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May 20, 2009 > Auto Review: Jetta TDI by Volkswagen

Auto Review: Jetta TDI by Volkswagen

Volkswagen has produced the Jetta for many years. They have also marketed diesel-fueled vehicles for numerous years in many countries. Late in 2008, VW brought their Jetta TDI to the US marketplace and it has become quite a hit.

TDI stands for "turbocharged direct injection." This means that its 140 HP (236 foot pounds of torque), 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine has a turbocharger and the diesel fuel is squirted directly into the combustion chamber without the use of a carburetor. The electronic systems control the emissions well enough that the Jetta TDI is available for sale in all 50 states. Some diesel cars have problems with California's emission regulations.

The EPA fuel mileage ratings for the TDI are 29 mpg for the city cycle and 40 mpg in the highway test. To see how it preformed in real world conditions, VW went to a leading third-party certifier and the results jumped to 38 city and 44 highway. Another bonus is that the IRS has certified the Jetta TDI models to qualify for a $1300 Advanced Lean Burn Technology Motor Vehicle federal income tax credit.

The two Jetta TDI models are the Sedan and the SportWagen. Your choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission drives the front wheels. Our test Sedan had the manual and it was very easy to drive. Because the horsepower was relatively low and the torque was relatively high, we had to change our driving technique a little. We didn't usually rev the engine to the top of its rev range but shifted more in the 4500 rpm range. The TDI would pull strongly from as low as about 1500 rpm.

Jettas are packed with safety equipment such as six airbags, Electronic Stabilization Program, and anti-lock disk brakes. They also include a roadside assistance package, no-charge scheduled maintenance, and base warranty for three years or 36,000 miles. The power train warranty is five years or 60,000 miles.

The Jetta is also available with a 2.5-liter gasoline engine that develops 177 HP and 170 foot pounds from its 5 cylinder engine.

Volkswagen has always been a strong supporter of motorsports. For the 2008 racing season, they created an entry level, professional racing series for the Jetta TDI Sedans. It is focused on young drivers (16 to 26 years old) to help them launch their racing careers. Racing Jettas are prepared with the necessary safety equipment, but other than that, they are almost the same as you can buy at your local VW dealer. If you get a chance, go watch one of the races because it is a very competitive series.

Our Jetta TDI was a great car. It was just the right size for a road trip for four adults; a large trunk for many bags and good legroom in the back. It had a nice smooth ride but was sporty enough to play with when I was alone in the car. It accelerated well and never ran out of guts. I never smelled diesel exhaust as I have in some of the older diesel cars. It also returned more than 30 mpg even when driven really hard. The Jetta TDI racecars get an unbelievable 25 mph during the races.

On the down side, the front seats seemed to have a short bottom cushion and were a little too slippery. There seemed to be more wind/road noise coming from the window area. Also the steering wheel could have used a better gripping surface.

The MSRP on our 2009 TDI test car was $22,270. The sunroof was $1,000 and other small items brought the total to $24,169. The automatic transmission would have been $1,100 additional. The TDI SportWagen starts at $23,870. The base gasoline engine Jetta starts at $17,515. If I were to buy a Jetta, considering the $5K savings on the gas engine Jetta, I think that I would buy that one, instead of the TDI in spite of the tax credit.

By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists

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