Test Drive: Volkswagen Jetta TDI

July 22, 2009

With everyone today concerned with global warming and the environment one of the greenest decisions you can make is to buy a diesel.  The cars are enjoying a resurgence as customers look for better alternatives given gas prices.

Diesel?  Yes, diesel. The TDI engine gets great gas mileage, and is rated at 30 mpg city and 41 mpg highway although higher numbers were observed on my drive.  But just great gas mileage alone doesn't make a car green.

The Jetta TDI has very low CO2 emissions and low nitrogen oxide emissions to meet requirements in all 50 states.   All of this comes out of the box without the  smug hybrid badge plastered all over your car --  letting everyone know you're saving the world.

Outside:

- The Jetta looks like some kind of pop culture icon, something that everyone can enjoy no matter what age you are.
- Its styling doesn't offend or look mean at all, rather it appears playful and fun.

Inside:

- Nothing really distinguishes this car from others.
- Controls are well laid out and easy to use, but are very basic controls.

The high points of the interior were the steering wheel and gages. The steering wheel controls were well designed and easy to use, while notorious red and blue gages are easy to read while driving. The interior seems very basic and almost boring but after you start the engine and start raking up the mpg  -- that doesn't really mater so much.

Driving the Jetta was rewarding. Not only was it great to see the mpg gauge stay around 30-60 mpg and sometimes climb into triple digits, but the car was quick for only having 140 hp. The Jetta feels like it has more power than its 8.5 second 0-60 mph time suggests. This TDIs secret weapon is torque and it has plenty of it, 236 lb-ft from only 1750 rpm. With all this torque I found myself squealing tires a few times. This power lets Jetta tackles hills easily, many times not even requiring a downshift. The six speed DSG transmission is wonderfully smooth, shifts quick, and has a fun sport shift mode. Handling is what you would expect from a German sedan, it feels solid and sporty, although there was some body roll in harder corners. It feels capable at highway speeds and provides a comfortable ride.

Starting at $22,270 the Jetta TDI is a pretty wise choice for a car. It provides great gas mileage, low emissions and surprising fun. With diesel fuel less expensive in most areas than gasoline and the incredible gas mileage, it gives hybrids a run for their money. Diesels have a reputation of lasting forever, while hybrids may have to have their batteries replaced after years of use. Plus who wants their car covered in hybrid badges?

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Ryan Konko also writes at KonkoCars.com 

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