Just before fuel prices dropped precipitously late last year, we took delivery of our first diesel-powered Four Seasons car in ages, a stick-shift 2009 Volkswagen Jetta
TDI, EPA rated at an impressive 30 mpg in the city, 41 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. This crushes the fuel economy performance of the base Jetta, which has a 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder rated at 21/30 mpg, for a 24-mpg combined rating. That 10-mpg advantage comes at a price, however, since the TDI carries a premium of almost $5000 and diesel fuel currently costs more than $.50 more per gallon than regular unleaded. In other words, like most hybrid vehicles, the TDI might not save its owners money versus a more conventional car. But, of course, when you're riding the Fuel Price Roller Coaster, it sure can make you feel good to see that higher fuel-economy number on the trip computer.
Fuel mileage is important to the pocketbook, sure, but one shouldn't underestimate the importance and convenience of a vehicle's fuel range between fillups. Web producer Evan McCausland offered his opinion in our VW's logbook:
"Those of us with stronger bladders or properly planned diets will perhaps love the fact that interstate travel can be accomplished with few or no stops along the way. And considering the comfortable interior (gotta love the leatherette seats), marathon runs don't require a degree of masochism on the driver's part."
Road test editor Marc Noordeloos' glasses are less rosy, however:
"I understand that fuel range is a big bonus, but you have to live with the Jetta's lack of horsepower, the small rev band, and the dead-feeling clutch. I do like driving the TDI around town, though. It's fun to short shift, and the engine is happy in fifth or sixth gear at almost any reasonable speed. But if you try to push the Jetta through a corner, another issue with a diesel engine comes to light--it's heavy and induces unwelcome understeer."
Noordeloos' British expat wife also had an unfavorable report after driving the TDI. Marc wrote, "Alice has driven a ton of European diesels in the U.K. She hates the VW's clutch, as it offers little feel, and she summed up the Jetta TDI as 'boring' and 'a car for old people.' "
But not everyone thinks the Jetta is boring. Assistant editor David Zenlea and his family drove the Jetta to Boston for Thanksgiving. " 'What about the Evo or the IS-F?' asked my parents--who, like me, have been quickly spoiled rotten by our fleet of test cars--before the trip. It's fair to say, though, that after about 2000 miles and thirty hours, we were all in love with the little Jetta. One might normally associate its ride and handling characteristics with those of a vehicle twice the Jetta's size and price. If nothing else, the TDI should serve as a reminder of how great VW is at building small cars."
Let the debate continue...
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Loyal Edition
Base Price: $23,090
As Tested: $23,090
EPA Fuel Economy: 30/41/34 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Engine: SOHC 16-valve turbo-diesel I-4
Power: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Tires: Continental ContiWinterContact
Tire size: 205/55HR-16
Weight: 3230 lb