I don't eat red meat. Beef, pork, buffalo, venison... if it has four legs I pretty much can't eat it. But it's not a political statement, and I don't care if you eat it. I simply can't do it-I get sick. Unfortunately, I have a deep lust for cheeseburgers. I've tried veggie patties and soy burgers, but they just don't cut it.
I finally just started eating turkey burgers. Maybe I can't really remember what I'm missing, but others tell me that a good turkey burger is really close. Sometimes when you find a good enough substitute you don't miss the original as much.
It seems like every car builder out there is trying to do something different to increase fuel mileage. Hybrids, plug-in electrics, fuel-cell vehicles-all great ideas, but with the current state of technology they aren't developed enough to be a good substitute.
Volkswagen has a different plan: adapt proven technology and bring it up to modern standards. The company isn't reinventing the automobile, just changing its ingredients a little. VW has recently launched a new clean diesel campaign, which will be used in several platforms, the first being the Jetta TDI.
The beauty of diesel cars lies in the relatively small change in the driving experience. It still uses internal combustion, you still pump fuel at a service station, and it makes similar noises. If you put the average person in a clean-diesel Jetta, he'd probably have no idea it wasn't a normal gas car. Enthusiasts will notice the lower redline and relish the extra torque.
We see a lot of high-end European vehicles around here and our new TDI may not be the fastest, best handling or the most exotic, but it could be the most significant. It doesn't wear a GLI or R badge, but it is powered by VW's new Turbo Clean Diesel, which really is the most promising technology to impact fuel usage in years. Equipped with direct injection, a catalytic converter, particulate filter, and calibrated to run on low-sulfur diesel, it returns incredible mileage without blowing loads of pollution out the back end. Bundle all that technological goodness in a car as comfortable, roomy and well-built as the Jetta and you have a sure winner.
There is a slight premium to pay for the diesel engine over the 2.5-liter five-cylinder, but innovation is never free. With the TDI's added torque, we feel it's a step above the five-banger. In most real-world driving situations it's the equal of the 2.0T. The eco-friendly TDI is rated at 140 hp, which may sound unremarkable, but you also have to consider the 236 lb-ft of torque available at a very useable 1750 rpm. The power curve is Kansas-flat and propels the 3,200-pound Jetta easily at any rpm. You don't need to constantly wind the engine to redline. My seat-of-the-pants feel is that shifting around 3500 rpm will see the fastest acceleration times.
In our first few weeks of driving, we've recorded roughly 36 mpg commuting to work. On the freeway, we're seeing over 40 mpg. Besides getting phenomenal economy, we're impressed with the incredible low-end grunt and smooth power delivery. For around-town driving in traffic, you just can't beat the pulling power at low rpm. Unlike old-school diesels, the clean diesel performs with no smoke, no rattling.
We ordered our Laser Blue TDI with a six-speed DSG transmission, which in our estimate is probably the best transmission on the market. Efficient, fast and foolproof, we find it a perfect match to just about every engine in VW's line-up. We considered a traditional manual, but in the end, we just couldn't do it. We have put extensive mileage on both street and track in DSG cars and never found ourselves missing the third pedal.
As some of our readers will remember, we had a Jetta 2.0T long-termer a couple years ago. Staffers had a few complaints, not least of which was the soft, "floaty" suspension. We don't have the same complaint with this car. VW seems to have replaced the mushy spring and damping rates with something more suited to wearing the VW badge. While it's no GLI, it is very livable for an enthusiast. The car does roll, dive and squat slightly, but lift-throttle oversteer is entertaining enough and the car will hold its own on a canyon road. The tires are best described as efficient. They perform admirably for a 205/55/16s, but performance-minded drivers should opt for something more substantial. Jettas can be ordered from the factory with wheel sizes ranging from 16 to 18 inches, so this is a problem that can be cleared up before the car even rolls off the lot.
One thing that can't be cleared up with the order sheet is the brakes. The problem may be more ours than VW's. A lot of cars we drive come equipped with binders that elongate eyeballs and bend ears. The Jetta's brakes are just normal. While they're adequate for the stock car, bigger tires and a better suspension will leave the stock brakes wanting.
When we ordered our car, VW's new touchscreen nav and entertainment system was unavailable. We have sampled them on other cars and were impressed. We're trying to get one to retrofit, and that may just be the beginning of the modifications our long-termer will see.
We're looking forward to the coming year. We've driven TDI racecars and were left convinced of the sporting possibilities of oil-burners. We know how good our last Jetta was with just a few mods, so we really see potential in this car. The most exciting thing? If you don't look at the numbers on the tach, you don't even know anything is different.
At A Glance
+ Mileage, torque, fit and finish
- Average brakesTotal mileage: 2,012
Consumption average: 38.5 mph
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.0-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged, common rail direct-injection, catalytic converter and particulate filter equipped
Peak Power: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Peak Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.2 sec.
Top Speed: 128 mph
*Base Price: $21,990
*Price as Equipped: $24,090
*Options: DSG transmission: $1,100;