Our latest mileage challenge revealed the Volkswagen Golf TDI as the most efficient of our high-mileage hatchbacks. However, mileage alone doesn’t make up a buyer’s mind when car shopping, especially considering that between our mileage challenge’s winner and loser the gas savings would total about $1,000 over the course of five years. So, after a day behind the wheels of these three, which one would we put in our own driveway? Editors Mike Hanley and Kelsey Mays weigh in below.
2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI
MH: Diesels face their share of disdain in the U.S., but the Golf TDI is a car that could reverse that. It marries the addictive low-end power of a turbo-diesel with the solid, refined Golf platform, resulting in an upscale, high-mileage hatchback. Nice bucket seats will serve occupants well on longer drives, and the Golf takes home the prize for roomiest backseat and most useful cargo area. It's a well-rounded car.
KM: Agreed. The CR-Z and Cooper have flashes of brilliance in terms of cabin quality; however, the TDI feels the most upscale. Mike’s right about the addictive diesel engine, but the dual-clutch transmission is not a smooth operator. Still, the car rides comfortably, which was especially beneficial during highway-heavy Leg 2 when I was behind the wheel. It handles well, but this is a tough crowd. The others have a better balance and pinpoint reflexes; push the VW hard and it comes off sloppier than its mileage challenge competitors.
2011 Honda CR-Z
MH: Many hybrids get good gas mileage, but most come up short on driving fun. That's not the case with the new Honda CR-Z. The hatchback put up some pretty good fuel-economy numbers on our drive, and it was entertaining to boot, with responsive steering and a slick six-speed manual. We didn't use the CR-Z's Sport mode on this mileage drive, but it does change the CR-Z's character in a big way by making the hybrid drivetrain more responsive. The backrest of the driver's seat wasn't that comfortable, though, and the styling significantly limits rear visibility.
KM: Indeed, Sport mode was off-limits; in Normal mode, the CR-Z feels decidedly more sedate. Still, it’s gifted with perhaps Honda’s best manual shifter since the late Acura RSX, and it displays the same sharp handling regardless of which drive mode you’re in. This is a small car, though, and it shows: Jack the seat all the way up and headroom is awfully tight.
2010 Mini Cooper
MH: I took my turn with the Mini Cooper at perhaps the most opportune time, as it coincided with a stretch of winding country roads that let the Cooper's impressive handling qualities shine. The normally aspirated four-cylinder performed well enough that I wasn't longing for the Cooper S' turbocharged engine. The Cooper's interior, however, isn't as praiseworthy due to perplexing audio and air-conditioning controls and inconsistent fit-and-finish.
KM: The cabin is wearing thin for all the reasons Mike listed. But I disagree regarding power: Merging on the highway, that wee four-cylinder runs out of breath, and the shifter’s long, muddy throws aren’t inspiring. There’s no question that Mini has the best steering in the group, but on the highway the car feels twitchy; it doesn’t track its lane well, and it can be unforgiving if you don’t tend the wheel at all times.
Finally, the litmus test: If you had to get behind the wheel for another day, which car would you take?
MH: I like the Cooper's sportiness, but in the end the Golf TDI's comfort and roominess won out.
KM: Transmission problems aside, the Golf TDI would be my pick. Get up to highway speeds and it wasn’t as much an issue, but that’s where better seats, the softer ride and more passing power come in handy.