2010 Volkswagen Jetta Expert Review:Autoblog
Station attendant: "You sure you wanna put diesel in that?"
Attendant: "It doesn't look like a diesel."
Me: "That's kinda the point."
And so it goes. That wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last that we got quizzical looks when grabbing a plastic glove and topping up the 14.5-gallon tank on our Salsa Red 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition tester. After all, when you think diesel, a body-kitted sports sedan doesn't spring to mind. Particularly in the U.S., where (Cliche Alert!) old-school oilburners conjure the soot-covered nostalgia of smoke-belching Benzes, dirty shoes, smelly hands and searching for the appropriate pump at truck stops.
But in the 21st century – and throughout Europe for the last several decades – the modern diesel is a mainstay. Nearly half of all new cars sold across the pond swill ultra-low sulfur diesel, and after years of being hamstrung by California bureaucrats and the Feds, the high-mileage misers have finally returned to our shores.
But can a diesel really be sporty?
Volkswagen obviously thinks so, and after fielding "numerous inquiries" about offering a replica of its TDI Cup cars for the road, V-Dub has begun offering a kitted-out version of its diesel-powered Jetta to the fraction (of a fraction) of enthusiasts who want a more entertaining way to burn through a tank of ULSD.
So the Cup Edition certainly looks the part, but how's it get on? Let's find out.
Photos by Damon Lavrinc / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
After years of slogging through the SEMA Show, we've become justifiably jaded when it comes to various models' body mods – and that doesn't even cover the cars (*badum-ting*). So when the TDI Cup concept debuted way back in 2008, it barely registered on our radar. In the annals of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the side skirts, rear valance and redesigned front bumper with its comically massive air dam weren't extreme enough to stand out. But off the show floor and on the pavement, it's a different story for this oil-powered sports sedan costing $31,113 as tested (a far cry from its $24,990 base price).
Although the front fascia packs more mesh than a New Orleans Gentlemen's Club, take solace in the fact that this is the same body kit fitted to the TDI competition cars. It's got racing lineage, even if it's a decidedly less glamorous pedigree than some alt-powered rocket from Audi or Peugeot, at least it's more direct.
The remainder of the model's modifications are pulled from the VW performance parts bin and include the sway bars and stiffened suspension from the last Jetta GLI. The red-painted calipers are also carryovers, and they grip larger brakes (12.28-inches up front and 11.26-inches in the rear), framed by 18-inch, 10-spoke "Charleston" wheels. The hoops are right off the show car, but unfortunately the Yokohama 225/40R18 ADVAN sport tires have been swapped in favor of "all-season high-performance" Pirelli P Zero Nero's sized 225/40R18. They're mud and snow rated, for whatever that's worth.
Make your way passed the tri-colored graphics spanning the doors and you're greeted by another badge on the sill to remind you that the TDI Cup is more than a tarted-up aftermarket Jetta. Despite the "Interlagos" cloth inserts, the seats shouldn't be confused with the GTI's supremely bolstered thrones. Complete with lumbar support, they're adequate enough for diesel detail, but be prepared for impromptu forearm exercises while hammering around on-ramps.
Thankfully, the leather-wrapped wheel is a nice thing to clutch, and comes standard with twelve (12!) steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and multi-function display between the tach and speedo. The buttons are more flush than you'd find in other applications, which should make mid-corner station changes and volume adjustments less of a hassle, but on more than one occasion we inadvertently skipped a track in our playlist.
If AM, FM, satellite radio or one of six CDs on order doesn't suit your tastes, VW offers three ways to port your digitized music into the touch-screen stereo. A small slot below the display accepts an SD card, while an auxiliary jack is mounted on the center console, aft of the cup holders and a "Media Device Interface for iPod® Integration" (read: $199 cable) is fitted inside the claustrophobic arm rest.
Our tester's nav-less touch-screen was easy to operate after a few days of exploration, and we've yet to crack the owner's manual in frustration. However, one thing to note about using an iPod along with a smartphone: You can't toggle between the two. If you want to use the 1/8-inch jack to stream tunes from your phone, you'll have to physically disconnect the iPod from its cable as there's no way to select an individual auxiliary source.
But enough of this prattling on about functionality and ergonomics. This is, after all, a Jetta. And we've got one question to answer and two of our favorite California test roads await.
The drive to our first paved playground involved a run across a few freeways, and here the TDI's Teutonic flavor shown through. Despite its stiffened suspension, the Jetta was equally at ease during high-speed passes and battle-scarred, right lane drudgery. The 140 horsepower offered up by the 2.0-liter turbodiesel won't set the world (or tires) on fire, but the 236 pound-feet of torque makes simple work of the six-speed DSG's ratios, catapulting you to freeway speeds with an assured quickness. Each successive gear is dispatched with the slightest (and we really mean slightest) pause, further proof that while ye ol' torque converter is alive and well in the new century, the dual-clutch gearbox continues to be a modern masterpiece (talk to Ferrari and McLaren if you're in doubt).
As you'd expect, the engine note isn't a sexy serenade – the idle is decidedly diesel and there's a mild racket at 75 mph (around 2,500 rpm), which is lessened/consumed by wind noise by the time you reach 80. However, the steering is sublime. The weighting is near perfect, corrections are rare and the feel is wonderfully direct, if not supremely communicative.
By the time we hit the off-ramp to tackle the first mountain pass, we were impressed. The power delivery is smooth, the gearbox's shifts even smoother. And then things started to get twisty.
Flogging a diesel in a performance setting is an odd one. As you'd expect with most any engine that's got a turbo dangling off the exhaust manifold, there's a fair amount of lag before peak torque arrives at 1,750 rpm. But when you're piloting a petrol-powered turbo, you muscle through the lag and are rewarded by a heaping helping of boost until redline (or near it). With the diesel, the powerband is so shallow and you've only got so many revs to work with before the transmission shifts at 4,500 rpm – 500 rpm revs below redline – that finding tractable power through low-speed bends is damn near impossible. And to exacerbate the situation, no matter what setting we put the gearbox in – Drive, Sport or Manual – the shifts always came 500 rpm shy of redline. With peak horsepower arriving at 4,000 rpm, that severely limits your options.
To make matters worse, most of our test road would normally be taken in second gear with an occasional upshift, but the gearbox boffins insisted on third, and combined with the tranny-imposed redline, we were out of the meaty powerband when the time came to get back on the throttle. It was remarkably reminiscent of the traction control issues we experienced in the Hyundai Genesis Coupe during our comparison test (throttle, wait, wait, wait, power!) and equally as frustrating, TC engaged or not.
So how do you have fun? Charge into a corner carrying a touch too much speed, brake with your left foot and try to keep the revs dialed in with your right. But then, despite loading up the front tires, the all-season rubber gives up the ghost and brake fade – something that was largely kept in check during our first run – came on (predictably) quicker. Entertaining? No. Rewarding? A bit. Frustrating? More than we can describe.
However – and this is important – high-speed blasts are a completely different beast. Keep things in third or fourth and you simply fly. The chassis, reworked suspension and, in particular, the larger rear anti-roll bar, all work in concert to deliver a surprisingly sporty experience, soaking up bumps with aplomb and doing a remarkable job of communicating what's going on at all four-corners. The brakes, while a bit mushy on first application, firm up further down the travel and fade comes on much later thanks to longer bouts between applications. Understeer rears its head earlier than we'd like, but the aforementioned mid-bend dab of the brake quells it to a point. The TDI Cup still needs stickier gumballs to live up to its nameplate, and a beefed-up set of brake pads would be a requirement for track time.
So can "diesel" and "sport" co-exist? In this case, it depends on the setting. In certain situations, we would've preferred the control afforded by a manual gearbox, and thankfully, VW obliges with a standard row-your-own six-speed as an option, though we suspect the dual-clutch is just what the doctor ordered for everyday commuting. Upgrade the tires and fit some high-performance pads, and you've got an entertaining daily driver that can play nice on the track. And just as importantly (if not more so), on the way there you'll be hitting 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. During our time we were averaging around 37 mpg – easily unmatched by anything this side of a hybrid – and we had assuredly more fun in the process. Given the right stretch of road and a proper set of performance tires, the Jetta TDI Cup Edition has real potential. And we've got a sneaking suspicion that an on-track rendezvous is in our very near future. Stay tuned...
Photos by Damon Lavrinc / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Small car with upscale feel and appeal.
The Volkswagen Jetta is a premium small car that drives much like high-dollar German cars costing twice its price. Officially it's a compact car, but it compares well to smaller mid-size sedans. It's offered in sedan and wagon body styles with a choice of three engines.
For 2010, the Jetta line is basically unchanged. A SportWagen joined the sedan in late summer 2008 as a 2009 model, adding flexibility without a larger footprint or any compromise in efficiency. The performance-oriented GLI model has been dropped, and replaced by the TDI Cup Street Edition, a street-legal version of VW's Jetta TDI Cup race series cars.
The 2010 Jetta lineup includes TDI versions of the sedan or wagon, featuring a turbocharged clean-diesel engine and superior mileage. (The diesel was absent from VW's lineup in 2007 and 2008, due to stricter emissions controls, but a redesigned edition reappeared in 2009, with more power and certification for all 50 states.) Electronic stability control and a cold weather package with heated front seats and steering wheel are standard on all 2010 models. The standard stability control system comes two years ahead of a federal mandate requiring all vehicles sold in the U.S. to have some sort of standard stability control feature.
The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta lineup offers three engine choices: a 170-hp 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder (the standard base powerplant); a turbocharged 2-liter, 200-hp four-cylinder (employed in a number of different VW and Audi models); and a 2-liter, 140-hp turbocharged diesel four-cylinder, dubbed the TDI (for Turbo Direct Injection). EPA figures run from 21 mpg city on the gas engines to 41 mpg highway for the thrifty TDI.
We found the Jetta responsive around town and comfortable on long trips. It carves through curves precisely, but rides comfortably.
Inside, the Jetta is roomy and nicely finished, benefitting from Volkswagen's attention to detail. The driver enjoys excellent visibility and ease of operation, with logical controls and instruments. Finish quality is good, inside and out. The trunk is larger than in many sedans costing much more. The basic warranty has been shortened by a year but now includes all scheduled maintenance; the longer roadside assistance and powertrain warranty periods remain.
The Jetta was redesigned and re-engineered from the ground up midway through 2005. It still seems fresh to us, and the wagon model adds an element of flexibility. We find its styling more pleasant than exciting. If you like the idea of a solid four-door and are ready to try some European flavor, the Jetta is the best deal in town, a combination of price and German character that's made it the bestselling European car in the U.S. market.
The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta comes as a four-door sedan or SportWagen in one of four trim levels. S and SE models use the basic 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the 2.5; a six-speed manual is standard with the 2.0T and TDI; a six-speed automatic is optional ($1100) with any of the three engines.
Jetta S sedan ($17,605) and wagon ($19,510) come with velour cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, power locks with remote, power heated mirrors, cruise control, electronic stability and traction control, CD player, eight-way manually adjustable heated front seats with lumbar support and power recliners, split folding rear seat, manual tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, and 205/55HR all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels. SportWagen models add an intermittent rear wipe/wash and cargo compartment details. Options include metallic paint, sunroof ($1,000), panoramic dual-glass sunroof on wagons ($1,300), alloy wheels ($450), rear side airbags ($350), and iPod interface ($199).
The Jetta SE sedan ($20,395) and wagon ($23,240) add alloy wheels, more chrome, a sunroof on sedans, 6CD/MP3/Sirius satellite radio sound system, V-Tex (imitation leather) upholstery and door panel inserts, a rear seat/trunk pass-through and a fold-flat front passenger seat for long items. Options mirror the S model plus 225/45R17 tires on alloy wheels ($450) and a navigation system ($1990).
The Wolfsburg Edition sedan ($22,280) comes with the 200-hp 2.0T engine and six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automatic, essentially with SE content plus 17-inch alloy wheels and dark exterior trim. Options are limited to rear side airbags ($350) and iPod adapter ($199).
The Jetta SEL sedan ($23,280) features the 2.5-liter engine and six-speed automatic. Jetta SEL gets 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color front and rear trim, dual-zone climate control, multifunction steering wheel and trip computer, premium sound, HomeLink, a 115-volt rear outlet, and leather trim for the steering wheel and handbrake. SEL options include a sunroof ($1,000), panoramic sunroof for the wagon ($1,300), rear side airbags ($350), and navigation ($1,990).
Jetta TDI sedans ($22,830) and wagons ($24,615) use six-speed manual or DSG transmissions and are equipped much like SE sedans, minus a sunroof. TDI options include rear side airbags ($350), 17-inch ally wheels ($450), sunroof ($1,300), iPod adapter ($199), and navigation ($1,990). The U.S. government is offering a $1300 U.S. federal income tax credit to those for the diesel Jetta.
Safety features that come standard include front airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags for torso protection, and curtain-style airbags for head protection front and rear. Rear side airbags, which are not recommended with child seats and small occupants, are optional. All Jettas have anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, traction control (ASR) and electronic stability control. Roadside assistance is included in the Jetta warranty package.
The Volkswagen Jetta is a small mid-size sedan. It was completely redesigned for the 2005 model year, and has had a number of minor detail changes since. The SportWagen joined the lineup for 2009.
Technically, Jetta belongs among compacts like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but in the real world it slots between compact and mid-size offerings from other brands. It tips the scales at 3200 pounds and more, but that mass is reflective of excellent structural rigidity, as well comprehensive safety equipment, and the dimensions include a large trunk, plus a usable rear seat.
Looking at the Jetta, the eye is immediately drawn to its big, chrome-framed front grille. Chrome is also used in the eyebrows atop the air inlets in the front bumper and, on the SE and SEL, for the side-window surrounds. SportWagen models have been freshened for 2010 with a new front end treatment that includes a double-bar grille just above the bumper and wider lower fascia.
The next most striking design element is the aggressive thrust and slope of the hood and snout. Compared to other recent nose-forward designs, the Jetta's composite halogen headlights and various inlets and grilles are well integrated into the raked rearward flow of its form. A striking vee, created by the slant of the headlamps and sloping hood lines, is carried strongly toward the rear by the steeply raked windshield and character lines running along the flanks.
Big tail light clusters, divided between the trunk and rear fender, help widen the proportion of the car's hindquarters in relation to its height, giving it a more substantial, less boxy-looking stern. The round tail lights and brake lights have been singled out as the new Jetta's most derivative design statement. Critics claim they make Jetta look bland and too much like Japanese sedans.
SportWagen hatches don't have the round-light issue and carry a small spoiler at the top of the roof and a rear wash/wipe system that clears every part of the glass you might look through. Tail lamps wrap well into the rear side panels but no lights are in the hatch so rear visibility is not compromised loading in the dark.
Volkswagen interiors are noted for their quality and value, combining expensive-looking materials with simple, attractive styling and excellent ergonomics. The result tends to be inviting cabins that are comfortable, pleasant places to be as the miles roll by.
The contours of the bucket front seats provide a high degree of support. The seats are easy to adjust with manual controls, and the steering column, adjustable for both rake and reach, and height-adjustable safety belt help drivers of all sizes get comfortable. The sporty thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel frames a gauge cluster dominated by separate, large dials for the tachometer and speedometer, well shaded from ambient light by a curved cowl. In daylight the graphics read white on black, at night changing to white on soothing swimming-pool blue, with lighted red pointers. In either case, the data are easy to comprehend at a glance. Within the tachometer and speedometer are warning lights and advisories about secondary functions, including one thoughtful warning that the fuel filler door was left open after refueling.
A large electronic message pad sits dead center, just over the coolant temperature and fuel gauges. In addition to more warning and diagnostic symbols, on upper-trim models this display includes trip computer readouts.
Trip computer data are accessed by one of three levers mounted on the steering column (or with the available multi-function steering wheel buttons). Jutting to the right, this lever also operates the wiper/washer system. To the left are the levers for the turn signals/headlamp flashers and cruise control. Though easy to use, the levers feel flimsy and are one of the few interior elements that have a cheap, plasticky look. The headlight switch is mounted on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.
Stereo control buttons surround the audio display screen in the center stack and are in full view, a setup we prefer over hidden controls. Unfortunately, the display's graphics are not easily discernible in daylight. At night, though, the display reverts to the trademark VW blue backlighting and is easily read. The steering wheel buttons on high-line models can be used to operate a cell phone, mute the radio, or toggle between the various modes of the sound system.
Just below the stereo, the manual Climatic heating and air conditioning is operated via a rotary dial on the left for temperature, one in the middle for fan speed, and a third on the right for directing the air in the cabin. Dual-zone climate control is used on SEL models.
The adjustment switch for the outside mirrors and the power window switches are on the driver's door armrest, within easy reach and sight. The windows feature anti-pinch protection and one-touch up or down. As a further convenience, they can also be opened or closed, along with the sunroof, with the master key in the driver's door lock.
The center console extends between the front seats and includes a covered storage bin, two cupholders, a power outlet and climate system vents for rear seat passengers. A small overhead console, just aft of the rearview mirror, holds a pair of reading lights, sunroof controls, interior light switches, a sunglasses bin and ambient lighting elements that softly illuminate the dash area at night. Other nice touches include sun visors that slide on rods to extend their reach over most of the side window, and well-lighted vanity mirrors.
The rear of the cabin provides seats nicely contoured and raked for comfort. A six-foot-tall driver still leaves room behind for a similarly sized passenger, and there's enough headroom to accommodate someone much taller, especially on wagons. Still, there's no way an adult will fit comfortably in the center rear seat if there are adults on each side. A 60/40 split folding rear seat is standard across the line. Rear-seat SportWagen riders prone to claustrophobia will appreciate the panoramic sunroof option, which features glass panels all the way back to the rear headrests and an opaque shade to minimize solar intrusion.
The trunk seems larger than is possible in a compact sedan (at 16 cubic feet). When the trunk lid is opened, it rises to a completely vertical position, out of the way of any loading or unloading. Completely carpeted, the trunk also has a storage cubby wall and four tie hooks.
Cargo space in the SportWagen reaches almost 67 cubic feet with seats dropped; even with the rear seat in place there is a 40-inch square load deck level with a folded rear seatback. To each side behind the wheels is a four-inch deep bin for stowing extra washer fluid or loose items, and under the floor is a three-inch deep, almost one foot by full-width well behind the seats. Aft of that there's a two-foot long section of similar depth; the cargo floor/compartment cover folds and can be locked into various notches to make a wall for segmenting heavier items. Two conventional cargo loops at the forward end floor are complemented by two much stouter steel loops at the back corners. At cargo cover level are a pair of pop-up D-clips for securing grocery bags.
Turn the key in the Volkswagen Jetta S, SE, or SEL sedan and you're greeted by the raspy growl of a five-cylinder engine. Although VW's powertrain engineers have made recent modifications to reduce vibration, it's still a little more audible than many small car engines, an in-your-ear sound that will find favor with those who appreciate mechanical sounds. We like it, but it might be annoying to drivers who'd rather talk on the phone.
The 2.5-liter reaches 0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds (the manual is quicker) and records EPA figures of 21/29 mpg. Jettas with the gasoline two-liter turbo cut 1-1.5 seconds off acceleration time and the DSG automatic is the quicker of the two; EPA ratings are virtually identical to the 2.5 liter. The new 2-liter turbodiesel will take longer to reach 60, in the nine second range, about what you'd expect from a car this size with these EPA figures: 29-30 city/40-41 highway.
There has been some controversy about the diesel's EPA ratings. In third-party testing AMCI produced results of 38/44 mpg and in a December 2006 study the EPA concluded their miles-per-gallon labels underestimated diesel mileage by double digits and overestimated gasoline and hybrid-electric figures. From early drives we anticipate the Jetta TDI capable of mid-30 to mid-40 mileage. It should also be noted that the Jetta TDI does not need fuel additives at refueling or maintenance intervals that some diesels require, and IRS tax credits offset its extra cost.
As soon as the Jetta pulls away from the curb, there's a feel of solidity, and a sense of high quality. Volkswagen invested in structural rigidity, and it paid off in ride quality and handling.
The five-cylinder engine is tuned for instant gratification, and we like it. It is all about usable midrange power here, with a relatively low 5800 rpm redline and no need to explore it. Stand start throttle tip-in is aggressive, especially when the automatic transmission is in Sport mode so you may want to avoid it for commuting. The engine provides little compression braking while driving downhill, however, and we'd prefer that it did for the control it provides.
Regardless of gearbox, the 2.5-liter never felt underpowered in a week of testing on freeways, over mountain passes and around town. Its rasp can be a bit strident when the accelerator is fully applied, but it's more a syncopated growl of power than a whine of discontent. We can attest that the Jetta will cruise all day long at 90 mph and, given an autobahn or race track to explore, will reach almost 130 mph at its top end. The 2.5 is a very flexible engine, and it delivers power when needed, no matter the gear.
Raw speed is not what this five-cylinder does best, however. If speed is the objective, the 2-liter turbo, which powered our Wolfsburg Edition test car, is a much better bet.
The six-speed automatic with Tiptronic does just about everything an automatic transmission should do. In full automatic mode, the transitions between gears are quick and slip-free. Slam the gas pedal down and downshifts are crisp, and the transmission holds the chosen gear until redline before swiftly shifting up to the next gear. Switch to the manual mode by moving the shift lever into a gate to the right. Pushing the lever forward in the manual mode chooses a higher gear, while pulling back selects a lower one.
Handling is rewarding, inspiring confidence on curving mountain roads. The Jetta carves through a corner with precision, and body roll is well controlled. It's more apparent in the base models, but regardless of trim level and suspension tuning the car's responses are precise and wholly predictable.
Entering a corner too quickly is easily corrected with the excellent four-wheel disc brakes. ABS helps the driver maintain steering control while braking, while Brake Assist ensures maximum brake force during emergency stops. Get everything wrong and stability control will do better than most drivers at returning to normal operation. The Jetta's high-tech traction aids provide a greater envelope of safety yet do little to diminish the driving experience.
We think this is one of the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars Volkswagen has produced. The lighter Golf is perhaps more tossable, particularly the GTI version, but American buyers still seem to prefer a formal sedan to a hatchback. The Jetta benefits from its multi-link rear suspension, instead of VW/Audi's traditional twist beam, along with a carefully designed MacPherson strut front suspension. Sedan or wagon, it's a well-balanced car, with little or no sense that the front end is doing the work of both pulling and steering the car.
The steering is sharp and communicative. It not only adjusts to speed, providing more assist at low speeds and higher effort on the open road, but through electronic control of the steering column it automatically corrects the car's direction when such external forces as crosswinds threaten to move it off track. It's a bit disconcerting at first for the car to do something a driver expects he or she will have to do, but in short order the self-correction becomes a welcome improvement.
For slippery conditions, Jetta's anti-slip regulation (ASR) and electronic differential control (EDL) team up to make the best of available traction; with a good set of winter tires all-wheel drive is not needed.
Although the sporty GLI model has been dropped, the Wolfsburg Edition, equipped with the four-cylinder turbo, delivers similar performance. The 2-liter four-cylinder is smaller in displacement than the standard five-cylinder, but it's turbocharged and develops a flat curve of usable torque, with 207 pound-feet available from 1800 to 5000 rpm. This means good response on the highway and around town. Step on the pedal and it goes not matter what. Yet this engine will gleefully rev to 6000 rpm in pursuit of its 200 peak horsepower. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds. We easily reached the electronically limited top speed of 130 mph on some deserted roads in New Mexico, where the roar of the wind clawing its way past the car was the sole intrusion on the peace inside the cabin. The same engine powers the SEL SportWagen.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and VW's terrific dual-clutch DSG auto-manual transmission make a sweet combination. It really makes two cars in one: smooth cruiser and performance bruiser. On a long trip, the DSG six-speed automatic exploits the economies of its fifth and sixth gears. Yet a dash across town perks it up, and it stays in lower gears longer for better acceleration. It downshifts directly from fifth or sixth gear to third if passing power is needed right now, skipping the gears in between. The driver can shift manually by sliding the gear lever into the DSG slot, which initiates touch-shifts through the gear lever itself; or via steering-wheel-mounted paddles on the Wolfsburg Edition. It's a brilliant system, crisp and smooth, and operation is direct and intuitive, as well as quicker in manual operation than a standard transmission.
TDI marks the return of Volkswagen diesels to the U.S. and this 2-liter four-cylinder is a derivative of the best-selling diesel in Volkswagens and Audis sold in Germany where they demand performance and fuel economy. It delivers 140 hp but the horsepower lost to the 2.5 and 2.0T (30 and 60, respectively) is made up for by the diesel's superior torque of 236 lb-ft from just 1,750 rpm. That grunt makes itself know in the form of a well of elastic urge, so relaxed you often find yourself cruising along at speeds more appropriate for Germany than the Interstate. Beyond ultra low sulfur diesel fuel (stations are plentiful and you'll get 400-500 miles from a tank) the TDI makes no special requests; it starts quickly even if cold, is frequently quieter than the 2.5, disappears into the background at speed and most of your passengers will never know if you don't tell them.
The Volkswagen Jetta blends German-bred engineering and technology, good materials and build quality, and solid performance in a value-priced package. The Jetta S model comes well equipped, with a decent CD player and a host of safety features. Its 2.5-liter five-cylinder was bred for American tastes, with lots of low-rev torque, and makes for both a snappy runabout and a comfortable long-distance cruiser. The turbocharged Wolfsburg Edition attains Audi-like sports sedan status without the cost and the 2.0T lends real sport to the SportWagen. Diesel models deliver the driving precision of the Jetta with fuel economy near that of hybrids, and only one hybrid SUV comes close to the price, mileage and practicality of a TDI SportWagen. At the high end, a loaded-to-the-max Jetta can push through $30,000.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale reported from Los Angeles, with Greg Brown reporting from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Volkswagen Jetta S ($17,605); SportWagen S ($19,510); SE ($20,395); SportWagen SE ($23,240); SEL ($23,280); Wolfsburg Edition 2.0T ($22,165); 2.0 TDI ($22,830); SportWagen 2.0 TDI ($24,615); TDI Cup ($24,990).
Options As Tested
rear wing spoiler ($395); lip spoiler ($360); ground effects kit ($1999) includes front air dam, side sill extensions, rear valence, exhaust tips.
Volkswagen Jetta Wolfsburg Edition SE ($22,165).
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