If you’re looking for great
fuel economy, you have lots of choices. There’s a cornucopia of small cars on
the market and, if you need more space, there are some larger hybrid vehicles
that still turn in impressive numbers at the pumps. But let’s say you want
more. How about a good-sized vehicle with wonderful road feel and driving fun?
That car is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI clean diesel sedan.
If you haven’t been around
diesels lately, you might still think they’re the smoky, stinky, slow models
that have been around for a couple of decades. But you’d be wrong. Today’s
diesel has been to the gym, quit smoking and—with an impressive 31mpg city/40
mpg EPA fuel economy rating—doesn’t drink much either. The Jetta TDI gives you a
choice of either sedan or wagon (or SportWagen), and both are handsome
vehicles. Our four-door sedan looked very German in its reflex silver metallic. While our TDI sedan test
car was thrifty on fuel, there was nothing low-rent about its interior. Like
all modern Volkswagens, the design is clean and efficient, and the quality of
the materials sets the standard for its class.
The best part of the Jetta
TDI experience, though, was in the driving. Start up was smooth and quiet, with
just a little of that characteristic diesel clacking of the powertrain if you
listen really closely. And while 140 hp might not sound like much, the
important fact is that the mountainous 236 lb-ft of torque (which really
matters for off-the-line oomph) comes in at just 1750 rpm. That gave our
manual-equipped tester the feeling of having a much larger engine under the
hood, with strong, muscular acceleration, and no need to grab for a lower gear
for passing or merging maneuvers.
The rest of the drive was
typical VW—with a smooth, controlled ride and super- responsive handling. Or as
Volkswagen likes to say: “Autobahn-tuned.” Even with a lot of lead-foot driving
(don’t blame us, the car encourages it!) we averaged in the mid 30 mpg range,
and saw over 40 mpg on some of our longer freeway trips. Impressive. With no options, but a nice
level of standard equipment, our tester carried an MSRP of $22,640. For a car
that’s as fun as it is frugal, that’s a great deal.
By Ben Lewis, Contributing
Read Mac Demere’s road test
review of the 2009 Jetta TDI and research this and other Volkswagen models for pricing, features and specs in our VW Vehicle Guide.