2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review With 2015 Update by Carey Russ +VIDEO
Want great fuel economy and a great driving experience? This is your new car!
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
Do you like to go as far as possible on as little fuel as possible? But do you want an actual driving, as opposed to a mere operating, experience with that frugality? Never mind the hybrids, you might want to take a look at a contemporary diesel.
Here in the U.S., affordable diesel means Volkswagen TDI. Which also means a European calibration to the suspension and so driving experience, and typically VW upscale interior design and materials. Case in point: VW's most popular offering in the US market, the Jetta sedan.
When the latest generation of Jetta made its debut in model year 2011, VW wanted to expand its customer base here. That meant lower prices, to compete more directly with the Japanese and American brands. And that meant "de-contenting", as in reversion to a torsion-beam rear axle and use of less-expensive hard plastics for interior surfaces, among other less-obvious cost-cutting. The VW Faithful screamed, but sales noticeably improved.
And VW listened to its fans as well. It took a few years, but as of 2014 the rear torsion-beam was replaced by a fully-independent multilink system in all models, for improved ride and handling. The 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine used in the SE and SEL trim levels gave way to a lighter-weight 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbo with the same 170 horsepower and improved torque. The 2.0-liter, 115-hp base engine, 2.0-liter, 210-hp turbo in the GLI, and 2.0-liter, 140-hp turbo-diesel in the TDI remained unchanged. For now…
I first drove the new 1.8T when VW did its 2014 full-line product introduction last Fall, and then for a week earlier this year. Milder in tune and suspension calibration than the GLI, it's still sportier than the average compact sedan and was never boring. More recently, I spent a week with a fairly basic-spec TDI. With only 140 horsepower, one might think it would be slow and boring. One would be wrong, very wrong. Never overlook torque, in this case 236 lb-ft -- a bit more than the GLI's 207. As the old saying goes, horsepower is what you brag about; torque is what you feel. Here, allied with VW's twin-clutch automated manual DSG, acceleration was plenty strong enough at the speeds commonly used around town and on back roads, falling off a bit over 50 mph. No complaint there -- without trying to save fuel, city and back road driving returned 30 mpg or better, with 40-plus on the highway. With suspension and steering for a true driving experience, and no loss of trunk space to batteries.
My Jetta TDI test car was the "base" TDI. With alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius/XM satellite radio, all currently-popular audio choices including streaming audio, V-Tex leatherette, and more, it's hardly a "base model". Below it is the "Value Edition" with steel wheels, cloth seats, and lower-spec audio. Above are Premium, adding a rearview camera, Fender (yeah, that Fender) audio system, and more. Premium With Navigation adds a touchscreen nav system and SD card reader.
In all, transmissions are six-speed stick or DSG. The stick is more fun; the DSG is less stressful in traffic. If your last experience with a VW diesel was a long-ago Rabbit, this is not that. The VW Jetta TDI proves that diesels can be fun. And economical.
APPEARANCE: Changes to the current Jetta have been minimal since its debut, and the clean, simple lines are aging well. Taillights have gone from incandescent bulbs to LEDs, and minor restylings of front and rear fascias are noticeable only to committed VW fans. It's a three-box sedan that is not embarrassed to be a sedan, although boxiness is kept a bay by a good balance between angles and curves. Badging is the only way to tell a TDI from other Jettas.
COMFORT: Inside, the Jetta has been noticeably re-contented. Here are the simple geometric shapes and close tolerances that VW has been know for, with soft-touch materials on the instrument panel and aluminum binding (or a convincing imitation thereof) around the vents and instruments. The V-Tex-covered front seats are better than expected in the price class, and are mostly manually-adjustable. Seatback angle is power, a definite improvement over the awkwardly-placed knobs in earlier VWs. Yes, the driver's cushion height is adjustable, manually, as are the tilt and reach of the leather-rimmed steering wheel.
Visibility is good, even to the rear. There is plenty of useful storage around the interior, including a locking glovebox, console box with external audio interface, and storage and drink bottle holders in all doors. The size increase of the current Jetta is put to best use for rear-seat passengers, with upscale amenities like floor heat vents and end-of-console AC vents as well. The trunk is commendably large, and under its floor where usually lurks a space-saver donut or, worse, a can of sealant, I found a real spare -- a 195/65R15 Bridgestone Turanza vs. the four 205/55R16 Continentals, but correct diameter and safer and more useful than the usual choices.
SAFETY: The Jetta's unibody structure is designed and built for optimum safety, with controlled deformation in a collision. Frontal, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags add further passive protection. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes plus electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), hydraulic brake assist (HBA), and electronic stability control (ESC) add further protection. If a crash does happen, the Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS) unlocks the doors, shuts off the fuel pump, and activated the hazard lights.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Like other regular (non-GLI) Jetta models, the TDI has a firmer suspension tuning than the popular compact choices. The now all-independent, strut front, multilink rear suspension is sport-touring as opposed to pure sport, but still offers an engaging driving experience and good comfort. Good four-wheel disc brakes and properly-executed electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering deserve credit here, too.
PERFORMANCE: With maximum torque (236 lb-ft worth) at a low 1750 rpm, the Jetta TDI gets up and moves strongly and quickly up to around 50 or 60 mph, where thrust lessens. Watch your mirrors on the Autobahn, but this should present few problems in American driving. Maximum horsepower is "only" 140 (at 4000 rpm), but that's enough to keep it moving highway speeds with little effort. The DSG "automatic", a racing-type twin-clutch automated manual gearbox that is more efficient than a torque converter, shifts quickly and smoothly once it has warmed up, and does offer manual-shift mode. Which is useful for tight, hilly country roads, but the wide torque band of the diesel means that shifting is not often a necessity. The DSG also serves to keep the engine out of the rev limiter, which I have become acquainted with in manual TDIs. After all, its wild cousins over at Audi have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans how many times? GLI it may not be, but the TDI is a long ways from a slow, smoky old Rabbit Diesel. With minimal regard to highest mileage, I saw low 30s around town and on back roads and low to mid-40s on the highway. Figure an average in the mid-30s -- as good as some hybrid sedans.
CONCLUSIONS: Want great fuel economy and a great driving experience? Think diesel, Volkswagen TDI.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Base Price $ 24,725
Price As Tested $ 25,545
Engine Type 16 valve DOHC turbo-diesel
Engine Size 2.0 liters / 120 cu. in.
Horsepower 140 @ 4000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 236 @ 1750 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automated dual-clutch manual
Wheelbase / Length 104.4 in. / 182.2 in.
Curb Weight 3210 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 26.8
Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel
Tires 205/55R16 91H Continental ProContact m+s
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, ESC, EBD, HBA
Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multi-link
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 30 / 42 / 35
0 to 60 mph est 8.5 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination Charge $ 820
The 2015 Jetta, revealed at the New York International Auto Show in April, goes on sale "third quarter of 2014", and will get some changes. Most apparent are front and rear restylings that bring it closer to the larger Passat. The latest electronic driver assistance and safety systems, including blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, frontal collision warning, and parking distance control, will be offered. Fuel economy is expected to improve due to lowered aerodynamic resistance and low rolling-resistance tires. (Which won't necessarily improve the fun factor…) Interior changes include new materials and trim. Of most interest in the engine compartment is the TDI, which gets the latest version of VW's 2.0-liter turbodiesel, developed from the same EA288 architecture as the gasoline 1.8T. Horsepower is up a bit, to 150, peaking between 3500 and 4000 rpm, with torque the familiar 236 lb-ft, between 750 and 3000 rpm. Fuel economy is expected to increase by a couple of miles per gallon all around. So, just like it has been, but a little bit better.