ABG Driving Impression: 2008 Volkswagen Jetta CleanTDI 6spd DSG

In conjunction with the kick off of Volkswagen's Dieselution tour, the assembled media got an opportunity to take a brief drive in one of the Jetta diesels. The prototype Jetta sedan that was on hand had the latest 2.0L CleanTDI engine mated up to a six-speed DSG gearbox. DSG is Volkwagen's branding for the dual-clutch gearbox that has been available in the GTI, R32 and Audi TT previously.

The Jetta is a relatively compact car but it still held three full-sized auto writers and a VW engineer in reasonable comfort. Adding a third adult passenger to the rear seat is one of those fallacies, similar to the idea of any human with full-size legs using the back seat of a Lexus SC or Porsche 911. It probably wouldn't be the ideal choice for four adults on a long road trip due to lack of stretch out room, but a cross-town jaunt to lunch or dinner shouldn't leave anyone feeling grumpy.

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Starting the diesel yielded a muted note, different from a gas engine but nothing like the racket most Americans would still expect from a diesel. It was in no way bothersome or offensive. The DSG transmission operates just like a conventional automatic when you put it in Drive, with smooth seamless shifts and no indication of anything unusual. The fact that it uses mechanical clutches though allows a DSG to beat a comparable automatic by about 10-15 percent in fuel economy. The Jetta diesel will also be available with a conventional six speed shift-it-yourself gearbox for those so inclined.

As with all diesels, the 140 hp 2.0L has plenty of torque with 236 lb-ft from 1750 rpm. That's more than enough to move a loaded Jetta without working up a sweat. Underway, the diesel has a distant growl and it's obvious that VW put a lot of effort into optimizing the NVH of this car. From the outside when the car is sitting idling, bystanders can barely tell that it's running. Besides the lack of noise, there was no smoke and no smell. The Jetta is able to pass Tier 2/Bin 5 standards without a urea injection system. A diesel particulate filter is used to keep the soot at bay and a NOx trap captures those gases.

The engine periodically swithes operating modes to a richer air/fuel mixture for a short time which allows the NOx trap to process the NOx and replenish itself. The result is a maintenance free after-treatment system that meets the same fifty-state standards as gasoline engines. The new CleanTDI's will also be certified for use with biodiesel blends up to B5 right out of the box. Currently, there are still no national standards for higher percentage blends like B20 so VW won't warranty those. Once a B20 standard has been implemented and certified fuels are available, VWoA President Stefan Jacoby said they would revisit that issue.

The new CleanTDI Jetta will go on sale in March of 2008 in both sedan and SportWagen styles. According to VW spokesman Keith Price the new CleanTDI Jetta will have a similar price premium to the old diesel running about $2,000 more than a gas engine model. For that price you get a sedan or wagon that gets real world mileage in the mid-40s in the city and low to mid 50s on the highway. VW isn't stating any specific sales targets yet, but traditionally when diesels have been offered they have comprised about thirty percent of the mix for those model lines. They expect a heavier mix of diesels in the wagon than the sedan, with perhaps half going diesel. We're anxiously awaiting our opportunity for a full test of the new Jetta CleanTDI to see if it can really live up to expectations.

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