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The other day I finally got behind the wheel of a the much-lauded Jetta TDI, aka the diesel that could. Despite efforts from all the automakers to get diesels a favorable light in the North American market, it has always been Volkswagen holding the reins and beating back competitors.
Now, the new generation of 50-state legal diesels is selling like hotcakes while proving that fuel economy and power are not incompatible goals. Despite the fact that many manufacturers are still shying away from importing their diesels to the United States, VW has proven over the last 20 years that they are willing to stick out the relationship through thick and thin, and are finally reaping the rewards.
What is the 2009 Jetta TDI?
The flagship of Volkswagen’s diesel efforts in the United States, the 2009 Jetta TDI packs a lot of punch into the manufacturer’s stedfast sedan. After spending some time off the market due to evolving emissions regulations and the push to release 50-state clean diesels, the Jetta has returned it’s fuel economy champion to the market with a 2.0l engine delivering 140 hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque.
This car definitely isn’t your father’s Volkswagen Rabbit. Despite VW’s legacy of diesels that smell funny and couldn’t kick themselves in the butt to get up a hill, the company reinvented the TDI brand into something now more closely related with high torque and driving excitement than penny pinching and hard starts in the winter.
However, the car hasn’t completely lost its fuel economy roots. The rather large and powerful sedan still manages to impress most drivers with EPA ratings of 29 (city)/40 (highway) mpg with an automatic transmission or 30/41 mpg with a stick shift. Despite using slightly more expensive diesel gasoline, the car is poised to save drivers big over its gasoline siblings, which only manage ratings averaging 21 (city)/30 (highway) mpg.
Who should consider buying the new Jetta TDI?
Despite Volkswagen’s once-coveted position as the “car of the people,” the brand is now a little more up-market, with the Jetta TDI setting you back at least $22,270 ($1,100 more for the automatic transmission). That makes the TDI more expensive than Honda Insight and Toyota Prius hybrids.
Many buyers who are interested in fuel economy but need the space of a family sedan will likely find themselves looking at the Insight, Prius, and Jetta TDI. If thrift is all you’re worried about, the Insight or Prius will likely win, as they return better gas mileage for less money on cheaper fuel. However, that’s rarely the whole story.
The Jetta TDI is perfect for the efficiency-minded driver who desires both a spirited vehicle and a manual transmission, something the TDI distinctly offers and other fuel-efficient competitors fall short on delivering. It is this balance of fuel economy, oomph, and driving excitement that make the Jetta TDI worth looking at.
Jetta TDI Fuel Economy Report
Unfortunately for this review I was saddled with the automatic DSG transmission and did not get to take a crack at the stick shift version of the 2009 Jetta TDI. Although the automatic only averages 1 mpg less than the stick shift in the EPA test cycle, an experienced ecodriver can easily achieve much better mileage in a stick shift than an automatic.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to surpass the EPA ratings in the DSG-transmission 2009 Jetta TDI with only mild ecodriving techniques in mostly suburban driving.
Over a few hundred miles of mostly short trips in suburban conditions I managed a respectable 41.1 mpg, 25% over the EPA combined rating of 33 mpg. To achieve this number I used only moderate ecodriving techniques mixed in with a lot of spirited driving. Though I was held back a bit by the automatic transmission, with a stick or more advanced techniques higher numbers are definitely a possibility with this car. Unlike its hybrid competitors, the TDI doesn’t struggle to soar past its EPA ratings when driven carefully.
However, during short trips and when making use of the overabundant power output of the diesel engine, mileage can be an issue, with some of my trips coming in at less than 35 mpg. As easy as it is to get great mileage with this vehicle, it is just as easy to see it all slip away during one spirited launch from a stop light.
In the end, more than many other cars’, the 2009 Jetta TDI’s fuel economy is what you make of it.
Overall Impressions of the 2009 Jetta TDI
While I focused on fuel economy during my time behind the wheel, I did not ignore the rest of the car. The 2009 Jetta TDI is a roomy, attractive sedan that is both comfortable to be in and to drive. The vehicle holds the road and gives you a feeling of confidence as you test the more spirited aspects of the car.
The 140 hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque really make themselves noticed when you put the pedal to the floor, tempting you to waste more fuel than you most likely should. When driving the car, it becomes clear that Volkswagen sacrificed a fair amount of fuel economy in the name of fun, which is sure to set the vehicle apart from some of its hybrid counterparts.
Storage room is ample and it is easy to fit five people in the car, though like many smaller sedans, it might not always be the most comfortable seating arrangement. Despite a surprisingly long trunk, I found it a little difficult to use for my normal hauling because the dimensions were narrower than I am usually treated to. Luckily, folding rear seats making hauling most things a fairly painless task.
Despite the fairly attractive gauges, I found myself constantly annoyed that the central information display would only display one thing at a time. This meant that I could only look at current fuel economy or trip fuel economy, but never both at the same time, which, as an ecomodder, left me constantly toggling between the two screens in order to get the information I needed.
The other main point of difficulty with the car was that with only 1000 miles on the odometer the stereo decided to randomly spike to 100% of volume. This made listening to the radio impossible and I eventually gave up fiddling with the knobs to turn it back down and just went without the built-in satellite radio for the remainder of the test drive. This may be an isolated incident, but for someone who still has doubts about VW’s ability to produce high-quality vehicles, it was a troublesome one.
Overall, the car was very solid and certainly wins my thumbs up as a sedan for performance, comfort, and handling.
If you’re looking for the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can get, the 2009 Jetta TDI is probably a bit overpowered for you. Despite the car’s ability to quite easily exceed the EPA ratings, it will still struggle to compete with hybrids like the Prius and the much more affordable Honda Insight.
However, if you’re looking for an attractive, fun, and comfortable car that can get good mileage without the attached stigma of “eco-nerdiness,” this might just be the car for you. The sedan sacrifices something in utility compared to hatchbacks like the VW Golf or Toyota Prius, but the Jetta is larger than you might at first expect and can handle all of the tasks you would expect a family sedan to be able to.
In the end, the 2009 Jetta TDI really stands alone in its attention to both fuel economy and above average performance and comfort.
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