When our 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI arrived at the office back in September 2008, the timing couldn't have been better. Fresh off a two-year sabbatical during which it received a cleaner, more powerful, and more efficient engine, the diesel Jetta was ripe for time in the spotlight with a market that demanded practical, economical automobiles. Four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, increasing fuel-economy standards, and a gasping economy were practically an advertising campaign for a car that returned 41 mpg on the highway and had a base price of less than $23,000.
Twelve months with our Jetta, however, have convinced us that there's more to the TDI story than fuel economy. During its stay, our silver VW proved to be reliable, comfortable, and mature beyond its compact categorization. Sales have also proven that the diesel has sticking power beyond high prices at the pump; now that fuel is less expensive, the TDI still accounts for
40 percent of all Jetta sales.
Our particular test car was a Jetta TDI Loyal Edition (no longer offered for 2010) without any options. Despite the grandiose name, the Loyal Edition's only additional equipment over a base TDI is a premium sound system. That's not to downplay the TDI's impressive standard equipment list, though, which includes satellite radio, an auxiliary audio input, keyless entry, and heated vinyl seats, all for $23,090. Those heated seats are especially valuable in the TDI, as it takes an exceptionally long time for the cabin heater to blow hot air on a cold day. The Jetta's value is made even stronger by the government's $1300 tax credit that's still available for the TDI.
The diesel engine and its fuel economy benefits set the Jetta apart from other small cars. Early on, drivers griped that diesel fuel sometimes commanded a premium of more than a dollar per gallon over regular unleaded. Although Michigan appeared to be more affected than other locations, the price differential hovered at about sixty cents per gallon nationally at the end of 2008. By March 2009, diesel prices were closer to those of gasoline, fluctuating from fifteen cents less to twenty cents more than a gallon of unleaded. The comments on the price of diesel ceased, and drivers focused more attention on the Jetta's impressive fuel economy. Overall, our Jetta averaged 37 mpg during its year with us, besting the EPA city/highway combined rating by 3 mpg. We also occasionally nipped at the 50-mpg-per-tankful mark when driving gently on the highway.