2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Clean diesel, quiet diesel, quick diesel
It’s past time to take all those negative notions about diesel-engine cars and feed them through the shredder. The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is the equal of its gasoline-fueled siblings in every area, except one: It kicks gas in fuel mileage. On the government’s highway driving cycle, the 2009 Jetta TDI gets 41 miles per gallon and 30 mpg in the city. During our test drive ng (in a TDI loaned to us by VW), which included 80-mph freeway cruising maximum-effort acceleration sprints, and a bunch of city driving, we recorded 39 mpg.
Diesel Vs. Gas
The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a roomy, sporty, quick, economical sedan. Without being told, few will know the Jetta TDI burns diesel, not gasoline. Even if diesel were to cost as much as a dollar per gallon more than regular gas, a Jetta TDI getting 41 mpg will be cheaper to operate than a Jetta using the alternative 2.5-liter gasoline engine getting its rated 29 mpg. But how is diesel fuel on the environment? In the short term, it’s a toss-up. In the long run, diesel has a chance to be better for the environment and reduce dependence on foreign oil if “synthetic diesel” technologies can be profitably industrialized. These technologies include diesel made from non-food plants, plant waste, garbage, sewage, coal and natural gas.
Synthetic diesel burns cleaner than petro-diesel. (The net environmental and social impact of soybean- and other food-plant-based bio-diesel is arguably negative.) It’s unlikely that any type of diesel will be as cheap as gasoline. One reason: The worldwide demand for diesel is exploding. In some countries, more than half the vehicles burn diesel. Also, refiners can alter only slightly the ratio between diesel and gasoline extracted from each barrel of crude oil.
Inside the Jetta TDI, there’s essentially nothing that indicates you’re driving a diesel-fueled vehicle. There’s none of the smoke, stink or sluggishness that characterized diesels from the past. It starts immediately: No waiting for the old-time glow plugs to warm up. The only significant indicator is a small written reminder, hidden behind the turn signal stalk, to use only ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. Since there’s none of the old indications that it’s a diesel, it’s possible someone not familiar with the car will miss the “ultra-low sulfur diesel only” warning inside the fuel door and the large-lettered “DIESEL” on the fuel cap. Putting gasoline in a diesel-engined car will be an expensive, or a very expensive, mistake.
From the outside, the TDI badge is the biggest indicator it’s a diesel. There’s none of the traditional diesel clatter. (On start-up on a cold morning we heard less than a second of that old-time clatter.) Even with your nose inches from the exhaust, there’s no hint of the diesel odor that used to be evident a block away. Sometimes there’ll be a whiff of sulfur during refueling, but that’s an unfortunate reminder of when that pump and the tanker truck carried higher-sulfur diesel.
The 2.0-liter, single-overhead cam, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine in the Jetta TDI provides 140 horsepower and a large 236 pound-feet of torque. It features direct-into-the-cylinder, very-high-pressure fuel injection: This is key to the engine’s low emissions and noise. The diesel’s low engine speed limit of 4,500 rpm took time to get used to as some cars today redline at almost twice that number. We bounced the manual-transmissioned Jetta TDI against the rev limiter in first gear several times.
A key to Jetta TDI’s existence is ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD). ULSD allows the use of diesel oxidation catalysts and selective catalytic reduction devices, both similar to catalytic converters on gasoline engines. ULSD also allows the addition of mono-nitrogen oxides (NOx) absorbers (such as that on the Jetta) and particulate traps. The result is a radical reduction in smog- and acid-rain-causing NOx, carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons. Unlike some other diesels, the Jetta TDI does not require a chemical to be injected into the exhaust.
Interior, Driving, Trim Levels
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI has a notably roomy interior, especially the rear seat area. While the government rates it as a compact, subjectively it seemed to have as much space as vehicles that earn a midsize rating. Many vehicles have five rear seating positions but the center-rear position is rarely useable by adults. However, the Jetta’s center rear position is large and flat enough that three friendly adults should have no difficulty riding in back. In addition to a roomy interior, the Jetta TDI possesses a large, usable 16-cubic-foot trunk.
Steering was precise and confidence inspiring but ultimate grip was only modest. The Jetta is more of a sporty-feeling car than sporty-performing car. The low engine redline had us working the six-speed manual transmission when we wanted to go quickly up a tight mountain road.
The TDI is also available in the SportWagen station wagon form. In total, Jetta is available in four trim levels and with 170-horse 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder or 200-horse turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engines. The 2.5 engine comes with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The other engines offer either a six-speed manuals or six-speed automatics.
The Jetta earned the coveted Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick award. In government crash tests, however, the Jetta earned only four out of five stars for frontal crashes, but got the top five-star rating for driver and rear passenger side impacts.
The Jetta TDI sedan starts above $22,000, while fully optioned versions can approach $29,000. This will be partially offset by a $1,300 federal income tax credit because the TDI meets “advanced lean burn” requirements. Gasoline-powered versions of the Jetta start at about $18,000. Notable options include sound system that features a multi-disc, in-dash CD player and 10 speakers.
If you’re looking for a roomy, sport-flavored, economical sedan, the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI would make an excellent choice. (www.vw.com)
About the Author
Mac Demere is a writer, vehicle tester and race driver who competed in the NASCAR Southwest Tour and Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
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