The odometer of our Four Seasons Volkswagen Jetta TDI passed the 10,000-mile mark several weeks ago, but the car continues to plug away trouble-free, which is particularly notable given VW's deserved reputation for questionable reliability. The conditions through which the Jetta has been plugging have been quite demanding of late, since Michigan's winter has been particularly brutal. And although the turbo-diesel powerplant has proven its advantages as far as fuel economy and range are concerned, the engine has to run for about fifteen minutes before the vents start blowing warm air into the cabin. "Thank goodness for heated seats," road test editor Marc Noordeloos scrawled with shivering hand.
But the silver Vee Dub's behavior in the snow redeemed the car in snow snob Noordeloos's eyes. He's been heard pondering the possibility that the Jetta could be the most snow-worthy vehicle in our fleet, thanks in large part to its Continental winter tires. "The stability control system works very well," he added, "and the whole car is very confidence-inspiring in subzero temperatures and snowy weather."
Old Man Winter hasn't stopped us from subjecting the Jetta to road-trip duty, a task it happily handles thanks to its titanic trunk and Herculean fuel range. Web producer Evan McCausland tested his previously published theory that the Jetta is a superb interstate stallion, as he piloted the TDI some 250 miles to the Chicago Auto Show, averaging more than 40 mpg and without needing a pit stop--for the car, at least. On the way home, however, McCausland had to stop in South Bend, Indiana, where it was made clear that Indiana does NOT want our boy Evan:
"A truck driver screamed at me for hogging the only pump that sold diesel," McCausland wrote, once he returned to the safety of the Jetta. "I can't repeat most of what he proclaimed to me, but I think I've learned that the 'TDI' acronym may be a bit too esoteric for some."
At least one staff member, senior Web editor Phil Floraday, believes that everyone would be happier if we'd ordered the $1100 DSG dual-clutch automatic on our Four Seasons test car. After driving a DSG-equipped Jetta TDI around Southern California for a few days, Floraday wrote: "Not only did I see much better indicated fuel economy (36 to 41 mpg, depending on traffic), but the DSG car seemed quicker during 45 to 80 mph sprints. Ultraquick shifts allow the turbo to remain spooled up during acceleration." Indeed, other staffers have noted that the TDI's relatively small powerband requires fresh thinking about the gear selections in our six-speed stick-shifted vehicle.
Overall, opinions are positive, though, with assistant editor David Zenlea often leading the pro-Jetta charge. "I'm really rooting for the Jetta to have a problem-free year with us so that I can start recommending it to buyers," he wrote. "The driving dynamics and level of refinement are head and shoulders above those of other compact cars I've driven, and the terrific packaging would likely make it a great alternative for many mid-size car shoppers as well.
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Loyal Edition
Base Price: $23,090
As Tested: $23,090
EPA Fuel Economy: 30/41/34 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Engine: SOHC 16-valve turbo-diesel I-4
Power: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Tires: Continental ContiWinterContact
Tire size: 205/55HR-16
Weight: 3230 lb