Driver's Seat: How does the 2015 VW Golf stand up to its Jetta counterpart?

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The Volkswagen Golf TDI SEL comes with new styling and a new turbodiesel engine for the 2015 model year.

German duo: A Volkswagen sedan and hatchback, sporting two vastly different turbocharged engines, go head to head - Week 2.

This week: The 2015 VW Golf TDI SEL.

Price: $31,605 as tested. (A basic Golf TDI can be had for $22,345, and a basic Golf for $17,995.)

Marketer's pitch: "Progress takes on a whole new form."

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "versatile and roomy hatchback design; refined interior; strong acceleration; great fuel economy from available diesel engine" but not that the "gas engine's automatic transmission lacks refinement; slightly more expensive than rivals; lacks some more contemporary features."

Reality: There's definitely a clear choice between the two.

Fore! Last week, we tested the Jetta in 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline form. This week, it's a round of Golf.

The seventh-generation Golf made its debut in 2015 along with the new Jetta. The TDI engine is revamped along with the rest of the engine lineup.

Up to speed: When people talk about a diesel, they tend to have a couple of immediate questions.

First, they want to make sure it's not a dog. Power from the 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder is pretty good. The engine's 150 horses pull the weight easily, although the Golf can resemble 45-year-old Mr. Driver's Seat on first start-up - it takes a while to get going in the morning.

Brrr: But will it fire up when it's cold outside? The Golf TDI was not bad in the cold weather. Only once did it really hesitate to start up, and that was on a 30-degree day when I had started it up for a moment to check something, then shut it off for an hour.

Fuel economy: And they want to know if it's worth the price premium, both for the vehicle itself and the fuel. I averaged around 40 m.p.g. in my usual mix of driving, but the trip odometer keeps resetting on start-up. Because of this, I was able to note a high of 46 m.p.g. on a day when I started out gingerly because of potential ice on the roads.

On the road: The Golf handles with great agility, even more than the very fun Jetta. The shorter rear changes the dynamics of the vehicle.

Shifty: The shiftable automatic performs well, but it doesn't do much downshifting at all for you.

Inside: The interior is only modestly different from the Jetta, but I like it much more. It has better vents, and the SEL features plenty of upgrades, including front comfort-sport seats. The leather seats are comfortable if a bit stiff.

Friends and stuff: In this category, Jetta has it all over the Golf. Old Jetta ads featured Gene Kelly dancing in the backseat, but the Golf would barely accommodate a dancing Kelly Osbourne.

Five-foot-ten-inch Mr. Driver's Seat's feet and legs just fit in with no room to move at all. Headroom is OK. Volkswagen threw in a middle seat belt, but it sits up higher and occupants face the hump and the console.

Play some tunes: The touchscreen stereo standard on the SEL is user-friendly. The speakers sound good, but not among the best I've heard, despite the much-ballyhooed Fender sound system.

The CD player, though, is in the glovebox. It's reachable when driving, but that is not advisable.

Leave CDs at home, or bring your own box - the console is too small for even one CD, and the glovebox can hold only four when completely empty. And really, whose glovebox is empty?

In the rain: The wipers can be infuriating. You have to push the stalk to turn on the rear wiper, then pull it if you want to wash the front. So the rear tends to shut off when you wash the front.

Night shift: The interior lighting provides plenty of interior light. The $995 bi-xenon headlights cast a pretty glow and the light gets where it needs to be.

Changes: As mentioned in last week's Jetta review, VW upgrades the cruise control, and it's a step backward in my estimation.

Where it's built: Puebla, Mexico.

How it's built: Consumer Reports has not rated the 2015 Golf, but previous incarnations have been dubbed "Good bets," with reliability ratings generally from above average to excellent.

In the end: The Golf is so much more fun than the Jetta - as long as you don't need to put people-sized people in the back for long periods.


ssturgis@phillynews.com 215-854-2558