VW and Audi cars have been part of our family since my first VW—a 1960 Transporter in 1969.
Since that time, we have owned numerous other models, including a 1978 Rabbit Diesel, 1981 Jetta GL, and our current economy champ of the family—a 2004 Jetta TDI.
When the new 6th generation Jetta arrived last year, specifically targeting the North American market, I was a little luke warm on the conservative styling. However, after seeing many of them on the streets and living with this car for a week, I have come to like it and I think is a good change. It was a great chance to explore and compare just how far VW has come since the previous generations of water cooled VWs.
My original first generation 1978 Rabbit and 1981 Jetta had a 94.5” wheelbase, which seems tiny now. My 4th generation Jetta has a much roomier 98.8” wheelbase, and continues to serve us well, with grandkids and all the kit that goes with them. The 2013 Jetta has almost the same 104.4” wheelbase as my Audi B7-A4 Avant (104.3”). 10” of wheelbase growth over six generations has resulted in a spacious cabin and a comfortable car, capable of handling four adults on a long journey. As the B8-A4 has grown to a 110.6” wheelbase, the new 2014 Audi A3 four-door will provide a car with a similar wheelbase and size as this 6th generation Jetta.
Along with the growth in the wheelbase and weight has come great advancement in engine development and overall quality. From the anemic 50 Hp of my 1978 Rabbit Diesel, to the fly swatting 74 Hp of my 1981 Jetta, to the 100 Hp and strong 177 Lb.Ft. torque of my 2004 TDI, to the 2013 Jetta TDI with a 140 Hp and a stump pulling 236 Lb.Ft. torque, the engineering refinement and general increase in fuel economy continues unabated. This engine meets current emissions standards without the use of AdBlue (Urea) as an additive in the exhaust stream, of which the V6 TDI in the Touraeg, Q7, Q5, and A8 does. The next generation of TDI 4 cylinder engines for North America will use AdBlue.
It all starts at the top, and I have to thank the fact that an engineer, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch, is the leader of the VW Group. It is through his personal vision that this huge group of companies continues their strides in research and development, and has the amazing and talented staff to carry out this vision.
My test car was painted in an attractive Toffee Brown with a Cornsilk Beige leatherette interior. It was the base car, with the 6 speed manual transmission, and retails for $22,900 (plus shipping, etc.). In the case of this car, “Base” is really loaded with goodies. For another $1,000 you can add a 6 speed DSG automatic transmission, and if you really want to gussie up this puppy, you can add another $3,000 and add 17” alloy wheels, power seats, sunroof, Fender sound system, and navigation.
The quality of the paint and finish was first class. My sample car had been driven (thrashed) by many journalists before my test drive, and it felt virtually like new. This bodes well for the lifespan of the exterior and interior of this car.
The first thing you notice is the well executed interior. Clear instruments, easy to use controls, everything is bolted together quite well, and is free of rattles and the age-old polyethylene symphony (squeaks).
I have read comments from other press outlets that some of the surfaces are hard plastic. Ok, maybe a reasonable critique, but one must consider that this car retails for a lot less than an A3 TDI or a A4.
While it does not have the appointments, like leather and some other details that separate it from an Audi, it does not detract from how good this car is. The standard seats are quite comfortable on long journeys, and the amount of leg and headroom can accommodate a tall or large person easily.
For folks not used to driving a diesel, the useful rev range of this motor is from 1200 to 4000 RPM.
Where in a gas car, like the 2.0T A3, or a Jetta GLI, one enjoys romping through the gears and revving up the motor as you accelerate, in a diesel it is all about the torque curve and keeping the engine in the maximum “Umph” range. While the peak Hp arrives at 4250 RPM, there is no reward in caning a diesel. From just above idle (1750 RPM), you are given 236 Lb.Ft of delicious torque, almost as much as the 2.0T in a 2013 A4 (258 Lb.Ft.). As such, you learn to shift earlier, and this manual gearbox has well spaced ratios matched for this engine’s character.
Taking off from the light rapidly, you will easily chirp the tires in first and second gear. It feels faster than the factory 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds. Most of our driving in the city is done at less than 40 Mph. In this case, torque really is king. On the highway is where the abundant torque is noticeable as well in the ability to pass cars effortlessly with little drama.
From a fuel economy standpoint, the TDI engines really shine on the highway. As I have said in earlier articles on TDI powered cars, you can achieve some amazing economy, far in excess from the factory ratings. VW says this car will give you 42 Mpg Highway. On a 300+ mile loop up into Ventura and Santa Barbara County, I achieved over 46 Mpg. This included some city driving in Ventura and Santa Paula. The flip side is drag racing in the city, as feeling the immense torque though the gears is so addicting, this driving will yield less than 31 Mpg. Light pedal is well rewarded and you can easily see mid to high 30’s average. While my 2004 is less thirsty, it also has less power and torque-the tradeoff. Diesel fuel in my part of LA is usually the same or less expensive than premium 91 octane gas, which my B7-A4 requires. I have seen it higher in price than Premium gas during winter months or in other parts of North America.
German engineering brings to me an expectation of a good chassis, and I am happy to say it is true for the Jetta TDI. While it does not have the more sophisticated independent rear suspension of the Jetta GLI and the Jetta Sportwagon TDI, VW engineers have done a marvelous job in tuning. It is not a sport suspension, and it is a little soft and exhibits some body roll during hard cornering, yet overall it gets good marks. Driving the car in Los Angeles with our war-zone and pock marked like streets is a great test of ride comfort and compliance, and this car is comfortable. Shod with 16” All-Season tires, some of the slip noticeable on hard cornering can be attributed to them. If you want to make it handle better, you can always invest in an aftermarket sport suspension from Koni , Bilstein, H&R, Vogtland, and many others. On my wish list though would be a GLD version, with the independent rear suspension and tuning of the GLI as well as summer performance tires. If you opt for the loaded version, it does come with nice 17” alloy wheels, which would be a better proposition for a sporting ride.
Brakes get high marks as well. From what I could feel, the only way to lessen stopping distances would be to use stickier tires. No noticeable fade, good pedal feel and modulation, thankfully it seems that there are no VW models with poor brakes.
Steering feel seems well calibrated between highway and city-parking levels of assist.
The stereo system that comes with the base car is nice sounding and the tuner section works well with all FM and Sirius stations. The AM however, does not seem as good for some reason, but it is only news radio that I listen to on AM, and this was fine. The CD player was flawless, as well as the auxiliary input for the iPod or iPhone. The Bluetooth hands-free also worked well.
Maintenance on this model consists of filters and fluids, and the timing belt at long intervals. Because it does not have the DSG, it saves money not having to change the DSG filter and gearbox oil. Long term, this is a car you buy and not lease. Why? High resale value is one, and reliability is another. These TDI engines will last many hundreds of thousands of miles, with minimal repairs. If you get the manual gearbox, which itself it bullet proof, it is only a clutch change at some point, and I usually get between 150K to 200K miles on mine. VW aftermarket parts are readily available and reasonable in costs. I would suggest visiting the tdiclub.com and peruse their forums. You will not find a group more fanatical about their VW family of TDI cars, as well as offering a plethora of valuable information on the care and feeding of TDI models.
VW takes care of the maintenance costs for the first 36K miles, but I would recommend 5K mile intervals on the oil changes-meaning you will need to pay for these interim services, versus the dealer at 10K intervals. You will need a VW approved 507.00 Synthetic, like the special Castrol available at the VW and Audi dealers, or Total 504.00/507.00, Motul 504.00/507.00, or Liqui-Moly Toptec 4200-which is available from foreign car parts online like idparts.com.
As far as I am concerned, the “Base” car is an incredibly high value proposition. Compared to Korean and Japanese high mileage models aside from the Prius, this is a “drivers” car and not a commuting appliance. The A3 TDI is at least $10,000 more, same powertrain and a more upscale interior and exterior, but for the money, this car is awesome. A Prius, which offers the opposite of inspired driving, has a base model is within a similar price band from the Jetta, but please drive them back to back. The Jetta is hands down a more enjoyable car to drive. In fact, while VW pitches the new Passat against the Camry and Accord, the Jetta for me competes directly with them as well.
Because of my own personal experience with this Jetta TDI, I can recommend it whole heartedly. I have many friends that own them as well, and they share my viewpoint.
I have tried to find a word or phrase that means well above average, and competently rewarding, and I think “Jetta TDI” is it.