Volkswagen has long offered TDI versions of the Golf, using 115bhp versions of its pumpe duse (PD) diesels and with a GT badge making it a GTI in all but name. Peugeot, too, offered D turbo versions of the old 306 and is about to do the same with the 307 using 110bhp versions of the 2.0 HDi common rail diesel, while 90bhp versions of the 206 are available in sporty D turbo guise.
However, Volkswagen has now raised the stakes by offering the 130bhp version of the 1.9 TDI from the Passat in both the Golf and Bora, promising even higher performance.
But if that wasn't enough, it is now possible to order a 150bhp version of the Golf GT, making it the most powerful diesel engine of its size available in the UK. With carbon dioxide emissions becoming ever more important to company car drivers in the light of next year's emissions-based tax system, the Golf and Bora models are well placed to offer drivers unrivalled mid-range grunt for modest tax bills.
The manual cars will be taxed at 18 per cent of their P11D prices - the lowest band for diesels - throughout the first three years of the new rules. Although there is no official word on when the engines will meet Euro IV criteria - which would reduce the company car tax to 15 per cent - Volkswagen said its development schedule has been revised and will be earlier than the 2005 deadline. Its sister company, Audi, already expects to have Euro IV versions of its smaller TDI engines in the UK by June 2002.
The Golf estate and Bora will also have the option of a Tiptronic automatic transmission, which will make driving easier for those prepared to pay more tax for the privilege - the Golf estate's CO2 emissions rise to 181g/km for the auto, while the Bora rises to 178g/km. This equates to tax bands of 21 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.
The 130bhp variants will cost £275 more than the 115bhp models they replace (£16,055 on-the-road for the three-door Golf and £17,510 for the manual Bora). Although prices for the 150bhp are yet to be confirmed, they are likely to be about £1,500 more than the 130bhp Golf GT.
Later Golf estate models and the Bora will also be available with the 150bhp TDI. The standard PD unit has been upgraded to cope with the extra power, as have the strength of many of the engine's moving parts.
Volkswagen maintains that the PD ('pumpe duse' translates as 'unit injector') system allows higher pressure injection than common rail systems, and both better torque and fuel consumption.
Despite the impressive power outputs from the current range, don't be surprised if Volkswagen comes up with even higher figures as models are replaced.
Although other manufacturers can offer sporty diesel variants of lower-medium cars, Volkswagen's TDI engines are currently in a league of their own for performance and economy.
My first experience in the 130bhp Golf fooled me into thinking I had taken the 150bhp, such was the eagerness of the throttle response.
The Golf sprinted up to motorway speeds with indecent haste and I had spent about 10 minutes on the A1(M) in Yorkshire thinking performance was good but the gearing quite short before realising I hadn't used sixth gear yet.
Off the motorway, the Golf was a delight and made easy work of overtaking slow traffic. On one stretch of single carriageway A-road I blasted past two trucks when I would have thought twice about it in a petrol car.
The Golf GT TDI PD 130 has taut handling and steers neatly, with a firmish ride - ideal for cross-country routes. The only criticism is the noisy engine which is louder than diesels from some rivals.
One of the drawbacks of high-pressure fuel injection is the 'knocking' which gives diesel engines their noisy chatter at idle. The latest generation of common rail units seem to have eliminated much of this, but Volkswagen's PD engines are still quite vocal.
The GT version of the Golf matches the GTI in its appearance and equipment levels. Standard features on the 130bhp variant include four airbags, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, 15-inch alloy wheels, traction control, sports seats, trip computer, electric front windows and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors.
Climate control or some kind of air conditioning and three-point seatbelt for the centre of the rear seat are noticeable by their absence from the standard spec list. However, apart from this minor quibble, everything else seemed satisfactory and will be familiar to anyone who has driven a Volkswagen.
For drivers who want even more performance, a likely premium of £1,500 over the 130bhp car secures the Golf GT TDI PD 150, equipped with larger wheels, fatter tyres, air conditioning and lower suspension.
A glance at the vital statistics reveals an extra 8 lb/ft of torque at 1,900rpm, which shaves a full second off the 0 - 62mph time and takes it to a terminal velocity of 134mph – 7mph faster than its lesser stablemate.
High performance and diesel engines go hand-in-hand with these new models, and the best news for company car drivers is that it does not come at the price of fuel consumption and emissions. These cars are the pick of the current Golf and Bora ranges.