Tuesday, March 18, 2014


The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI joins a diesel fleet that, according to the automaker, represents 75 percent of all diesel-powered vehicles sold in the United States. Although the broader numbers show that diesel-powered passenger vehicles have never enjoyed the sweeping success here that they’ve had in Europe, some brands continue to plod ahead with oil-burning engines and reap relatively strong sales. Volkswagen is one of these brands, having sold more than 1 million diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. since the first Rabbit diesel was sold here in 1977. 

VW’s current 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine, found under the hood of the 2013 Jetta, has enjoyed years of relative success, with Volkswagen often claiming that sales are limited mostly by production capacity. Waitlists at dealers and high TDI resale values seem to back that up. The engine produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel our Reflex Silver Metallic example from 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds flat, then on to the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds, with a trap speed of 86.3 mph. Those figures might not sound too impressive, but keep in mind that: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Front Three Quarter

The manual transmission is fun to row. Shift lever action is light, but it notches accurately into the gates. The clutch was the main shortfall — not only was the pedal action light, but the engagement point was difficult to judge, resulting in embarrassing stalls for several staffers. Of course, experience is the key, and with a couple back-to-back days behind the wheel, frequent stalls became a distant memory. 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Rear Three Quarters On the road, the Jetta feels light and nimble, largely because it is. At a shade over 3100 pounds, the TDI sits on the lighter side of average for the segment, but that’s not at the expense of solidarity. The chassis is taut and rides a bit firmer than some competitors. The reward is strong composure whether tracking down the interstate or tearing up a back road — something GLI owners are probably more inclined to take part in. Like the shifter, steering is light yet direct, and the driving position is very good, with excellent range to the telescoping steering column — a plus for taller drivers. Taller passengers, however, may find the rear seat slightly cramped, but passable for shorter trips around town. 

This is a compact sedan, after all; those looking for huge rear seatroom are best steered towards the larger Passat TDI. Still, the cabin of the Jetta TDI is a nice place to spend time, and several improvements have been made for the 2013 model year. Power-reclining driver and front passenger seats are now standard, and the steering wheel, shift knob, and hand-brake lever are all leather-wrapped. VW says that a standard soft-touch dash is also coming to the Jetta TDI by year’s end, though our early-2013 tester wasn’t so equipped. That said, the V-Tex black leatherette seat upholstery is of good quality, and our non-optioned car came equipped with Bluetooth, an iPod interface, and keyless entry at no extra cost. Our car was listed at the base price of $23,850. 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Side In Motion

2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Interior Front Seats 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cockpit 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Engine Of course, even more important than all these niceties for most prospective TDI owners is fuel economy, and the EPA rates the 2013 Jetta TDI at 30/42 mpg city/highway, with a combined rating of 34 mpg in mixed driving. That’s a single combined mpg better than the Chevrolet Cruze diesel’s EPA rating, but 10 mpg combined less than the Honda Civic Hybrid and 16 mpg combined less than the Toyota Prius. Driven briskly over several hundred miles of interstate, back roads, and city traffic, we averaged 39.7 mpg combined, besting the EPA average. All in all, we liked the 2013 Jetta TDI quite a bit, especially its combination of fun and frugality -- it’s easily one of the more entertaining cars to drive in this segment. 

That said, there are two big improvements coming in the near future that should up the ante. For the 2014 model year, the rear suspension will be a multi-link design, similar to that found on the European Jetta, that should increase handling capability and ride comfort. Then, for the 2015 model year, the TDI gets a revised 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine, making 10 more horsepower for a total of 150 hp, though torque stays the same at 236 lb-ft. According to Volkswagen, the updated TDI engine will provide better throttle response along with lower emissions and higher fuel efficiency, though it will finally mandate the use of a urea solution, something that Volkswagen had managed to avoid, thus far, in the Jetta. Despite the advantages of the upcoming engine, it would appear most buyers aren’t choosing to wait. As of the end of July, Volkswagen had sold 47,000 diesel-powered cars in America.

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