2009 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI Review

2009 volkswagen jetta 2 0 tdi review

In the past five years, Volkswagen has had its pants around its ankles. Gas tripled in price, Al Gore invented the environment and the brand once known for frugality didn’t have US products that could compete on fuel economy. Volkswagen’s diesel-powered Jetta and Passat weren’t even legal in VW-friendly California, NY and Massachusetts. After miles of regulatory legwork, VW brought one of its new generation European diesels up to fifty-state compliance. The Jetta 2.0 TDI hits dealers this fall. So is it The One?

The only change is underhood. This means the Jetta TDI looks like a regular Jetta. And that means it looks like a Corolla. Cut to the chase: this generation of VW’s best-selling product will never muster the charisma of the past model with its tidy mini-luxe styling. But it’s certainly no worse than the look of the cheese-wedge Civic or botoxed Focus. Just don’t mention the Mazda3.

The TDI’s interior is fine; it’s nice, it’s well built, it’s a list of mediocre compliments. Next?

If you’ve been car-aware since the Mark V Jetta debuted four years ago, none of this is news. Nor is the fact that VW offers a diesel engine. But while VW sold the 1.9-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel for the past several years, you may not know the 1.9’s history.

This 100 horsepower oil burner was first built in 1820. The metalsmith used bronze, and then died from boredom. Although VW has been selling the 1.9 as a car engine of late, in the 1920s it was marketed as a “Clatterynoisedervish;” a device designed exclusively for frightening pigeons. And though the 1.9 could deliver some 40+ MPG highway, it was mostly out of necessity; if you stopped for fuel, you ran the risk of your passengers refusing to get back into the car.

And now the good news: the Jetta’s new diesel engine. The TDI makes none of the deafening knocks, clanks or clapping sounds that lead you to think that you’re in a badly-disguised delivery van. It sounds like a boring luxury car inside, and only ever-so-slightly louder from the outside (at idle). The 2.0-liter common rail turbocharged oil burner makes 140 horsepower and a “suck my particulates, Civic” 236 lb·ft of torque. For reference, the 2.0-liter turbo gas engine in this writer’s GTI only stumps-up 207 lb·ft of twist.

Better yet, the Jetta TDI is nearly as much fun to drive as the GTI. Wipe up that nose-ejected coffee off your keyboard. In Europe, VW cranks this engine to 170 horsepower to create the GTI’s kid brother, the Golf GT.

Obviously, the diesel engine doesn’t parallel the slap-happy enthusiasm of the GTI’s mill. Nor can it rev as high; the TDI redlines at 4500 rpm. But the oil burner’s punch is smoother and more linear than its petrol-powered equivalent. There’s no slingshot effect. You just woooooosh from 30 to 60 mph without an ounce of effort. Plowing through highway traffic, hammering around tight corners, and sprinting up a hill, it’s a thoroughly willing powerplant. You get a fairly quick-revving mill without sacrificing the surging power you like. At any speed.

The suspension is more forgiving than in the GTI, but it’s still taut. As a result, you give up very little in terms of handling versus VW’s hot hatch. Seriously. The Jetta TDI rides a little like it sits on a safe, predictable, controllable Merc platform, but with sharp turn-in and genuine steering feedback.

Both transmission choices—the six-speed stick or the six-speed DSG (paddle shift flappy thingy with a full auto mode)—are superb options. The DSG is perfectly matched to the oil burning engine, keeping you in the meat of the powerband at all times. The cog-swapper may not surprise and delight Hondaphiles, but it’s easy enough to drop in the slot, to access the TDI’s tower of power.

Comparing the Jetta TDI dynamics with a comparably priced Civic, Corolla, Camry or Accord is like bringing a professional debt collector—with his pillowcase full of doorknobs—to a fist fight. Of course, there’s the MSRP vs. mileage vs. price-of-diesel-fuel debate. If you’re seriously crunching numbers, you likely don’t want this car. Besides, as Mr. Lang will tell you, buying any new car isn’t frugal.

My argument for the Jetta TDI is simple: at $23K it’s cheaper than a Jetta GLI, almost as much fun, and you’ve got to stop for fuel less often. Well, never, obviously; and the GLI and GTI require high-test. The Jetta TDI is also rolling vindication for all those American pistonheads who pointed at Europe’s oil burners and said, see? See? But is the Jetta TDI VW’s NA’s savior? Are you kidding? They’ll sell 17 of them. But those 17 owners will be thrilled.

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  • Jkinclev Jkinclev on May 29, 2009

    anyone want to take over my lease on a '09 subaru wrx? i want this car bad!!!!

  • Bempey Bempey on Jun 22, 2009

    Justin, you missed 2 big points of this car that are important to many, but not obvious from a drive: RESALE: At 300,000 miles, this car will still fetch over $10,000 whereas any gas-powered Japanese car that lasts that long will fetch $20/ton SAFETY: If you get t-boned by an SUV in a European-designed car you still have a good chance of living. But in a Japanese or American enono-box ... not so much so. My wife is going into court as a witness for the insurance company. She was in the front of the traffic 8 months ago when a large dump-truck blew a red light at over 50 MPH and t-boned a new-model Jetta sedan. They called off the air-ambulance when they found the woman driving the Jetta was in stable shape with no serious injuries. The car was a few inches narrower, but still had the windshield in place (completely shattered) and the door and hood latches still operated. I think some of the paramedics are considering Jettas for their next vehicle after that crash....

  • DenverMike When was it ever a mystery? The Fairmont maybe, but only the 4-door "Futura" trim, that was distinctively upscale. The Citation and Volare didn't have competing trims, nor was there a base stripper Maxima at the time, if ever, crank windows, vinyl seats, 2-doors, etc. So it wasn't a "massacre", not even in spirit, just different market segments. It could be that the Maxima was intended to compete with those, but everything coming from Japan at the time had to take it up a notch, if not two.Thanks to the Japanese "voluntary" trade restriction, everything had extra options, if not hard loaded. The restriction limited how many vehicles were shipped, not what they retailed at. So Japanese automakers naturally raised the "price" (or stakes) without raising MSRP. What the dealers charged (gouged) was a different story.Realistically, the Maxima was going up against entry luxury sedans (except Cimarron lol), especially Euro/German, same as the Cressida. It definitely worked in Japanese automaker's favor, not to mention inspiring Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
  • Ronnie Schreiber Hydrocarbon based fuels have become unreliable? More expensive at the moment but I haven't seen any lines gathering around gas stations lately, have you? I'm old enough to remember actual gasoline shortages in 1973 and 1979 (of course, since then there have been many recoverable oil deposits discovered around the world plus the introduction of fracking). Consumers Power is still supplying me with natural gas. I recently went camping and had no problem buying propane.Texas had grid problems last winter because they replaced fossil fueled power plants with wind and solar, which didn't work in the cold weather. That's the definition of unreliable.I'm an "all of the above" guy when it comes to energy: fossil fuels, hydro, wind (where it makes sense), nuclear (including funding for fusion research), and possibly solar.Environmental activists, it seems to me, have no interest in energy diversity. Based on what's happened in Sri Lanka and the push against agriculture in Europe and Canada, I think it's safe to say that some folks want most of us to live like medieval peasants to save the planet for their own private jets.
  • Car65688392 thankyou for the information
  • Car65688392 Thankyou for your valuable information
  • MaintenanceCosts There's no mystery anymore about how the Japanese took over the prestige spot in the US mass market (especially on the west coast) when you realize that this thing was up against the likes of the Fairmont, Citation, and Volaré. A massacre.