GTD front

Volkswagen Golf GTD: 35 years of fast and frugal fun


It’s not just the GTI which defined the ‘sports’ Golf benchmark: the GTD also forged a path for affordable performance, but with an added frugal appetite

The Volkswagen Golf has been a pioneer for the past four decades. Style, quality, and refinement have elevated VW’s classless hatchback above the family car norm. And that’s without mention of its most famous iteration, the GTI. But, there’s another performance Golf family member which has been arguably as important: say ‘hello’ to the GTD, another Volkswagen hatchback trailblazer, and one which celebrates its 35th birthday in 2017.

The first ‘performance’ Golf diesel story started in 1982. Billed as the first ‘sports’ diesel, the Golf GTD arrived at the same time as the five millionth Golf. Its on-paper 70bhp may have been 42bhp down on the 1.8-litre GTI which was ushered in the same year, but such was its startling performance, Volkswagen had confidence in the similar-sounding name.

The GTD’s recipe was simple: a Garrett / KKK turbocharger was added to the standard Golf diesel’s 1.6-litre engine to deliver a 0-62mph time of 13.5 seconds and a top speed of 96mph. Usually slow and sluggish, diesel cars had gained popularity thanks to their heightened economy answer to the numerous 1970s oil crises. But, with genuine mind-bending figures for a passenger car diesel engine in the early 1980s, it was the GTD which brought performance to the fore.

A main advantage of diesel is economy and here lay the Golf GTD’s genius. With an urban fuel consumption figure of 42.5mpg against the GTI’s 26.6mpg, its fuel-sipping appetite was intact, despite its extra performance. And that parsimony was a big GTD selling point: even with 30 per cent and 16bhp more than the standard Golf diesel, the faster GTD could still return the same economy figures as its non-blown sister. Maximum torque of 98lb ft was delivered at 2,000rpm, too, 500rpm earlier than its 1.5-litre petrol sibling with the same power output.

The Golf D was an instant hit after its launch in 1976, and to ensure the GTD added to its success, the new derv-drinking hotshot borrowed some of its GTI cousin’s styling cues. Grille badge, check. Two or four-lamp front grille (trimmed in silver not red, fact fans), check. Wider wheels fitted with low-profile tyres, check. Black rear window surround, check. Plastic wheel arch spats, check. Taut and grippy handling, check. It was all there, and at a glance, only true Volkswagen fans would be able to tell the GTD and GTI apart.

While GTD drivers weren’t gripped by the same sports seats as in the GTI, the interior featured that car’s four-button steering wheel, now emblazoned with the ‘Turbo Diesel’ legend. Confusingly, the car was often referred to as the ‘Golf Turbo Diesel’ rather than GTD, too, referencing the novelty of its forced induction nature. But whichever name was used, VW’s small hatch now possessed yet another class-altering personality.

Golf GTD

A company to finesse rather than radically alter a very successful recipe, Volkswagen knew it was onto a good thing and the GTD was allowed a reprieve into the Golf’s second generation, where it followed the same template as its predecessor. Lesser-trim versions also gained the turbo-diesel engine, too, while the first performance bump arrived in 1990, the addition of an intercooler bringing an additional 10bhp. The GTI still ultimately ruled the output roost, though: the 139bhp 16V arrived in 1986.

Through the decades that followed, the GTD was a permanent member of the Golf family. However, to keep the GTI badge sacrosanct on UK shores, the third-generation GTD was notable by its absence. In Europe, though, 1993 saw the introduction of a direct-injection TDI which addressed criticisms that the latest GTD was a more languid proposition than its predecessors. The final flourish came in 1996, when the car borrowed the 1.9-litre 110bhp TDI from the Audi A4.

Throughout the fourth and fifth generations, new ‘Pümpe-Duse’ technology brought 130bhp and 150bhp flavours, but the car became more discreet and was denuded of its ‘GTD’ badges, named ‘GT TDI’ instead. It wasn’t until the introduction of the sixth-generation Golf in 2009 that the GTD returned to the UK. And what a return: an output of 170bhp, 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds, 258lb ft of torque, a top speed of 138mph, and 53.3mpg! The distinctive but subtle ingredients were the same as before: silver-trimmed grille on the outside, Golf GTI-style checked seats on the inside.

The seventh-generation GTD of 2013 – the most powerful GTD ever – fired a warning salvo to its now many ‘sports’ diesel hatchback challengers. Now armed with 184bhp, torque of 280lb ft helped drop the 0-62mph dash to 7.1 seconds and raise the top speed to 142mph. For the new age of economy, the GTD was fast yet frugal, good for a quoted 62.8mpg. Twenty-nine years later, Volkswagen employed the same set of values which begat the first GTD: performance and economy in one neatly-styled, practical package. Recently revised, the latest GTD looks even sharper, and the addition of an estate version in 2015 added yet more sensibility.

Almost as old as the GTI itself, the ‘sports’ diesel Golf is still providing an equally intoxicating blend of performance, parsimony and hot hatch style. In fact, so popular is it, the GTD is forecast to be Volkswagen UKs most popular Golf model this year. Happy 35th, GTD.

Image credit ‘Volkswagen AG’ – do not download or reproduce.