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2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (Diesel)


Evolved from a Rabbit?

By Steve Purdy
TheAutoChannel Detroit Bureau

My last (and only) VW diesel was a sky blue Rabbit. I don’t recall what year it was, early-80s I suppose, but I do recall that its idiosyncrasies more than outweighed its economies. It handled great, just what we came to expect from all Rabbits, but it was so slow it couldn’t get out of its own way and in order to pass slower traffic on the two-lanes we had to make reservations weeks in advance. But what I disliked most about that frugal Rabbit was the fuel gauge. It was the only one I ever knew that was so accurate that the instant the needle touched the empty mark I was sputtering to a stop beside the road. In those days, you may recall, running your diesel out of fuel allowed air into the fuel line requiring the system to be purged. What a pain just to get 45 mpg. But, in those days diesel fuel was cheaper than gasoline and in a pinch I could get a few gallons out of my home fuel oil tank.

This new Jetta TDI is another creature entirely. Even though diesel fuel is now about 10% costlier than gasoline, at least here in the Midwest, the 35 to 42 mpg may make it worthwhile. Think about it. You can have this admirable mileage in a luxurious mid-size sedan with excellent handling, best-in-class crashworthiness, loaded with standard stuff and quick enough to keep up with traffic for barely more than $20,000. I’m impressed.

Power comes from a turbocharged 1.9-litre, in-line 4-cylinder with direct injection. It makes just 100 hp but puts out 177 lbs-ft of torque. Of course that torque is what we feel on acceleration. We also feel the high compression of the diesel as we accelerate and particularly as we decelerate. In fact it can be a bit jerky sometimes. Between the turbo and those big torque numbers acceleration is mighty decent. And the quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission perfectly rounds out the power package.

Not only is it reasonably quick, it’s blessed with an impressive level of luxury and content as well - luxury and content that we couldn’t even imagine in the days of the Rabbit. Standard features in the Jetta TDI include: AC with pollen and dust filter, cruise control, power windows with pinch protection, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power recline function for the driver’s seat, adjustable height and lumbar support on driver’s seat, fold-flat front passenger seat, rear seat armrest with storage and pass-through, front and rear reading lights, front and rear cup holders, power locks with remote keyless locking, 16-inch alloy wheels, in-dash 6-disc CD changer (MP3format readable), Electronic Stabilization Program, ABS and Electronic Differential Lock.

In terms of safety features Jetta and it’s slightly larger sibling, Passat, have earned the “Top Safety Picks” rating by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety. That designation is based on side and front impact tests as well as restraint systems. Jetta comes with front and side airbags and side curtain airbags. Sides are further protected by door beams.

The Jetta looks and feels as if it’s about twice the size of the old Rabbit. Styling is not at all boxy like the last generation Jetta. Rather, with short nose, long, high tail and graceful character lines it has lots of style and functionality. It’s plenty roomy inside even for a big guy like me. The back seat is generous for a mid-size sedan and the trunk is downright cavernous with wide and low access. The front cup holders are too small to accommodate my coffee cup and the cruise control stalk is obscured by the steering wheel spoke. Otherwise I could find nothing to criticize inside. I especially like the lane-change feature of the turn signals. Just bump the stalk, and the blinkers blink three times then quit.

Ride and handling are first rate. Suspension is independent strut and multilink independent in the rear. The chassis feels very stiff on the hard bumps. ABS is standard, of course, as is Anti-slip Regulation. Electromechanical steering feels crisp and precise. Wheels are good looking 16-inch, double 5-spoke alloys with 205/55 with Bridgstone Turanza H-rated all-season tires.

My week with the TDI was a busy one with three trips into the city via a variety of expressways. I was beginning to think that for some unknown reason the average speed of traffic had arbitrarily increased. I was consistently pushing 85 to 90 mph just to keep with traffic. Finally I realized that the speedo must be just a bit optimistic.

The Jetta is a truly international car. Before being shipped to the US for sale it is assembled in Puebla, Mexico with 35% German content and an engine built in Poland. Our pretty test car was an unusually creamy shade of beige called Wheat Beige, with matching leather interior. The base price is listed at $21,290 including all the earlier-listed features and a $1,075 option package adds the leather and automatic transmission. With a $615 destination charge the bottom line shows $24,580.

The basic warranty covers the whole car for 4 years or 50,000 miles. The powertrain is covered for 5 years and 60,000 miles and protection against corrosion lasts for 12 years with unlimited mileage.

It’s hard to imagine that this sophisticated beauty is actually descended from that quirky old smoky Rabbit of mine. It reflects just how far all automobiles have evolved over the past 20 years. They sure don’t make cars like they used to – fortunately.