Even after half a year, we are still amazed at how easy it is to get excellent fuel mileage in the Jetta TDI. Official EPA ratings for the car are 30 city and 42 highway, but rarely do we fall below that average. Twice we have averaged more than 50 miles per gallon for a tankful, and only occasionally do we drop below 40 mpg on average. Apparently, only lead-foot Michael Harley, last month's caretaker of the Jetta TDI, knows how to get mediocre fuel mileage out of the 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder, averaging around 35 mpg during his time with the car.
This admirable fuel mileage translates to well over 500 miles per tank (we went 608 miles in between our last two fill-ups), a pleasant change compared to the frequent stops necessary with other vehicles.
Of course, there's more to the Volkswagen Jetta TDI than its fuel mileage. Follow the jump to read more about how the other aspects of the car have fared during the past month.
The interior of the Jetta TDI has been the main subject of our complaints since it first arrived in April. Volkswagen has fitted most of the Jetta lineup with cheap materials throughout the cabin for 2011, and unfortunately, the TDI is no exception. In our comparison test with the Honda Civic Hybrid and Chevrolet Cruze Eco, the Jetta was voted to have our "least favorite cabin of the bunch." In particular, the seats are made of faux leather and their contouring makes it difficult to find a good sitting position. Over the past month, we have started to notice the discomfort less, so it's possible the seats will be easier to live with over time.
Thankfully, Volkswagen hasn't cheaped out on this car's most common touch points – the steering wheel and shifter – both of which are pleasant to the touch. Another positive is the amount of leg room and massive trunk, which swallow appendages and luggage with ease, respectively.
A few other notable mentions for the interior include the start button and the navigation system. The start button's cheap execution and awkward placement behind the shifter and the several-second delay between pressing it and the start of the engine had us wishing for a standard key ignition. The touchscreen navigation system is actually one of the simplest and easiest to use – keying in destination points takes mere seconds – but we wish the screen was larger and that it could zoom out farther. One feature we very much appreciate is its ability to pick out gas stations specifically with diesel fuel.
Another common issue with the long-term Jetta TDI is the clutch, and nearly every member of the Autoblog staff who has driven the car has managed to stall it at least once. After spending several weeks with the car, we've learned how to better work with the nonlinear clutch and occasionally balky gearshift lever, although the combination still manages to catch us off guard and stall unexpectedly every few days. We might be inclined to opt for the optional DSG, but we've heard reports that dual-clutch Jetta TDIs aren't exactly a joy to operate, either.
As for reliability, our Jetta TDI has been rock solid. We still have yet to take advantage of Volkswagen's three-year / 36,000 mile free maintenance while the car has been in Southern California, although the 20,000-mile service is only a few fill-ups away. The only problem we've encountered is a buzzing from the driver's side dash that comes and goes (currently all is quiet). Given VW's history for spotty reliability and the unexpected death of our previous long-term 2010 Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition, we're very pleased with this performance and are hopeful that it's a harbinger of things to come for the entire company.