By on September 28, 2010

We’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while: VW is dead set on finally making a profit in North America. In order be profitable, VW has to cut the manufacturing cost of its vehicles. As the Phaeton’s fate showed, America just isn’t ready for a VW that comes with sticker shock as a standard accessory. With the new “economized” 2011 Jetta in the wings, VW tossed us the keys to a 2010 Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition for a week as a farewell to the A5.

For those not familiar with VW’s TDI Cup racing series:  It’s a single-make racing series sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America in 2008. The series is exclusive to North America and features modified 2009 VW Jetta TDIs being driven by 16-26 year olds. Harkening back to the simple days of stock car racing, the prizes are a modest $50,000 and “career advancement support” of $100,000, less the $45,000 entry fee charged by VW and the killer with teens behind the wheel: they bill you for damage to the car you drive.

With the series an apparent success, (despite the fact that nobody I spoke to had ever heard of it) VW decided that buyers in North America needed a TDI Cup car in their driveway. Coincidentally, manufacturers start releasing “special editions” of their cars in their autumn years as a raceway way of saying: this model is off to the knackers yard soon. With the GLI now unavailable, VW needed a boy-racer car to fill the gap. In their attempt to spur sales however, VW has fixed all the little items that were never wrong with the “old” Jetta.

The TDI Cup can be distinguished from its lesser brothers by the great gaping maw in the front bumper. It comes with a rear spoiler, side skirts, red painted brakes, large 18” wheels and a supersized price tag. It’s no wonder you can’t configure the Jetta TDI Cup on VW’s web site, you really need to be somewhere where you can be observed having a heart attack so that the kind VW dealer can call 911 for you. Our TDI Cup rang in at a jaw dropping $31,113. You would think that for this price you would at least get leather, but you’d be wrong. You think you’d get some sport seats from the GTI, but you’d be wrong there too. Also not included in the TDI Cup is the engine used in the racing series. Instead of the 170HP 2.0L diesel, the TDI Cup skates by with the standard 140HP / 236lb-ft engine from the regular Jetta TDI. I could understand the decision to use the lower output oil burner if the series’ engine was a one-off, but it’s sold in the EU in a number of different VW models. What gives?

For some reason, auto journalists always wax poetic about the Jetta. The handling is praised, the interior is for some reason always lauded as 99 percent  of an Audi at Wienerschnitzel prices, but when I get in one I have to ask: Why?

Don’t get me wrong, the A5 Jetta is a good place to be, inside and out, but it’s not perfection, and it does not possess an interior worth $31,113. Even the base price of $24,990 without destination charge seems steep for what you get. At least you get a tiny A/C vent in your glovebox that keeps your schnitzel cold.

Out on the road the Jetta does redeem itself with an excellent driving position and feel. The steering is spot on and the steering wheel is a joy to hold with high quality control buttons. The same cannot be said of the latest VW radio however. Its operation is clunky at best. This clash between well executed and slightly off base defines the personality of the TDI Cup car. It looks fast but isn’t, its suspension handles well but VW shod the wheels with some cheap rubber which limits grip. The 6-speed DSG transmission (as tested) is however a willing partner at all times. It seems that VW has worked out some of the kinks from the earlier DSG units as there were only a few moments where you could tell it wasn’t your ordinary slushbox. Starts are smooth, hill starts are confident and it never hunts for gears like many econo-boxes. Our average mileage after a long week of mixed city and highway driving was 40.1MPG – which is downright excellent.

On the Autocross track, the Jetta TDI Cup is a hoot, the handling is self-assured, and having driven one with summer tires instead of the all-seasons our tester was equipped with, I can say it carves corners almost like a GTI. This of course makes sense as the Jetta TDI Cup is essentially a diesel GLI. In a race like the TDI Cup where everyone is driving the same diesel car, speed is unimportant; it’s all down to accuracy in the corners and driver skill. Aye, there’s the rub again: the Jetta TDI is an excellent car, but a sports car for the modern American it is not. The problem keeps coming back to power. Yes, it carves corners with aplomb, but when you exit that turn you’re left with a planted right foot and little scoot. On the race track, this is fine if everyone is in the same boat, but on the American highway drivers will soon discover that Camrys and Accords will outgun your schnitzel-racer every day of the week.

As our week with the Jetta drew to a close, the 2011 Jetta was introduced in San Francisco. I would like to say I am sad to see the A5 Jetta era draw to a close, but if this is the pinnacle, then bring on the New Compact Sedan. With a lower price tag, more of what Americans say they want and new 200HP Jetta GLI promised for next year, I doubt many of these expensive limited edition Jetta Cups will fly off the shelf. At the end of the day, the market spoke, VW listened and we get what we asked for. Of course if you really wanted the best diesel sports sedan for your $32K, just visit the Audi dealer and get an A3 TDI.

Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the Jetta TDI Cup. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers: Aamir: jackrabbit starts didn’t impact the economy as much as I thought, about a 3.5MPG toll on average. Mike F: I was unable to get the DSG to stall, on gravel, wet grass, dry road surfaces and dirt, not sure what C&D did or if VW fixed the issue. David B: Yes it is the middle road between the GTI and the Golf TDI, but for the price the A3 TDI is the better buy.

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review.

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38 Comments on “Requiem for the A5 Jetta...”

  • avatar

    …or, you could buy a Wolfsburg special edition for $23K, and that gets you a 200hp 2.0T, sports suspension, 17″ wheels and a gods-honest manual tranny.  And no scoops, skirts or stripes neither.

  • avatar

    Volkswagen may be making more off the new Jetta, but its buyers who get the short end of the stick….the new Jetta is only a marginally better buy than it was compared to its competitors. You’ll save if you buy a stripper at that attractive base price, but that price shoots up quick, and you’re still saddled with the leaner build quality, even if its only in your head. I’ll tell you what isn’t fiction though: a paltry 115 hp and drum brakes. RIP Jetta.

  • avatar

    At the end of the day, the market spoke, VW listened and we get what we asked for.
    The 2nd generation Scion xB says hello.

  • avatar

    What was on this car to pump the price all the way to $31k? Configuring one on my site, I can only get it to $28,980 (base + DSG + nav + sunroof).
    I must agree on the lack of power. From the torque figure I expected the engine to feel more powerful in around-town driving. Instead, while there’s certainly adequate power, it never feels powerful or sporty.
    The 2010 TDIs had a problem with O2 sensors early in the run, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. But the reported repair frequency has been improving. The 2009s have been about average.

  • avatar
    John R

    $32k? Ouch. That’s a 370Z basic or a V6 Genesis Coupe loaded. Hell, I think a could twist a Mitsu dealer’s arm and get a Lan-Evo X for that kind of money.
    You’d really have to want the mileage to buy this instead of a 5-door GTI well equipped for less money.

    • 0 avatar

      This has always been my question.  For marginally more money in fuel per year, you get a far, far more fun car in the GTI.  The GTI also gets the nice steering wheel and better bolstered seats.  And the exhaust note of the 2.0T that surges into the cabin is easily worth the extra $300/year in fuel over the TDI. 

      I can understand buying a diesel for efficiency.  I don’t, in any way, understand someone saying they want a fun car and then getting a TDI. 

    • 0 avatar

      …Or just buy a Golf TDI which has the same suspension and sport seats (minus the plaid and stitching) as the GTI and get a nice mix of both worlds for less money still.  Having just recently purchased one myself I can say they are PLENTY fun.  …and my other car is a Miata.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Ummmmmmmmmm…. If I could lease one cheap and dump it before the warranty expires, I’d think about it.  Otherwise this is a car that doesn’t make any sense at it’s asking price.

  • avatar

    As the Phaeton’s fate showed, America just isn’t ready for a VW that comes with sticker shock as a standard accessory.

    No, what VW isn’t ready for is getting a handle on costs.  Some companies are pretty good at making a good car for a low price, but none of those companies appear to be German.

    VW’s previous solution** to this is to sell outdated hardware to price-sensitive markets.  The Beetle is a famous example and it started a trend of sorts.  They’ve been hocking the MkIV Jetta and Golf in Canada for a few years now.  The NCC and NCS are a different riff on this strategy: instead of just recycling an old platform, we get a new one engineered to a lower price point.

    What will be interesting is to see if they can pull it off without problems.  Toyota and Honda had issues with cost-cutting in the late 1990s; I haven’t a lot of faith in VW to manage the same.  That the car is mundane isn’t the problem; the Corolla is mundane and sells like hotcakes.  Mundane is ok, as long as it rides well, doesn’t suck gas, isn’t totally gutless (the 2.0 doesn’t bode well, here) and, this is important, doesn’t break down.

    ** to be fair, FIAT does this, too, as does Daimler.

  • avatar

    yea the best buy last year was the wolfsburg.  I bought a manual 2010 to replace my aging s4.  Everyone told me to wait for the new body style but everyhting I read told me the mkv was going to be the better car. I paid $22750 for mine with incentivized financing @36 months through VCI.

  • avatar

    Actually saw one of these on Sunday at a local dealer (I went there to see a 2011 Jetta in person). The seat pattern is nice, but the price is a bit ridiculous. I’m not a fan of cheesy graphics on any vehicle.
    As for the 2011 Jetta, after seeing a silver and white one in person, I decided that there will be no more Jettas for me. I’ll continue to maintain my 2000 and 2003 Jetta TDIs and keep them as long as I can. If something catastrophic happens to either car, I’m buying a Golf TDI. The new Jetta interior looks like it’s straight out of the 2001 Accent I had for 2 years. The rear isn’t bad since it looks a bit like an Audi, but the front end doesn’t do anything for me. I refuse to own a car with drum brakes, no side indicator lights and red turn signals. VW is actually taking steps backward with the Jetta. Not cool.

    • 0 avatar

      The trunk hinge design on the 2011 Jetta hasn’t been seen on a North American Jetta since 1992.  Side repeaters have been standard since 1999.  Drum brakes died in 1998.  I have not seen the new Jetta in person yet, but I’ll be driving it on Saturday.  I’ll reserve judgement until then.  But as a long-time VW fan (17 and counting), I don’t want a VW Corolla.  But judging by the sales of the model evaluated above, no one wants those, either.  Having said that, my local dealer has 25 of them on the lot, and many are already sold. 

  • avatar

    In the interest of naming alternatives..  2 years ago I priced out an Audi A4 with manual transmission, 2.0 liter turbo, and the full-blown Quattro system for about that much money.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen one of the new Jettas yesterday in a VW showroom, and it’s… okay? Looks a little too generic for me.

    VW isn’t going to screw with the Golf like this, are they?

  • avatar

    I think everything said here makes sense – except that VW is cashing in on their cache with people who don’t know better; everyone can agree that the Jetta has been well-loved, highly touted and, while never ever ever ever cheap, always a good value for the first years of ownership. VW is just assuming that shuffling a substandard, high-profit model out the door will work for a number of years before they have to worry about losing the good name.
    This is shockingly GMish – in that their size and desire for profit/market share seems to have muddled their decision making skills. Not feeling good about VW purchases going forward.

  • avatar

    VW equipment and refinement has been going downhill since the MkIV Jetta/Golf.  The MkV GTI was two or three price brackets ahead of its competition when it debuted while the current one only barely shames a Mazda3 or Cruze.

    Of course they’re presumably still not built for the long haul but at least when your MkIV Golf crapped out you had a spectacular interior to dull the pain while you waited for a tow.

    Things at VW look to be heading downhill for enthusiasts in 2011.

  • avatar

    The SEL and TDI versions will have four-wheel disc brakes and the more upscale interior, etal.

    If VW had told the pubic that the Phaeton was a scaled down Bentley instead of a upscale VW, the car would have sold plenty.

    The Phaeton’s problem was presentation / marketing. They should have also considered making it a unique brand like Lexus/Acura/Infinity. When Toyota wanted to make a hip car, they called it Scion. They still sell it at Toyota dealers. Would have worked for VW.

    But senile old man Piech wanted Phaeton as a common VW, and no one in management had the guts to tell him it will never fly in America.

    • 0 avatar

      You want to tell Piech how to run things?  You might want to ask Bernhard or Pischetsrieder how well that works out!

    • 0 avatar

      VW should have launched another brand to sell the Phaeton? They already had Audi, and they were about to leverage Bentley to move the same basic car. Maybe they should just do a better job of defining the market segments of their brands. Upscale VWs are silly when Audi is in the same house. Audi sportscars are silly when Porsche is part of the of the operation. Same goes for making Porsche sedans and SUVs. Lamborghini, Bugatti AND Bentley? I guess Piech figures he’ll be in the ground by the time VAG is a GM sized joke.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife leased a 2005 Phaeton.  It was a wonderful car when it ran and that wasn’t often.  I think it racked up more miles on a flat bed than on its own tires.  It went through two transmissions and numerous electrical problems that left it dead in the road.  It was so bad that when the lease was up we dropped it at the VW dealer and ran as fast as we could.

  • avatar

    why does anyone even buy volkswagens. it’s been one long downhill ride from 1973.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    I’ll take a 2011 A4 Quattro with the better chain drive variable exhaust cam 2.0tsfi for same price, thanks. Before the discount. And get a steady 30 mpg.

  • avatar

    I’m willing to give VW the benefit of the doubt.  The Mk V Jetta reliability was significantly better than the Mk IV, and if Volkswagen can make similar improvements on the Mk VI (or Mk V.5, depending on whom you ask) then I think they will be on their way to shedding the “reliability of a Yugo” stigma.

    • 0 avatar

      I think MKV.5 only applies to the Golf. The Jetta MKVI is a mixture of obsolete parts and cheaper materials. Maybe it will be less unreliable than more modern VWs, but it doesn’t have any obvious areas of competency compared to the Japanese competition.

  • avatar

    You people in the USA are very lucky, most regular 2.5 Jettas up here in Canada easily push $30,000 plus 13% HST.  If we try to get one for $24,000 the dealer would laugh us out of the place. I guess that French language advertising is very expensive.   Oh, wait a second, don’t they sell VWs in France and couldn’t they amortize the costs that way?  I guess not when they can charge us twice as much for shipping from Mexico!

  • avatar

    I never “got” the TDI Cup edition, but then body kits are not my bag. VW did one a couple of years ago for the Passat that was ridiculously expensive.

    As for your recommending the A3 TDI over the Jetta, the thing that strikes the Audi from my list is the lack of a manual transmission with the TDI – that offering is DSG only. For all its lightning quick shifts and technological wonder, the DSG is still an automatic transmission, and I miss the driving engagement and control that the third pedal provides. For me the only diesel offering I like is the Golf.

  • avatar

    This review should silence the “torque wins races” people who don’t understand how work relates to force. The GLI would smoke this thing, and so would a torqueless Civic Si.
    I do appreciate the TDI has lots of usable power, but it isn’t quite there yet for sportiness.

  • avatar

    Sorry, in my facebook query I meant to ask whether  jackjetta starts affected gas mileage, not jackrabbit starts.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    Also not included in the TDI Cup is the engine used in the racing series. Instead of the 170HP 2.0L diesel, the TDI Cup skates by with the standard 140HP / 236lb-ft engine from the regular Jetta TDI. I could understand the decision to use the lower output oil burner if the series’ engine was a one-off, but it’s sold in the EU in a number of different VW models. What gives?

    I suspect the reason the 170 hp TDI engine was not used is emissions.  VW worked hard to get the 140hp engine compliant with EPA regs and I suspect for a limited run of TDI Cup cars the effort needed to get the 170hp engine compliant (that is, assuming it could ever be brought into compliance) is just not worth it.

  • avatar

    Here’s a startling fact: My TDI, a 2002 model – made in January 02 and bought in September of the same year, cost me $17,500 total.
    While is has a 90HP 1.9liter engine, it is also 19% more efficient with fuel, averaging 49 MPG overall. While it lacks the whizzy “features” it delivers on the promise of Diesel tech better than this thing, and cost me 42% less. Perhaps VW has completely lost the plot here!

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