BBC Autos

Other Side of the Road

Volkswagen Golf GTD, the forbidden hatchback

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

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There are few vehicles as lamentably absent from North American roads as the Volkswagen Golf GTD MkVI.

Based on the architecture of the sixth-generation Golf hatchback, the GTD nevertheless skews more GTI – the sine qua non of the hot-hatch genre – than Golf. That means lowered suspension, bigger wheels, chromed tailpipes and a number of subtle yet telling body cues to distinguish it from the more pedestrian Golf.

It also means near-GTI performance from a fuel-frugal turbodiesel that would average roughly 40mpg in combined city-highway driving on the EPA cycle.

The “D” on the grille and liftgate, of course, stands for diesel, and the GTD is a rolling ambassador for the fuel. On 21 February, Volkswagen announced that the Golf GTD MkVII, scheduled to make its international debut at the Geneva motor show in early March, would produce 184hp and 280lb-ft of torque, increases of 16 and 22, respectively, over the outgoing model. Maximum torque is available at a remarkably low 1,750rpm. Grunt, thy call signal is GTD.

What VW withheld was any indication that the car’s long-pining American fans would finally be acknowledged.

“The official response on that is we would really like to bring it,” said Mark Gillies, product and technology spokesman for Volkswagen of America. “We’d very much like it to be here.” Hopeful as that may seem, the tea leaves tell a more muddled tale.

Whereas there is a ready-made market for punchy diesel hatchbacks in Europe, these vehicles are – for reasons explored on this very website – niche products in North America. The GTD MkVI made a goodwill tour of the US in 2012, and most journalists (including this one) found it a sublime performer, with Audi levels of refinement and a powertrain that was reserved around town but bawdy on the highway onramp. The implication here is that a Golf GTD could cannibalise sales of the coming Audi A3 TDI, from the VW luxury subsidiary, even though that entry-level luxury car will only be offered in sedan form in the US.

“There always has to be a business case; and for what would be a niche vehicle that is a particularly important consideration,” Gillies said. And as other brands have realised, it is not wise to wager on the fickle tastes of the North American buyer.