By on November 23, 2005

jettatdi1.jpgFor years, Volkswagen’s diesels were like cod liver oil: a worthy medicine that few American consumers could stomach. The stripped-down oil-burners hidden in the back of US forecourts seemed specifically designed for penny-pinching college professors and health food store managers. Customers who considered engine clatter, black smoke and lack of comforts (creature or otherwise) a badge of honor. When $3-a-gallon gas arrived stateside, hordes of “normal” customers suddenly joined the Euro-throngs clamoring for their daily dose of diesel. And no example was– is– more sought after than the VW Jetta TDI.

Obviously, the new Jetta TDI wears the same sheet metal as its petrol-powered sibling. In other words, it’s about as exciting as an all-nude Alan Greenspan revue. Fortunately, the TDI’s chrome moustache and silver-bearded grill add a touch of upmarket dignity. From the rear, the Jetta has a Jennifer Lopez thing going on. You can get a lot of junk in the trunk, but Ms. Lopez’s rear end looks better on her than a small sedan. While the new Jetta is to cutting edge car design what giraffes are to jazz, you can’t fault VW for erring on the side of conservatism; it’s what they do.

jettatdi2.jpg They also do interiors. The Jetta TDI's cabin is first in class, boasting build quality that redefines Toyota's Corolla as the place where budget-minded drivers have to sit for an automotive time-out. The TDI’s plastics are well turned-out, stylishly deployed and discreet. (A claim that certainly can’t be made for the Beetle’s tacky polymers). The faux leather trim is softer than Nicole Ritchie’s career prospects, the sunroof switch feels like it’s made from Godiva chocolate, the shift knob encourages the kind of over-fondling that’s illegal in several states, and the stereo controls are space shuttle cool but Playskool easy. Diesel and destitute may never again join hands.

Once upon a time, starting a diesel engine involved holding a plastic lever until a glow-plug indicated that the powerplant was… finally… ready… to… fire. These days, it’s twist and go. Gone too are the plumes of black smoke that coughed from the tailpipe, and back bumpers that look like they been left dangling in a chimney for days. The TDI is as practical and clean as any gas engine you can name– save those pesky particulates.

Once underway, the TDI displays a slight shudder–- a kind of subwoofer shake– when driven under 1500 rpm in first and second gears. Once you crest 20 miles per hour, the TDI’s direct injection, turbocharged powerplant produces a wave of torque smooth enough to charm a Prius owner right out of his/her/its hemp shirt. Sloth is the only other indication you’re not having a gas. The Jetta TDI shuffles from zero to 60mph in just over 11 seconds. While the TDI’s go-times are an improvement over the old non-turbo units, you still need to be careful which minivan you take on at the stoplight drags. (Hint: go for the one with the full soccer team and the Mom on the cell.)

jettatdi3.jpg At speed, when you eventually get there, the Jetta provides a rock solid ride. Its 109mph top end condemns it to the autobahn JV squad, but the car’s fast enough to make a lot of fuel-conscious Americans’ heads explode. At slower speeds, through the corners, the Jetta is a competent and predictable handler. A few challenging bends revealed the TDI’s tendency to understeer at the limit, but it’s no compact car killjoy. The steering is crisp and communicative. In the best Volkswagen tradition, the TDI is a car that favors driving over merely operating.

The payoff for the TDI’s piss-poor forward progress is, of course, high mileage and legendary engine life. We saw 40 mpg with more than a little city driving thrown into the mix. Owners of previous VW diesels take great joy in reporting (and re-reporting) an engine life span that exceeds their upholstery’s presentability, or 200,000 miles, whichever comes last. There is no reason to believe that the new smoother, quieter, more refined Jetta TDI won't outlive the original VW diesels' supporters.

jettatdi4.jpg If the old VW diesel was cod liver oil, the new Jetta TDI is more of a mixed greens salad with a raspberry vinaigrette. It’s not a steak, but it tastes good and it’s good for you. Given the current price of feeding-up a meat and potatoes V8, it’s no wonder VW’s diesel dining room is crowded. Dealers report that the Jetta TDI is selling as fast as Toyota’s Prius AND going for sticker. It’s enough to bring the Jetta TDI to the front of the forecourt, and finally give all those impoverished college professors and alfalfa eaters a plausible reason why they didn’t buy a pricey hybrid.

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4 Comments on “Jetta Tdi Review...”

  • avatar
    Scott T.

    I won’t even add to the article – I have owned one for 10K miles and its pretty much spot on as to what you would expect from someone who exits their MR2 and tests out the TDI – or, in my case a V70 2.4T. Here is the real deal…

    I am an American living in Germany with a US spec TDI 06 Jetta. I routinely drive mine on long trips. Last week to Garmisch from Heidelberg (600 + miles round trip) and back on one tank (55 liters) of Diesel. I never dropped below 80 MPH, had 4 adults in the car, transited the Alpenstrasse, and ran the A/C the entire way. You forget that its a Diesel after 30 MPH, and at 80, 90, or 100 mph you may even feel racy. BTW, don’t buy the 109 top speed. I have had mine to 120 (not that you can do that in the US).

    The economy of the car does not need a math major to tout; a hybrid is an expesive concept that you have to start replacing the batteries, but this thing will last forever if maintianed.

    What really sold me was the rear seat room. I sold the V70 because my 6′ tall son was giving me a kidney massage . He can stretch out in the back of this (smaller???) car. and the trunk would make any nuclear family happy.

  • avatar

    I have this exact car, but with the “2007” year interior — I have an AUX in the glovebox (instead of a light!) and a power outlet, the 2-prong kind, in the backseat. So far the car has saved me $105 over 5,000 miles. I’m approaching 7,000. I see about 40MPG combined, not quite what the first poster was reporting. I also have my re-programmed with REVO software, the car accelerates like a dream. Left out, but somewhat mentioned, is that Biodiesel puts this car well above the Prius in the green department. The backseat room is also something to talk about, I can fir any of my frinds 6′ or over behind the drivers seat … comfortably! I’m 6’3″ tall myself… this is near impossible with most any other car I looked at.

  • avatar

    My next car will be a diesel. In Europe that is all you see. Is this one built in der Fatherland or sud of der borderland? The V-dubs in Euro have a great rep for reliability and quality. Yet stateside, V-dub has a poor reliability rep.
    What gives?

    PS Any chance this thing comes in a WAGON version?

  • avatar

    The Jetta Sportwagon is coming in early 2008 — test vehicles have already been spotted in Michigan and Nevada. Will be available with the 2.0-liter TDI engine with common-rail injection system — no more pumpe duse (PD).

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