2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI and SEL – First Road Test and Review

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On Day 2, I had the Jetta TDI and decided to enjoy the Shoreline Highway twice, leaving San Francisco, driving as far as Pt. Reyer Station and then returning to the city via the same route.

The Jetta TDI comes with Volkswagen’s DSG transmission, something worth looking at for a moment.  DSG stands for Direkt-Schalt-Getribe or Direct-Shift Gearbox in English.  It’s an electronically-controlled manual gearbox without a clutch pedal and it can be operated in full automatic or semi-manual mode.

The DSG shifter was a perfect match for the TDI in automatic mode, providing a responsive yet frugal drive.   In manual, it was great for fast shifting in the Shoreline Highway’s twisties although I would much preferred to have had paddle shifters.

What really counts when the rubber hits the road is the 236 pound-feet of torque that the TDI engine produces from 1750 to 2500 rpm (the 2.5-liter petrol engine is rated at 177 pound-feet of torque).  It’s torque, not brake horsepower, that matters in low-speed passing maneuvers, cornering, and overall acceleration.  With the Jetta TDI, power delivery is smooth and linear and predictable.  Need to get from 50 km/h (30 mph) to 90 km/h (55 mph)? Woooooosh.

I didn’t drive the Jetta TDI for maximum economy during the trip yet I consistently got excellent fuel economy.  Numbers such as 175 mpg (1.3 l/100 km) showed up on the display and my half-day TDI adventure used 6.3 l/100 km (37 mpg) including city driving.

The previous-generation Jetta TDI used only 5.5 l/100 km (43mpg)  in a round-trip from New York City to Philadelphia and back, at speeds ranging from 88 km/h (55 mph) to 130 km/h (80 mph) and we’d expect similar fuel economy from the new Jetta TDI in highway driving.  The Jetta TDI is a 50-state diesel and meets emissions requirements without needing a urea-injection solution system.

In terms of handling, I found both Jettas sharp and responsive with the hydraulic power steering (last year’s model had electric power steering).  I felt connected with the road in a way that seems to elude the competition from Japan and Korea.  Ride quality was perfect for a driver’s car – the decontenting in the rear suspension (the Jetta returns to a torsion-beam solid rear axle for 2011) didn’t have any adverse impact in my opinion.

Based on current sales trends, we expect that 27% of the Jettas sold in the U.S. will be diesels (see Diesel Economics 200 for a detailed look at current sales trends for diesel-powered autos).  Those owners will be very, very happy.

View more presentations from The Diesel Driver.
2011 Jetta SEL 2011 Jetta TDI
Base price $21,395 $22,995
Drivetrain Front engine, front-wheel drive Front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine 2.5/170 hp/I-5 2.0/140 hp/turbocharged I-4
Transmission 5-speed manual 6-speed manual
Curb weight (lbs) 3018 3210
Wheelbase (inches) 104.4 104.4
Length x width x height (inches) 182.2 x 70.0 x 57.2 182.2 x 70.0 x 57.2
0-60 mph (seconds) 8.2 (manual)

8.5 (automatic)

City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 23/33 30/42 (manual)

30/42 (DSG automatic)

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