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2010 VW Jetta (Abdruck fuer Pressezwecke honora)
2010 VW Jetta (Abdruck fuer Pressezwecke honora)

Faceoff

Jetta holds its own in diesel showdown Add to ...

Okay, we simply do not have a lot of diesel passenger cars from which to choose. So we thought it would be interesting to put two of the few available into head-to-head comparison.

Sure, there is nearly a $20,000 price difference between them, and the BMW 335d diesel is certainly more powerful and luxurious. But the Jetta TDI diesel - loaded to the gills with features including that slick-shifting DSG automatic transmission - is a pretty solid compact in its own right.

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Frankly, these two are ripe for comparison.

The main attraction here for both of them is fuel economy that is typically 30 per cent better than gasoline engines of similar size. There's more, though. Diesel engines deliver whopping amounts of torque - twisting engine power at the wheels - at lower speeds. This is what you want for around town.

That torque has you leaping away when the stoplight goes green. In the Bimmer's case, the torque number would look right at home in a hulking sport-ute, yet here we are talking about a four-door weighing 1,735 kg. The 0-100 km/h time comes in at an official 7.4 seconds, which is pretty fast.

Moreover, diesels chug away nicely at freeway speeds, turning over at lower engine speeds than gasoline power plans. That means they sip, rather than gulp, fuel.

The Jetta, of course, sips even less fuel than the Bimmer. That's because it weighs less (1,469 kg) and has less power (236 lb-ft of torque, versus the 3's stunning 425 lb-ft).

Less power and less weight equals superior fuel economy for the Jetta TDI: 6.7 litres/100 km city/4.6 highway, compared to 9.0 city/5.4 highway for the BMW. Frankly, I'd have to say the BMW's fuel economy is a bit disappointing, given the size of the car.

Still, the 335d is better on fuel than the 335i gas model, and has greater range between fill-up, too. But I frankly expected the diesel 3 to be a little less thirsty.

On the other hand, the 335d is $1,400 less than the $53,295 335i. So the diesel not only saves on fuel, not only has greater range, but also costs less out the door. Hmm.

But we're here to compare the Jetta and 3-Series diesels.

Both these cars feel solid and tight, despite the price difference. On the autobahn at 200 km/h, you'll find yourself cruising along, safe and secure. It's a German thing and worth living.

Inside, well, the Jetta's cabin is plain but not poor-looking. The front seat has lots of travel; this is good for tall drivers. In the rear seats, headroom, shoulder room, and legroom are a bit cramped.

At the very back, the Jetta sedan's trunk is big for its class. Moreover, the rear seats fold down 60/40 and there's also a passthrough from the trunk for skis and other long objects.

Naturally, the BMW's interior is plusher, but not an extra $20,000 worth of plush. The Bimmer's cabin actually feels less roomy than the Jetta's. In particular, there is a smallish back seat and sticky doors that don't always close fully on the first try. The trunk is average-sized, with a 60/40 fold-down function to open up the cargo hold.

The biggest difference between these two is performance - acceleration and handling.

The BMW moves like a true sport sedan. The rush of acceleration comes on smoothly with a punch of your right foot. The steering is precise, with the feel of the road coming right into your palms. The brakes are superb - sure and perfectly easy to modulate.

The Jetta is more basic and it shows when you push your driving. For starters, the BMW is rear-drive and that makes for very balanced driving behaviour. The Jetta, a front-driver, plows more in corners because so much weight is in front. The VW feels softer and suffers more body roll in turns, too. I know you're not surprised.

In a nutshell, the BMW 335d is a pretty muscular ride. It is faster off the line than most gas-powered cars; it wants to go. Alas, what is missing is the sweet sound of BMW's inline gas engine. The diesel sounds, well, like a nicely muffled diesel and there is nothing very appealing about that.

The Jetta's oil-burner is a fairly quiet unit; it seems quite nicely matched to the car overall and perfectly appropriate for a commuter car.

Neither is anything like the smoking, clattering diesels of the 1970s here in North America - and Europe, until just a few years ago. In recent times, common rail fuel injection and other technical advancements have come along, cleaning up and quieting down diesels.

Forget about sooty smoke. The oily exhaust aroma is all that alerts you that diesel fuel is being burned. And unlike in the United States, many regular fuel outlets here in Canada also have at least one diesel pump. Filling up is not the messy problem that is still common in the U.S.

If you really want to save fuel, diesels are a good option. If you really want range between fill-up, diesels are an option. If you really want an engine that will last hundreds of thousands of kilometres, diesels are an option. And if you really like cruising at high speeds, with barely any engine noise, diesels are an option.

Of course, gasoline-electric hybrids are still far cleaner than the cleanest diesel. Therefore if the environment is your No. 1 issue, a hybrid is a greener choice.

As for these two, the BMW is a seriously enjoyable driver's car, but it's pricey. The Jetta TDI is not exactly cheap, but it's certainly affordable. And while no race car, it is a solid commuter ride - and a Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, unlike the BMW.

If money is no object, the 3-Series is a no-brainer. For most people money is an object, which means the Jetta diesel does, indeed, have a bigger following in Canada than the 335d.



2010 BMW 335d

2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI DSG Highline

Type:

Premium entry sedan

Compact sedan

Price:

$51,895

$33,740

Engine:

3.0-litre, six-cylinder, twin turbo

2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged

Horsepower and torque:

265/425 lb-ft

140/236 lb-ft

Transmission:

Six-speed automatic

Six-speed DSG automatic

Drive:

Rear-wheel-drive

Front-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km):

9.0 city/5.4 highway; diesel fuel

6.7 city/4.6 highway; diesel fuel

Alternatives:

No other diesels in this class

No other diesels in this class

Like

It's a sport sedan and it behaves like one

Tidy looks

Lots of range, but also plenty of power

Less expensive than a comparable gas-powered 3-Series

Affordable diesel sedan with great fuel economy and range

Top-notch safety scores

Seats designed for the long haul

Don't Like

Tight back seats and a so-so sized trunk

Fuel economy not as amazing as you might think

VW still working on improving its rep for reliability

Affordable compared to the BMW, but still not cheap

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

 

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