut oil and not petroleum diesel as is most commonly used today. While modern diesels can still run peanut oil, canola and soy are more commonly used to make biodiesel as they are abundantly available from farmers here in the US and around the world. Biodiesel differs from regular vegetable oil (also referred to as straight vegetable oil or "SVO") only in that it is chemically modified using a mixture of lye and methanol to make it more suitable for running in cold climates, and to meet strict industry specifications (ASTM D6751) for vehicle usage. SVO can power the Golf, but it can clog the fuel system at low temperatures because SVO congeals very easily if it has not been modified into biodiesel. You can however purchase a vegetable oil kit for the Golf, which allows you to run SVO when the engine is warm, and regular diesel or biodiesel when it's cold. The system adds a second fuel tank with a switch and fuel warmer, at a cost of about $800. With this system in place you can run your car with used cooking oil collected for FREE from restaurants. That's right folks!

Commercial biodiesel (the kind the Golf CAN run without any modifications) is sold either pure or in mixtures of diesel/biodiesel at biodiesel filling stations (see photo below). Biodiesel is sold in B100, B50, B20 and other mixtures. The number here refers to the percentage of biodiesel in the mixture compared to petroleum diesel and both fuels mix very well (B100 = 100% biodiesel, 0% petroleum diesel). During the winter in cold climates, it's best to run on B20, which is a mixture of 20% biodiesel and 80% regular diesel, due to the high gel point of B100 (it gels at around 30 deg. F vs. -15 deg. F for B20). During the warmer months B100 works great in the Golf. An added benefit of using biodiesel is that due to its much higher lubricity compared to petroleum diesel, engine life is extended because of reduced component wear and less "gunk" build up. It also reduces emissions by 90% compared to petroleum diesel, to say nothing of the reduction of dependency on foreign oil.

How does the Golf run on biodiesel compared to regular diesel? Well, most people can't tell the difference. Power and fuel economy are almost the same (some claim it's better, some worse with biodiesel). The engine does run a little smoother, probably due to the higher lubricity of biodiesel but the biggest difference you'll notice is the lack of smoke and diesel odor from the exhaust pipe.

One thing to remember if you're running biodiesel on an older car: the strong solvent properties of biodiesel will clean out the fuel system and can clog your fuel filter with old gunk. It's often a good idea to replace the fuel filter after your first few tanks of biodiesel. The easiest way to tell if you fuel filter is getting clogged with gunk is if your engine starts sputtering at higher speeds. This happened to me after a few tanks of B100. Changing the TDI's fuel filter is an easy process to perform yourself. Here's a Quicktime video that shows you how to do it and you can order the filters online for roughly $30US.

Conoco Biodiesel filling pump on Baca St.
in Santa Fe, NM - first multi-alternative fuel
pump in the USA!

"Biofuels are carbon dioxide (CO2) neutral. Unlike petroleum fuels, they do not add new carbon to the atmosphere [since they come from renewable plants which consume CO2]. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and sulfates (major contributors to acid rain) are completely eliminated due to the fact that sulfur does not exist in veggie oil. Carbon monoxide (CO) emissions are reduced by 40-60% and carcinogens by 90%. Hydrocarbon emissions are reduced by 50% which reduces photochemical smog (ozone) by 50% as well. Particulate matter, a major contributor to increased asthma cases, is reduced by 45%"

Source: Veggiebus.com

Biodiesel Links:

NY Times article on biodiesel
Biodiesel retail fueling stations (USA)
Biodiesel distributors (USA)
Blue Sun (biodiesel production company in Colorado)
Fields of Fuel: Biodiesel documentary
SVO conversion kit for the Golf from greasecar.com, $795
Veggie Bus: driving change by emphasizing the use of biofuels
Willie Nelson's biodiesel company sells and promotes biodiesel
Biodiesel Benz: converting a MB diesel to run waste vegetable oil
Rent a biodiesel Beetle in Hawaii
Carbon Calculator: Calculate your carbon footprint

More VW Golf Links:

Golf TDI-Club Website
TDI Test Drive
VW Web site
2004 Golf Prices (Edmunds.com)
Greg's TDI Page
Golf as a Used Car? (Canadian Driver.com)


California Cars Initiative,
promoting gas-optional
hybrids, converting Prius
hybrids to get 120-180
MPG (plus electricity)

More Diesels from Volkswagen

In Europe more than 50% of the new cars sold are diesels. Almost every car manufacturer offers a diesel engine option on their automobiles. VW has the largest selection of diesels and is considered the leader in Turbo Diesel technology.

New Golf also runs biodiesel
VW Fox 78 MPG! Only available in Europe

This page has been created by an independent owner of a 2002 Volkswagen Golf TDI.
I am in no way affiliated or associated with Volkswagen or with any Volkswagen dealership.