Bounced around between the team, the frugal four-door went to Autoblog's Director of Photography, Drew Phillips, first. The bugs were scraped off, the windows cleaned and the Jetta prepared for its official photo shoot (check out the photos laced throughout this post, or click here to see the full gallery). After a week with Drew, it motored across Los Angeles and was soon dropped off at an LA airport parking garage with the keys in an envelope bearing my name (I was arriving back in town after a flight from the Frankfurt Motor Show).
My first order of business was to give the Jetta TDI a quick mechanical inspection...
The once-over was warranted, as I found the oil sump overfilled (kudos to Volkswagen for still equipping the TDI with a traditional dipstick – it appears to be a plastic rod). Since nobody who drove it admitted to putting any oil in the crankcase, the culprit must have been Suburban Volkswagen in Troy, Michigan – they serviced the vehicle in early August, just before it headed west. It doesn't seem to affect the 2.0-liter turbodiesel's operation, so we aren't going to mess with it.
The tire pressures were also low (29 psi at each corner), so I bumped them up to 35 psi all around, which is slightly higher than Volkswagen recommends (the door sticker says 33 psi) but I prefer the firmer ride and I will have four passengers in it most of the time. Lastly, I used a six-millimeter hex tool to crank the headlight beams up slightly as they were aimed seriously nearsighted from the factory.
Mechanically speaking, the now 14,000-mile Jetta TDI has been sound. It is worth noting the tires are in excellent condition with a good wear pattern and the brakes look like they will go five times the already covered distance. Oddly, and inexplicably, every so often the seatbelt chime will alert in the middle of a left turn. The ringing stops as quickly as it starts. If it continues, we will have it looked at.
My first impressions of the new Jetta's cabin aren't very positive. While I had mentally prepared for a cheapened interior, I continue to find additional minor cost-cutting annoyances. First on the list is the frequently used start/stop button. It appears to be a round push-button with a chrome trim ring. In truth, it is a cheap, one-piece square switch which moves its whole surround when pressed. Interior lighting is also frustrating, as the driver cannot activate the rear overhead lights (to help kids with their seatbelts) without opening a door. The no-frills navigation unit is nearly useless, too, with a lack of information on the small screen and an inability to zoom out while retaining detail, but I do like its touchscreen buttons when controlling a Bluetooth phone.
Hardly one to join the green movement and "hypermile," I recorded the lowest fuel economy average in the logbook – 30.8 miles per gallon – after driving around town for a week straight, barely touching a highway. Of course, I wasn't driving with efficiency in mind. On the other hand, I also took a roundtrip to San Diego and achieved 41.6 mpg on one tank, including the stop-and-go downtown segments. The Jetta TDI eats miles effortlessly. It is hard to complain about a quiet cabin and a 500-plus mile cruising range.
As others have mentioned, the manual transmission is sloppy and the clutch unreasonably light (stalling is to be expected), but I still prefer manually spinning the engine up to 4,500 rpm in every gear over any DSG or automatic option. The 236 pound-feet of torque makes driving the turbodiesel enjoyable as it allows the Jetta to pull itself, loaded with passengers, up hills and grades without wheezing. Even though it didn't win our recent Eco Compact comparison, there is plenty of fun-to-drive DNA buried within the Jetta, and I'd still choose the oil-burning Volkswagen over a Chevrolet Cruze... or a Toyota Prius, for that matter.
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