Last year Volkswagen reintroduced its TDI clean-diesel engine to the Jetta lineup—this time, it makes 140 horsepower and is 50-state emissions-legal. With fuel economy ratings of 30 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway, the Jetta TDI and SportWagen TDI models might make more economic sense than the gasoline versions if you plan to do a lot of driving over many years of ownership—further sweetened, potentially, by a $1,300 federal tax credit that still might apply.
The TDI engine is TheCarConnection.com's clear pick of the three engines offered. The all-new 2.0L clean diesel engine produces 140 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm, "The engine's effortless yet clean performance is the result of the common-rail direct injection delivering a supply of ultralow-sulfur diesel fuel into the combustion chambers through high-pressure Piezo injectors," says Inside Line.
“The new 2.0-liter diesel feels far more powerful and refined than the previous 1.9-liter turbo-diesel engine. Power builds in a steady and linear manner, and although a whiff of turbo lag remains, it is far more tolerable than it was in the past,” says Car and Driver. “One big plus is that this VW system does not require the addition of urea or any other additive to scrub the exhaust clean,” states Edmunds.com, adding, “At the test rack, we recorded acceleration to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds and the car made its pass through the quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds at 82.5 mph.”
When it comes to fuel mileage on the TDI, “Volkswagen tells us that the EPA estimates that the Jetta TDI will achieve 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. During our test cycle, mileage varied between 26.0 mpg and 40.1 mpg,” says Edmunds.
At the top of the range (though priced lower than the TDI) is the Wolfsburg (formerly GLI), which brings a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine; it's strong and torquey and more fuel-efficient in real-world driving than its 21/31 mpg EPA ratings suggest. This engine earns praise all around, both for its performance and its decent fuel requirements. ConsumerGuide finds that the “GLI models are satisfyingly quick, particularly in the 45-65-mph range.”
The base five-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower and a robust 177 pound-feet of torque—and it functions very well with the optional six-speed automatic (unfortunately no dual-clutch here), but it's one of the thirstiest engines in a base compact sedan, achieving just 22/30 mpg or 23/30 mpg in the EPA figures. TheCarConnection.com thinks it's adequate but uninspiring; Automobile Magazine calls it “anemic,” and says with the automatic, the Volkswagen Jetta takes 9.1 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph. Kelley Blue Book asserts that the 2010 Jetta is “now fast enough to nose its way past the pack when it has to.” Autoblog agrees, noting that “when you ask it to get the heck down the road, it will, eventually, respond,” but the “sluggish” engine could take its time to reach peak power delivery.
Each version can be matched with a manual or automatic, and both the TDI and the 2.0T engine are served well by the excellent dual-clutch automatic transmission. The only other option is the base 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine. Automobile Magazine says, “Both the manual and automatic transmissions are slick and fun to use,” but calls the dual-clutch gearbox the “best of both worlds.”
The story is much better with respect to handling. The Jetta offers a sportier alternative to the compact sedans from Honda, Toyota, GM, and Ford, and it has one of the best electric power-steering units in the business. The Wolfsburg model gets a sport suspension that yields a slightly crisper turn-in without much affecting ride comfort. In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, the Jetta’s braking abilities are also heavily praised, but its electric power steering is deemed numb by several sources, including Automobile Magazine. Overall, Automobile Magazine contends the “ride quality is excellent, and the handling is both entertaining and sure-footed.” Edmunds feels that the Jetta’s steering and handling make it “a class standout” and notices it “corners with grippy assurance and modest body lean.”