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Which to buy: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI vs. Toyota Corolla LE Eco

Both the VW Golf TDI and the Toyota Corolla LE Eco provide amazing mileage. The question is, which is your type of car, and which delivers the better value and green benefits.

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Torque News tested the Toyota Corolla LE Eco twice this past year in separate trims, and both our senior editor and I were both able to top 40 MPG on the highway. In some of the follow up stories we wrote about the car and also about the Mazda6 diesel, it became pretty clear that diesel VW owners are not at all impressed by mileage in the low 40s. They claim that their VW diesels are superior in terms of MPG, and that for a variety of other reasons, affordable VW diesels top all competitors. This week I had the chance to test the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI S equipped with the DSG duel-clutch transmission and see if their claims hold up.

Fuel Efficiency vs. Fuel Economy – Golf and Corolla Are Both Winners
In my testing, the Toyota Corolla LE Eco returned 43.5 MPG on a highway loop I know very well of about 100 miles. Overall my Corolla LE Eco delivered 42 MPG, and it never went below about 41 MPG in any type of driving.

As impressive as this Corolla mileage may seem, the VW Golf TDI did even better on the same exact highway loop. With perfect conditions, no traffic, speeds under 70 MPH, cruise control on as much as possible, no AC use at all, I was able to return 50.2 MPG. This is excellent highway mileage. I did the trip in two stages to my destination and then back. On the first stage, the car said that my MPG was 56 and on the way back it said it was 51.9. Both were wildly optimistic. VW drivers should be aware of this. The trip computer was simply wrong. I also did a 37 mile suburban loop in the VW. On that type of drive, I only returned 32.0 MPG. In combined driving, I got 41.9 MPG, almost exactly the same as the Corolla LE Eco.

So it seems that the VW Golf TDI simply blows the Toyota Corolla out of the water in terms of highway fuel economy. But does it? Not from my point of view. Where I live, diesel is always more expensive than regular unleaded gasoline. During my VW test, the price of regular was $2.83, and diesel was $3.59. Therefore, my highway cost per mile in the VW Golf TDI was 7.2 cents. My highway cost per mile in the Toyota Corolla LE Eco would be 6.5 cents per mile, ten percent less. The Corolla’s mileage beats or matches the TDI in my testing in all other driving conditions, so clearly in terms of fuel economy, the Corolla LE Eco wins the comparison hands-down.

Green Car Credibility
As I always do, I turned to for green car ratings. The 2015 Golf TDI uses 10 percent more petroleum and generates 10 percent more CO2 per mile than the Corolla. Both score a good 8 out of 10 on the EPA smog rating.

The Corolla is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. If scores good on all crash tests except for the small frontal overlap test, on which it scored marginal. The Golf is also a Top Safety Pick having scored good an all tests and can be rated Top Safety Pick Plus if equipped with optional forward crash prevention (my vehicle was not). Advantage Golf.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI S with the DSG transmission has a flaw that spoils the fun of driving this car for me. Although it has great torque of 236 ft-lbs from 1750 RPM to 3,000 RPM, it has a dead spot just off idle. When you are waiting at a stop sign to turn into traffic, and lift off the brake and apply the gas, there is an instant of almost no acceleration. The DSG and the engine’s turbocharger conspire to make the car feel incredibly slow - for an instant. I have tested a Turbo Beetle with the DSG and felt the same sensation. My instinct is to then apply more throttle and the car eventually wakes up and roars ahead. Tire spin and screeching is not my thing. I like my cars to go when I ask them to go. When shifted using the paddle shifters the car is a joy. That gets old fast in normal commute-type driving though. The car is available with a manual transmission, so if you prefer that anyway, be sure to get it.

The Golf is a good handler, and big bumps don’t make the car feel cheap. At this trim level, the car is not sporty, but it does have a very good quality feel. It is nothing like a GTI or turbo Beetle in terms of sportiness, but you can enjoy spirited driving in this car.

The Corolla is no rocket. Its 140 horsepower engine (10 hp less than the Golf) and CVT transmission will never be mistaken for fast. However, the pair do deliver smooth acceleration that for a $20K family car is as good as anything else in the class. The ride is better than average for the segment and the car feels very safe and competent. Despite the Golf’s DSG issues I mentioned above, I’d call drivability a win for the Golf.

The Toyota Corolla LE Eco, when similarly equipped to the VW Golf TDI S, is less expensive. My test Corolla was $19,500, and my test VW Golf TDI was $25,610. My Corolla had every option that I could find in the VW plus a back-up camera. Our editor tested the higher trim Corolla LE Eco Plus at $22,570. Although final sales prices from Volkswagen dealers and Toyota dealers will be somewhat lower than MSRP, hands down the Corolla is the better value. Feel free to explore and include resale values, quality survey results, and included maintenance. The result is the same.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI delivers excellent highway mileage, but the cost of fuel in the US market spoils that advantage. In all other driving situations, the Corolla beats or matches the VW in mileage and is much less expensive per mile. The VW has its charms, is a bit quicker, a bit safer, and has a drivetrain with a lot of personality, both good and bad. The Corolla is the type of car that makes you forget the engine. Both are excellent affordable family cars. If affordability and green-car ratings are paramount, the Toyota Corolla has a decided advantage. If safety and driving pleasure are your top priorities, the Golf is the one to choose.

Related Stories:
Full Review - 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco
2013 Jetta Hybrid bests Jetta TDI Diesel in cost of ownership comparison
Why can't the 2015 Mazda 6 diesel work in the US?

Note: 2014 model year Corollas were tested. The drivetrain has not changed, prices may differ slightly.

Main story image by John Goreham

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retiredSaleman (not verified)    December 1, 2014 - 12:35PM

I wonder what a review written by a Toyota dealership might conclude in a comparison of a Toyota with any other brand of car? I can tell you worked hard on this article, and that you're at least an intermediate level writer, but it is so obvious what you're trying to do with this article that it's a joke. People like you are responsible for making the Internet suck, one little bit at a time.

Don (not verified)    December 1, 2014 - 1:07PM

The writing isn't all that bad. Sure I can find a typo or grammatical error in just about any article (for example, "speeds under 70 MPG") but this is just someone with an opinion who managed to attract a bigger following than I probably could. This isn't the New York Times, take it for what it is.

grasspress (not verified)    December 2, 2014 - 9:53PM

i do think it's important for reporters to point out discrepancies in the price of fuel when comparing gas fueled vehicles with diesel fueled vehicles, but i think most regular consumers who are searching for a vehicle in this price range keep their cars for several years, and some may even be like me who keep their cars for ten years. during this time period the price of gas and diesel will vary a lot, and even though it's a safe bet that gas will be lower than diesel when averaged out, during this time frame it will be less of an issue, with diesel even being cheaper than gas for many weeks in the year. keep this in mind when making your decision.

Howie (not verified)    December 4, 2014 - 8:30AM

When I was shopping for a car, the LE Eco ended being the best value. It is a comfy and practical econobox, often discarded by reviewers as cheap, boring, old and whatnot. So daring to compare it with a Golf is almost calling for "fanboyism" accusations. But my experience is also that, as great as the Golf - and Mazda3, the other darling - truely is, the performance and efficiency gap isn't that wide for a more reasonnable price.