While we loved the efficiency of our oil burner, our experiences using the diesel pump threw us a few surprises. On more than one occasion, Web producer Evan McCausland had commercial vehicles lining up behind him as he refueled the TDI. One particularly impatient truck driver assaulted McCausland with a string of expletives for using a station's only diesel pump. Another Jetta driver encountered a clerk who refused to turn on the pump until he personally verified, by looking at the filler cap, that our TDI ran on diesel.
The turbocharged diesel's defining characteristic is a tower of torque - 236 lb-ft at 1750 rpm - that makes the Jetta a great car for suburban jaunts. Frequent shifting, though, is a requirement in all types of driving. The engine's redline comes up quickly at 4500 rpm, and the power band needed for passing at higher speeds is quite small. The narrow window of performance also hinders any effort to drive the TDI in an aggressive manner. The six-speed stick never offended anyone, but the clutch regularly drew complaints for a lack of feel and an eagerness to stall the engine at low rpm. After we drove a TDI equipped with the optional $1100 dual-clutch automatic gearbox, several of us were of the opinion that we had opted for the wrong transmission in our car.
As with the engine, the Jetta's chassis wasn't up for dancing. Body control is decent and steering feel is excellent at low speeds, but on twisty roads, the Jetta doesn't quite deliver the confidence, engagement, and agility of our favorite compacts. We also felt that the brake pedal was excessively soft, to the point that we asked the dealer to check it during a service visit. Nothing unusual was found.
So, sport is not the TDI's forte, but the Jetta is packed with refinement. The word "smooth" frequently cropped up in the logbook, as drivers praised the steering, shifter, ride, and overall demeanor. Along with the TDI's 500-plus-mile range and supportive seats, we loved the comfortable and quiet ride on long trips. The signature diesel sound track is noticeable with the windows down, but once you seal the glass, the muffled clatter all but disappears. "The diesel Jetta has a refinement that belies its price," observed West Coast editor Jason Cammisa. "It feels so much more grown up than the 2.5-liter gas Jetta, or anything else at this price point. It's even better than many cars costing five grand more."