By on June 18, 2015

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (4 of 8)

Diesel torque? Fuel efficiency? Compact three-box sheetmetal? You only have two non-premium choices in the U.S.: the Chevrolet Cruze and this, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI.

That’s a serious dearth of variety.

Even after expanding body style and size limitations to mid-size sedans, hatchbacks, and coupes, that still only includes two brands offering up all of the available diesel cars in the non-premium bracket. More importantly, Volkswagen has embedded itself into the collective diesel consciousness and Chevrolet isn’t even a blip on the radar. You need to actively think of today’s diesel options before you remember the Cruze even exists.

VW’s ingrained diesel association and the Jetta’s more affordable compression-ignition cost of entry compared to the Cruze shows in the sales numbers. The Jetta TDI outsells the Cruze 2.0TD by more than 5 to 1. In fact, GM sells so few Cruze diesels, a California DMV employee is more likely to register a new e-Golf – yes, the all-electric VW Golf that wasn’t even on sale last year – or the California compliance Fiat 500e than a Cruze diesel.

So, when it comes to arrive-and-drive-away compact diesel sedans, there’s only one real option. But, does that alone make the Jetta worth buying?

The Tester

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI SEL [USA]/Highline [Canada]

Engine: 2.0L DOHC I4, turbodiesel w/ intercooler, direct injection (150 horsepower @ 3500-4000 rpm, 236 lbs-ft @ 1750-3000 rpm)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, DSG with Tiptronic

Fuel Economy (Rating, MPG): 31 city/46 highway/36 combined
Fuel Economy (Observed, MPG): 42 mpg, approx. 60% highway

Options: Technology Package (Canada, similar to Driver Assistance and Lighting Package in the U.S.)

As Tested (U.S.): $30,020 (sheet)
As Tested (Canada): $33,890 (sheet)

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (2 of 8)

After four years of taking its beatings over the decontented sixth-generation Jetta, Volkswagen has said they’ve had enough and won’t be phoning it in anymore. For 2015, the Jetta receives a laundry list of improvements as part of a mid-cycle refresh – though you wouldn’t know it to look the compact sedan square in the face. While it might be cliche, it’s what’s inside the Jetta that counts.

For starters, the Jetta receives a new version of the ubiquitous 2.0L TDI I4, now pumping out 150 hp and 236 lbs-ft of torque, up 10 hp over last year. Even with the power uptick, the new engine will stretch a tank of diesel farther than before, now rated at 36 mpg combined versus 34 mpg pre-refresh. This particular tester, the exact same Jetta our resident sales expert Tim Cain tested back in March, returned a stellar 42 mpg in my hands. Tim did even better at 44.4 mpg, though this is likely down to Mr. Cain’s home being located in a suburban neighborhood versus my more urban digs.

While fuel economy and torque are key with diesels, I’d have given up a bit of either – or both – for improved drivability. The Jetta refused to wake up when given a moderate application of throttle from a standing start. Yes, it’s a diesel. I get it. However, even during multiple attempts to compensate for the Jetta’s lack of gumption by giving it more pedal only resulted in some fairly embarrassing launches that caused my passenger to question my chosen profession. Over the span of a week, I did eventually find a happy medium, but it was finicky at best and didn’t inspire much in the way of confidence as I tried to navigate intersections with heavy cross traffic.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (5 of 8)

On the bright side, shifts from the 6-speed DSG automatic were as crisp as one could hope and completely devoid of the abrupt engagements felt in the ZF-sourced automatics found equipped in some Chrysler and Land Rover products. Also, since CVT isn’t part of the Volkswagen lexicon in North America, we don’t have to listen to the hollow, shiftless version of the diesel inline-four’s drone.

Ride quality rates fair with road imperfections exacerbated by 17-inch wheels and thin sidewalled rubber. However, thanks to suspension upgrades over the past few years, the Jetta is at least a better handler than before. While you’re not about to start another Jetta TDI Cup with the latest batch of sixth-generation sedans, it could actually be called fun to drive, even if it felt a bit heavy in the bends.

What wasn’t fun were the brakes. While it might have been just this particular tester, the first inch or so of pedal travel was soft and lacked any kind of engagement. This wasn’t the first diesel VW I’ve experienced laden with squishy brake pedal syndrome, but I can’t really find or explain a cause. It was easily rectified by just giving it more pedal and I never once felt in any danger of not stopping.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (6 of 8)

Just like the Jetta’s driving dynamics, the interior is a mixed bag. While all the materials in this top spec model were of a much higher calibre than those of just a couple years back, there were still some glaring deficiencies.

For starters, the infotainment system was a bust. If you really like a sharp looking 7- or 8-inch display sitting proudly within the dash, look elsewhere. The Jetta got nuthin’ for you. Same with USB ports. Not a single one to be found in the VW. And before you say, “But VW said they’ll be putting them in next year!”, you’ve just proved my point – wait until next year because 2015 doesn’t cut it.

On the bright side, this sunroof-equipped Jetta did surprise me in one very important way: I had head room. At 6-foot-1, I am not a giant, but I am far from being short and can greatly appreciate headroom in cars equipped with sunroofs. Yes, I do put my seat all the way to the floor when I can, but some other cars still encroach my aerial space in the same seating configuration. Also, having my butt on the floor wasn’t the only position in which I felt comfortable. I found no less than three different seating/steering wheel positions where I felt completely at ease. If there’s one thing this car had, it was adjustability for drivers of all shapes and sizes.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (1 of 8)

Speaking of shapes, the Jetta still rocks a classic three-box sedan look that’s slowly becoming extinct in the compact segment. As most of VW’s competitors are chasing sloping roofs and higher beltlines, Volkswagen is content with its conservative approach. That’s not a bad decision. Critics have been quick to point out the Jetta is a bit dull looking, but I think this is all by design, literally and figuratively. I challenge you to point to any of the previous Jetta designs and say they haven’t aged gracefully. Individual Jettas in the real world, well, that’s a different story.

Does the Cruze offer up anything to justify the need to hunt one down versus just showing up at any VW dealer and signing on the dotted like for a TDI? Nope. You still have more options with the Jetta, even a manual transmission if you so choose.

That doesn’t mean you should buy the TDI. The 1.8 TSI is now the superior choice for the fuel agnostic. However, if you are dead set on an oil burner, this is the only viable compact sedan option, for better or for worse.

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39 Comments on “2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review – The Loneliest Number...”

  • avatar

    Well, here’s 2/3 of the TTAC Wet Dream – brown and diesel.

    Seriously, the Jetta is so far outclassed by the new Golf it’s not even funny.

  • avatar

    Diesel costs more than gasoline here by at least 30 cents per gallon.
    The diesel version of the car is more expensive than the gasoline version of the same car.

    Wouldn’t it therefore take some time to break even or actually witness the fuel savings?

    • 0 avatar

      For the average commuter, the gas version makes more sense. But for someone with a long highway commute, the diesel will definitely pay off.

    • 0 avatar

      The cost of fuel…never can get the reasoning.
      Here in southern MO, diesel is close or similar to premium.
      While up in Chi-Towne last weekend, I noticed all gas a whole whole dollar more per gal than back home and diesel almost equal to their regular.

      And then there is Marine fuel…the same as regular down here (approx $2.50) and WITHOUT ethanol!!! This is better finding than easy sexy, beautiful women interested in me! I started using the 91 oct. Marine available at my local station in my cars…but have heard that it might be illegal as there is no tax on it and is only for use in marine or farm equipment.
      They do need to catch me, however.

      • 0 avatar

        It really comes down to personal preference. There are lots of options out there but you don’t buy a VW if you want a gasoline vehicle. There’s just too many better deals out there that offer more bang for buck. If you want a VW, you should go with a desil straight up. My personal preference was this, I wanted a “Donkey” instead of a “horse”.

        I bought the Jetta tdi to pull a 5000 pound 23″ airstream fully loaded with my kids and wife and all the shoes in the world. I strapped a canoe on the roof, bikes on the back and a full tank of water for showers while we traveled from one end of Canada to the other. 4 cyl mid size Gas vehicles can’t do that. But the 4 cyl Desils can. I was getting 25mpg. My parents were following us in there rig (2007 Ford freestar with a 17″ trail light) we covered the same distance to the gas station and it costed them $105 to fill up. It only costed us $55 to fill up. For me, the TDI was the best choice. For other people, they may not be looking for a “donkey” lol.

    • 0 avatar

      Here in Maryland it’s 9 cents more than regular, I wonder why country wide prices vary so greatly?

    • 0 avatar
      Christian Gulliksen

      It’s probably a relatively temporary situation, but in Los Angeles I’ve been buying diesel for around $1 cheaper per gallon than regular gas for the last few months.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re absolutely right. Every time I confront a diesel BMW or VW owner about their fuel savings logic, and doing some back of the napkin math, they often say “but I like the long range between fill ups” or “torque”. The torque argument is less relevant these days with ubiquitous turbo petrol engines or quick responding transmissions, such as Honda’s CVT in accord.

      • 0 avatar

        Jacob, I used to get hassled about the price of diesel when I had my TDI Jetta, it was like $.19 more expensive than regular gas, so maybe $2 more a tank. I think people had it in their heads that it was twice the price of gas or something. The repair bills might have been twice. Diesel at the moment is about $.09 cheaper in the Denver area.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the Chevy Cruze diesel discontinued already?

  • avatar

    Yea, GSW 1.8T for me please. I just cannot get past this thing’s looks, and the 1.8 TSI is an excellent (on paper) motor. Def gonna be replacing wifey’s Rabbit 2.5 with one if everything goes well.

  • avatar

    Not the first time I’ve read that the DSG isn’t well suited to the TDI. However, all the ones I’ve driven take a good half-second to get going from a dead stop as the automatic clutch engages. To compensate for nothing happening, you give it more pedal, with subsequent abrupt engagement when it suddenly takes. That’s Honda’s advantage using a torque converter rather than a clutch in their DCT.

    • 0 avatar

      Well this isn’t one of those times, because he said the opposite.

      “On the bright side, shifts from the 6-speed DSG automatic were as crisp as one could hope and completely devoid of the abrupt engagements felt in the ZF-sourced automatics found equipped in some Chrysler and Land Rover products.”

      • 0 avatar

        It’s more a case of both. From a standing start, it is a pain in the arse, but I think that has more to do with the TDI not having enough initial torque. After you’re rolling, it’s simply perfect.

      • 0 avatar

        Shifts may be crisp, but from a start the clutches may still be less smooth than a torque converter. Porsche’s PDK is, or at least was, that way. Crisp enough shifts once rolling; but man, what a racket to parallel park on a steep San Francisco downhill.

        Regardless, this car misses the holy grail by a wide margin, by forgetting the only truly important component of the brown, manual, diesel, station wagon formula for vehicular perfection, is the second one.

  • avatar
    Edsel Maserati

    That diesel sounds sad. The car to get is the 1.8T SE version, with the newish turbo four. That baby sings when the revs build. Sticker price is about $26k. I had one for a week and got close to the EPA estimates of 25 mpg in town and around 35 on the highway. It wasn’t an Audi A3 as far as appointments go, and the seats were kind of lean, but that was a fine price for a nice-driving car. The A3 shares a lot of the underpinnings, by the way.

  • avatar

    The price of diesel here in Vancouver, BC is 13 cents per L cheaper than gasoline this morning. In winter diesel will be more than gas.

  • avatar

    So, because the Chevy isnt as popular, it isnt a “real” option?

    GM isnt known for modern diesel passenger cars. Stands to reason that theyd have trouble cracking a market that VW has been in for decades.

    Despite the fact that my car was America’s best seller tje year it was built, I dont choose a car based on its popularity. I cant imagine saying “wrll, not enough people buyX car, so Im not even going to look at it”. Seems like a stupid way to narrow your choices, especially in a segment of 2.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, and I would correct my typos, but evidently I “do not have permission to edit this comment.”

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not saying because the Chevy isn’t popular that you shouldn’t buy it. I’m saying if you want to go to a dealer and drive away with a new diesel sedan in the same day, the Jetta is the only choice. For the Cruze, you are either going to have to order one or have it transported from another dealer that *might* have one in stock.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I’ve had a local 2014 Cruze Diesel saved in my favorites since December 30, 2014; it still hasn’t sold. It was produced in January 2014. They’re not big movers, apparently.

      • 0 avatar

        Last year my wife bought a 2014 Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel. She happened to drive it away the same day that she bought it. She actually likes the car and it does get great mileage. Now it has 64,000 miles on it (she commutes over 100 miles a day) and there really has not been any issues and it appears to be an option for a few others out there.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess it depends where you are. Your comment made me curious, so I checked the online inventories of the GM dealers in Calgary, Canada (pop. 1,000,000) for Cruze Diesels; there are 40 in stock. One dealer has none, two have a small number, and one has 33(!). That is a lot more than when I was car shopping last year.

        I have had one since November and I am very pleased with it (though I feel no need to bad-mouth Jetta TDIs, which are good too). I bought it for range on long highway trips, not for saving money per se; at that time, diesel was 27¢/litre more expensive than regular gasoline here. Now it is 5¢/litre less.

        Awareness of the existence of the Cruze Diesel is close to zero. Perhaps that is because Chevrolet also makes trucks, which are phenomenally profitable, so they direct their advertising dollars towards the trucks. VW does not sell trucks in North America, so their advertising goes towards their passenger cars, including the diesel.

  • avatar

    Driving diesel is different. The instantaneous acceleration is greater than in torque-deficient gasoline engines and also the car is very quiet (except at idle). In my TDI I average 42 mpg in mixed driving with no intentions of frugal driving…so the character of the car is just different than the petrol enthusiast ideal; the car is kind of more stoic and efficient, effortless and quiet. People always say ‘surfing the torque’ and it’s true, you feel more consistently pushed back into the seat– instead of building toward power with revs you just get it upfront. Not great for on the track, but if you generally spend your time driving under 70 mph on twisty roads there is enough power for sure.

    Also I feel I should note the engine reliability of TDI’s versus TSI’s. At least the main components of TDI’s are as reliable as Japanese cars (particulate filters and fuel pumps are just VAG standard).

    High-torque stoutness, crisp manual shifting, good power steering, low displacement efficiency, good reliability for a German car. I personally very much like the reserved styling (2011-2014). If you just lease performance cars or lust after a trackday toy this is a bad car, to actually buy a new car and keep it for ten years this was the only car that interested me for under 25k.

  • avatar

    No Brainer,
    Toyota Camry Hybrid. Same cost of entry, same fuel economy, less fuel cost, better performance, off the charts reliability, comfort, tech, resale, as well as no truck stops

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX


      With diesel priced 10% higher than 87 around here, a hybrid makes much more sense. Although the driveability of our $20k Optima Hybrid isn’t great, it’s a much better buy than this diesel.

    • 0 avatar

      I understand all of that except “no truck stops”.

      Around here a) normal gas stations almost always have diesel and b) on the interstate, I stop at truck stops even without needing to buy diesel.

    • 0 avatar

      I call BS.

      MSRP on the Jetta TDI ranges from $23k to $26k.
      The Camry Hybrid starts at $27k.

      The Camry is EPA rated at 40/38 mpg (CTY/HWY)…and most hybrid owners do not get near that mileage.

      The TDI is EPA rated at 31/45 mpg (CTY/HWY)…and as noted in this thread almost all TDI owners exceed this rating.

      The Camry is more comparable to the Passat and to my mind is nowhere near as nice and certainly isn’t as pleasurable to drive.

  • avatar

    The base model Jetta I purchased was actually less than half of this TDI’s msrp – purchased at $15 000 before fees and taxes. I don’t see nearly $19 000 worth of upgrades over the poverty spec 2.0 in the example tested above.

    Even the lowly Jetta 2.0 is powerful enough to get you arrested on the highway without trying too hard. Especially in places like Ontario, where 150 kmh is my own personal don’t ever cross! limit, I don’t see the point of a more powerful car.

    Btw, I’m able to average a fuel consumption rate of 6.0 L/100 km driving a steady 110 km/h. Driving with foot firmly planted 75% of the time still yields less than 10 L/100 kms on the highway.

    And yes, with that kind of driving style, the car is still holding up just fine with a still-practically-new 25 000 km on the odo.

    If the upcoming Golf Sportwagen is available with AWD at a reasonable price, I would have to try very hard to resist checking one out at the dealer.

  • avatar

    Rented a 1.8T recently and the mileage-meter was reporting close to the same fuel economy as my old TDI returned. And IIRC using regular gas unlike the 2.0T. An impressive engine, at least for a couple of days. Things do get better I guess.

  • avatar

    This morning a newer model Golf TDI was behind me at the onramp to the interstate. We were behind a slow-moving 18 wheeler and one we rounded the curve we both gunned it.

    I kept my Altima in 3rd gear all the way up to 70 MPH. By the time I got to that speed I was only maybe 1.5 car lengths ahead of the Golf.

    My 2004 would not have been able to keep up. Impressive engine!

  • avatar

    A realistic assessment of diesel vehicles would be more like “diesel slowness?” “expensive diesel fuel?” “environmental and health nightmare?”

    Diesel is EXTREMELY smog forming and it’s particulate emissions-even with the filters used by modern diesels-cause significant increases in breathing problems, heart attacks, strokes, and even lung cancer so it’s an absolutely horrible choice of fuel. If you want torque, get a turbocharged or electric motor assisted vehicle, there’s no reason to buy a diesel car in the US and even Europe is starting to realize what a moronic idea it was to subsidize diesel.

    France is now banning diesel cars from Paris but only after letting it wreck the air quality and do who knows what to people’s health:

    Health problems:

    Diesel cars should be kept out of the US as much as possible. For truck applications where it’s more necessary for it’s energy density it’s easier to equip large advanced particulate filters because the trucks cost a huge amount to start off with, are huge and can hold these large filtration systems, and can undergo much more intensive maintenance for the filters than the general public would put up with.

    For passenger cars diesel is a HORRIBLE fuel choice.

    • 0 avatar

      Hyperbole much?

      Yes, diesel emits more particulates than do comparable gas engines. However, they emit almost zero carbon monoxide and no evaporative emissions, and inherently low HC and NMOG emissions, i.e. lower green house gases. Additionally, evaporative emissions by gasoline engines contribute to ozone pollution and the newest generation turbocharged gasoline engines emit as much particulates as do modern diesel engines.

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