There's really no need to dwell on the frugal nature of VW's TDI engine. But let's do it anyway.
The prowess of this powerplant has been well chronicled and, as far as small-displacement diesel engines go, it's a paragon. It delivers fantastic fuel economy, is lively, responsive, civilized and user-friendly.
If your car has a TDI engine, you can drive from Toronto to, say, Thunder Bay on a single tank of fuel and have some left over.
Volkswagen also likes to tag it as a "clean" fuel engine and, when put up against some of the bigger diesel engines out there, it probably is. That said, some other manufacturers do take issue with this description.
Toyota, for one, questions this claim and Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada's managing director, insists that a clean diesel is anything but. "Yes, it's cleaner than the diesel of 30 years ago," he says, "but what's actually been achieved is emissions that are comparable to - not better than - those from today's conventional gasoline-powered vehicles." Point taken.
Models like, oh, the Yaris, Honda Fit and any of the four-cylinder hybrids on the market can top the TDI when it comes to low emissions and fuel economy.
But what Beatty and others may be missing is that the TDI engine is a nice unit in its own right. Never mind that it has compression ignition. It's an immensely usable engine regardless. The fact that it uses diesel fuel is almost irrelevant. Almost.
Anyway, over the years, Volkswagen has fitted this technology to a wide range of its models - Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat and Touareg. It's here to stay and has gotten better and better over the years. These days, it's also biofuel-compliant. You can run up to 5 per cent biodiesel in your TDI without voiding the warranty; VW is claiming to be the first manufacturer to offer this arrangement and says that for every 1 per cent of biodiesel added to the tank, you decrease your car's emissions by 1 per cent. Not a huge deal, but not bad either.
In the Jetta, you can get the TDI engine in both the sedan and wagon and it can be mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed Tiptronic automatic. My tester had the former and, although the automatic has virtually identical fuel consumption, that's the one I'd choose.
It's smooth and easy to get along with, with nicely-spaced gearing and goes well with the low-revving, high-torque nature of the TDI engine. Besides, the autobox costs an additional $1,400 and, if you're going to jump on the emissions/fuel economy bandwagon, you might as well go whole hog.
Power output for this 2.0-litre engine is 140 horsepower and - I love this - 236 lb-ft of torque between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm. 236! That's comparable to many V-6 engines and, in a two-litre, four-cylinder engine, is nothing short of remarkable. There may be other, similarly sized four-bangers out there with better horsepower, but nothing can match the TDI for bottom-end grunt. Love it.
And it's delivered with no fuss and no muss. In the morning, turn the car on, wait a second or two and fire it up. Sometimes, I actually forgot that I was driving a diesel and started it immediately, without waiting, and it didn't falter. In a nutshell, VW has refined this technology and it works a treat.
Like its sedan stablemate, the Jetta wagon can be had in three trim levels: Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. My tester was the mid-priced Comfortline and it came with heated front seats, rear passenger ventilation, power driver's seat, and a front centre armrest, among other things. It costs $2,500 more than the Trendline and, all things considered, I think I'd save my money.
After all, the base model comes with air conditioning, power windows, a CD player and a full complement of airbags. And all models, regardless of trim level, seat five adults and provide 1,890 litres of cargo space with the back seat folded down. One note here: In order to get the full measure of rear cargo room, the back seat headrests have to be taken out first. Easily done, but kind of clumsy.
And this is probably as good a time as any to bring up my major beef with the Jetta and all VW products: the accursed self-locking doors. No letters, please. I know why this feature exists, and I say Volkswagen should make it an option.
No matter how many times I drive VWs, this annoyance catches me by surprise all the time when I'm trying to get into the back seat. Were this my car, I'd disable this feature, ASAP.
Anyway, if you want all the goodies, you can opt for the Comfortline, which, for an additional $5,900, will give you a leather interior, large power sunroof, digital compass and a few other extras. I say, save your money.
Think how many times you could drive to Thunder Bay.
2009 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA WAGON TDI
Type: Five-passenger compact station wagon
Base Price: $25,775; as tested, $29,710
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Horsepower/Torque: 140 hp/236 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 6.8 city/4.8 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Subaru Legacy Wagon, Jeep Patriot, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Volvo V50 wagon, Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe, Saab 9-3 SportCombi
- Outstanding fuel economy
- Agreeable drivetrain
- Above-average handling/braking
- Surprisingly roomy
- Automatic locking doors
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