Road Test: 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI car review, tap dancing

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

It’s hard to describe the sound of a Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The classic diesel descriptions—marbles in a tin can, or ball bearings dumped down the library steps—don’t apply. The Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI makes more of a rapping sound, different from a gasoline engine, but softer and regular. It’s not the loud random rattle that has defined the compression ignition engine until now.
Last summer the Volkswagen Jetta TDI became the first-on-sale 50-state legal diesel-powered automobile under the current regulations. Although it wears the TDI badge—for “turbo direct injection”—the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine uses technology developed with Audi and Mercedes-Benz under the name Bluetec.
While Bluetec is usually thought of as the urea-injection system that wipes out the noxious NOx, the 2.0-liter diesel sequesters the NOx nasties in the exhaust system where it can periodically be burned off, similar to diesel particulates in a particulate filter.
The larger Volkswagen Touareg TDI uses the AdBlue injection system. We’ve been told that engines of about 2.0-liters are the dividing line between using AdBlue injection and not, the smaller engines not needing it primarily because they’re not big enough to produce enough NOx.
Our test 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI was equipped with the optional six-speed DSG automatic transmission, a $1,100 option that replaces a six-speed manual transmission. The DSG shifts smoothly when not under direct supervision and when the driver takes a direct hand in choosing the gears—the transmission has a tip-shift gear lever but not steering wheel paddles—it shifts just as smoothly One might as well not bother, however, because as mentioned, the engine doesn’t respond to revs. It’s easier to let the engine and transmission reach consensus on the whole rev/range thing. The transmission downshifts for downhill engine braking so the driver can skip that meeting as well.
View the picture gallery below for more photos of the 2009 Volkswagen Jettta TDI.
The engine is audible at highway speeds with a subtle continuous warble, just enough to prove it’s still at work and certainly less objectionable than the noise of the tires on coarse pavement. When accelerating, the engine sounds like a small bass turbine, if there is such a thing.
Beyond that, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a Volkswagen Jetta. That means nimble handling, enough so that when Volkswagen put together the Jetta TDI Cup racing series for young up-and-coming drivers, the cars used were standard Jetta TDI models with Jetta GLI sport sedan suspension settings. (If that sounds intriguing, Volkswagen will be selling a car like that this fall. Ask for the Jetta TDI Cup Edition. Also here).
Being a Jetta also means a typically well turned out interior as Volkswagen is wont to do. Our tester’s “pure beige” interior combined with the black dash was particularly striking. The switchgear is largely shared with Audi, generally a good thing, and illuminated red at night except for the instruments which glow in Volkswagen blue. The seats are comfy and the ride better than average for the class.
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI's 2.0L turbodiesel engineOf course the big question, the answer we’ve been holding back just to make the reader scroll down this far, is mileage. And how that relates to price. As nice as the Jetta is, the base S level starts at $17,515. One forgoes a lot at that price, with the better equipped SE ($20,095) and SEL $22,270 being more representative of cars actually bought. The Jetta TDI, however, lists for $22,270. Our test Jetta was well equipped, listing for $28,038, though for comparison purpose one should keep the base TDI price in mind.
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That said, the EPA mileage estimate for the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is 29 city/40 highway. Our observed mileage was 48 mpg in pure highway driving. Overall we recorded all-around normal-driving fuel mileage at 36.0 mpg.
There’s one more sound that can accompany the Volkswagen Jetta TDI: “Ew.” That’s the sound of a fuel pump handle covered in diesel fuel, or at least the sound of someone who just grabbed one. No matter how much scrubbing in a gas station washroom, it's not going away. And you were going to a job interview? Diesel vehicle owner Tip #1: Keep rubber gloves in the trunk, just in case. Keep the diesel sounds limited to a soft tapping.
Illustrations: 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Volkswagen 2.0L TDI turbodiesel engine. Photos by John Matras.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI selected specifications as tested
LayoutFront engine, transverse/front drive
Engine2.0L/140-hp SOHC turbodiesel 4-cyl.
Displacement, cc1968
Compression ratio16.5:1
Material, block / headCast iron / aluminum
Horsepower @ rpm140 @ 4000
Torque, lb-ft @ rpm236 @ 1750-2500
Fuel requirementDiesel, ultra low sulfter
Transmission5-speed automatic, tip-shifting
Suspension, front / rearMacPherson strut / multilink
Brakes, disc dia., front / rear, in.11.3 / 10.2
Steering, typeRack & pinion, electro-mech. assist
Turning circle, ft.35.8
Wheels (optional), size/construction7.5 x 17, "Avignon" 5-spoke alloy
Tires (optional), size234/45R17
Dimensions & capacities
Length, in.179.3
Width, in.70.1
Height, in.57,4
Wheelbase, in.101.5
Curb weight, lbs3,285
Trunk vol., cu ft16.0
Fuel tank, U.S. gal.14.5
Performance
0-60 mph. sed., est.8.4
Top speed (electronically limited), mph115
Fuel econ., EPA city / hwy mpg29 / 40
Fuel econ., observed, mpg.36.0
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, features and prices
Base price$22,270
Safety: ABS, traction control, electronic stability, electronic differential lock, front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, heated windshield washer nozzlesstd
Comfort/convenience: automatic climate control, heated front seats, leatherette seating, 8-way partial power driver's seat, power heated outside mirrors, cruise control, auto up-down power windows, trip computer, tilt/telescope steering wheel, AM/FM/6-CD/MP3/aux audio, Sirius satellite radio, remote keyless locking, floor mats, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, leather wrapped shift knob and parking brake handlestd
Black uni exterior / Pure Beige interiorincl
DVD satellite navigation w/ mdi1,990
6-speed automatic "DSG"1,100
Power sunroof1,000
17" Avignon alloy wheels w/ all-season tires450
Jetta lip spoiler329
Rubber mats and trunk liner199
Destination chg700
Total MSRP$28,038

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2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI photo gallery
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI photo gallery
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