You tend to get a feel for your car's fuel consumption rate. Without even looking at the gauge you can tell how much gas you've got left and how long until the next fill up.
That doesn't work with the Jetta TDI.
In fact, we thought VW was playing a joke on us (they do this cheese prank that is sooo not funny) when the car's fuel gauge refused to budge. In its first few weeks with us, the needle stayed near Full. Granted we were only using the car to commute to work and run short errands, but that still meant some 20 miles each day, more on weekends. Someone had to be filling this thing up at night. That or we were in a space/time continuum rift.
Eventually, I needed to make a 300-mile trip down south. Typically, I'd hit the local gas station and fill up, maybe get some road nosh. No need. The Jetta still said it was fueled.
As I hit the freeway it dawned on me how far away this car is from the first diesel Rabbit. I remember my buddy's oil-burning Rabbit taking a scary amount of time to reach 65 mph. We'd rock back and forth in an effort to squeeze out a few more mph. And once at a decent speed, you'd be careful not to waste it because getting there took a while. I remember it as a solid, yet Spartan, VW. I think the aftermarket radio cost more than the entire car. In contrast, the Jetta TDI breaches 60 mph in seven seconds. Its cabin is first rate, the type of interior you'd expect in a car costing twice as much. There are very thoughtful touches inside too, like telescopic sun visors, spring-loaded drink holders, and a clever iPod adapter. The only thing the old and the new VWs have in common is their bird-like appetite for diesel.
Turns out, it's possible to squeeze 43 mpg from the TDI engine, more if you carefully modulate the accelerator. In hindsight, I was driving the VW carefully as it was a new car with a new engine, never revving it hard or lugging the motor. I was doing what "hyper-milers" do to get the most miles out of a gallon of fuel.
By the time I got to San Diego, the fuel needle had dropped to 3/4 of a tank. Actually, I was somewhat thankful since I'd been wondering if the gauge was broken (and I was dying for a Red Bull).
The month I spent in the Jetta TDI could not have come at a better time. I'd depleted the checking account paying for a college-bound daughter, leaving me with just enough to pay the bank's service fee. I was, for lack of a better word, broke.
I began to coordinate traffic signals so I wouldn't have to stop and tried to keep the turbo from becoming too excited. I was going to make every ounce of fuel count, not for fun but necessity.
Which is really a shame because the Jetta TDI is hella fun to drive hard. Its engine produces enough torque to smoke the tires from stoplight-to-stoplight. But we know this already. Tech-ed Febbo has gushed about its road holding characteristics and well-sorted ride. And he won't stop talking about its engine. Like all Jettas, it's a genuine German sport sedan. The TDI version actually raises the bar.
We like to talk about the performance aspect of performance cars. Typically, fuel mileage is not part of the equation. The Jetta TDI is the first car we've seen that holds bragging rights to both.
At A Glance
+ Brilliant engine, well sorted suspension, excellent mileage for its performance
-- DSG without steering wheel paddles makes us sad
Total mileage: 9,700
Fuel economy: 38 mpg