The oil-burning steed recently made the trek from Southern California to the Phoenix, Arizona area so that our resident photographer, Drew Phillips, could make sure we got all the right shots as we lead-footed our way around the Bondurant circuit with the Chevy Camaro ZL1.
Parking the Jetta TDI next to the Camaro ZL1 was an interesting exercise – it's hard to imagine two vehicles more diametrically opposed than these. And, needless to say, moving directly from 580 supercharged horsepower in the ZL1 to just 140 horses in the VW took a bit of right-foot recalibration.
The good news is that, with 236 pound-feet of torque on tap, the Jetta TDI is fun to drive in its own right. Short-shifting the six-speed manual gearbox to keep the diesel mill in its sweet spot produces the most satisfying experience in the Jetta, and it allows you to feel the rush of torque as the turbocharger gets a hold of the spent diesel fumes, pushing your body into the seatback.
Since this is my first stint behind the wheel of our long-term Jetta TDI, I'll take a moment to echo the sentiments of our past drivers. First, the interior of any 2011 Jetta is a big letdown for anyone who's sat in previous efforts from VW, with wide expanses of hard black plastic and barely any flair or actual style to break up the monotony. The vinyl coverings of the seats make your back sweat something fierce, especially if you're in the midst of a long slog on the highway. We long for some nice plaid fabric. The start/stop button is very oddly placed and feels like an afterthought. On the plus side, the in-dash LCD is nicely crisp and, for the most part, easy to use with its touch-screen interface.
And, of course, it's way too easy to stall the TDI engine in first and second gears. There seems to be some programming in the engine's electronic brain that unexpectedly shuts it down entirely if you dip past a certain RPM threshold. If that's necessary for the longevity of the powerplant or for emissions reasons, we understand, but it's still a very irritating and un-diesel-like trait that every driver will need to adapt to.
I've only spent a few weeks with our long-term Volkswagen Jetta TDI, and will touch more on what it's like to live with on a day-to-day basis in next month's update. In the meantime, I'll revel in the knowledge that a car needn't be a penalty box to post exceptional fuel mileage.
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