Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
Still the only diesel-powered compact sedan priced under $30,000 in Canada, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI returns for 2011 with an all-new sedan bodystyle, a new interior, and a new unit body platform that, for the first time, is not shared with the Golf.
Perhaps of equal importance to buyers is that the 2011 Jetta TDI’s suggested retail price has dropped by more than $3,000: from $27,175 to $23,875 (Comfortline trim), and from $30,875 to $26,655 (Highline trim) (last year’s base Jetta TDI Trendline trim is not offered this year). However, keen observers will notice that some standard features were deleted or made optional for 2011: in the Comfortline trim, the premium radio with six-CD player, touch-screen, and satellite radio is now part of an option package ($1,300), and the power reclining driver’s seat is now manually operated; in the Highline, standard leather upholstery has been replaced by “leatherette”. Leather seats are now optional ($895), but at the time of this writing, were not yet available. As well, rear side airbags, which were standard, are no longer offered. Still, despite some de-contenting, the 2011 TDI’s much lower price makes it a better value – not to mention the fact that it’s a brand new vehicle design.
Sharing its new bodystyle with the 2011 Jetta 2.0L, 2.5L and the upcoming GLI, the 2011 Jetta TDI is longer (by 74 mm) than last year’s model, and marginally wider and lower in height (by 3 mm and 6 mm respectively). Most of the Jetta’s extra length is in the wheelbase which is 73 mm longer, resulting in a significant 69 mm (2.7 in.) increase in rear legroom.
But though it’s a bigger car, the Jetta TDI is about 13 kg (29 lbs) lighter, weighing in at 1456 kg when equipped with the automatic transmission. Powered by the same 140-hp 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve TDI (turbocharged direct injection) four-cylinder diesel engine as last year and equipped with the same standard six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed DSG (direct shift gearbox) automatic Tiptronic transmission, the 2011 Jetta TDI offers about the same fuel economy as the 2010 model – that is to say, fantastic!
Natural Resources Canada Energuide ratings (L/100 km) for the 2011 Jetta TDI are 6.7/4.6 city/hwy (automatic transmission) – but more realistic fuel economy numbers come from the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency): 7.8/5.6 city/hwy with either the six-speed manual or six-speed DSG automatic.
Just so you know, 2011 Jetta TDI diesel models are capable of running on B5 bio-diesel (95 per cent petroleum and 5 per cent renewable diesel) which helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions slightly. VW is the first manufacturer to warranty B5 biodiesel – all you have to do is find a fuel station that sells some.
Those who’ve driven VW’s diesel-powered automobiles will know that, contrary to popular belief, they are not underpowered. VW’s 2.0-litre TDI engines have more torque than their 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre gas engine counterparts – 236 pound-feet starting at just 1,750 rpm – and this means excellent throttle response, particularly in the zero to 50 km/h range. From a stoplight, you’ll leave most cars standing still and their drivers wondering what the heck a TDI is. Even in the much-hyped zero to 100 km/h acceleration test, the 2011 Jetta TDI can match a Jetta 2.5 with a 170-hp five-cylinder engine with a time between 8.5 and 10 seconds, depending on which publication you read. Still, according to The Diesel Driver, the 2011 Jetta TDI is a bit slower to 100 km/h than the 2010 Jetta TDI, but only by about two-tenths of a second.
In steady-state driving around town and on the highway, the high-torque turbocharged diesel engine likes to stay below 2,000 rpm most of the time, and even when accelerating, gear changes often happen below 3,000 rpm, thanks in part to the high-tech six-speed dual clutch DSG (direct shift gearbox). The diesel engine’s low revving nature is one reason its fuel economy is so good, as the engine never has to work very hard.
The engine is quiet while cruising, even at 100 km/h, but you will notice the clatter of the diesel engine while it’s idling, even with all the windows closed. Engine noise while accelerating is less abrasive. Overall, I found it very quiet, except at idle.
When coasting or braking while descending a hill, the six-speed DSG transmission will automatically shift down to a lower gear which gives the car a bit of engine braking to slow it down. This doesn’t increase fuel consumption because the fuel injectors automatically shut off while coasting. The driver can also shift manually by moving the shift lever over to the right gate, and pulling the floor shifter back to shift down, and forwards to shift up. Manual shift times are very quick. There are no paddles shifters behind the steering wheel like in the GTI.
Of some concern to Jetta TDI enthusiasts is why VW discontinued last year’s multilink independent rear suspension and substituted a semi-independent torsion beam setup. In general, rear wheels sprung independently are better at absorbing bumps without unsettling the car’s balance, and enhance overall handling and control. Still, it must be noted that Golfs and Jettas had a similar rear torsion beam set-up for decades before switching to an independent set-up, and it worked well. What can be said about the new Jetta is that it doesn’t feel quite as nimble or as agile as the new Golf, though handling is still very stable and the ride is better. Our test car had Continental Conti-Pro Contact 17-inch tires which proved to be grippy and quiet in the dry, and resistant to hydroplaning in the rainy conditions we experienced during our week with the car. 2011 Jetta TDI Comfortline models have standard 205/55R-16-inch all seasons as standard, while Highline models get 225/45R-17-inch all-seasons.
When it comes to brakes, TDI owners get a break…while rear drum brakes are standard on all 2011 Jetta 2.0L models and 2.5L Comfortline models, rear disc brakes are standard on both Jetta TDI Comfortline and Highline trim levels. As well, traction control, engine braking assist, electronic differential lock, and electronic stability control are standard on all 2011 Jetta TDI models. In braking tests conducted by AJAC last October, a 2011 Jetta TDI equipped with 205/55R-16-inch all-season tires braked from 100 km/h to zero in 44.5 metres (in the dry). That’s more than the 43 metres a Golf TDI Wagon took the previous year, and is slightly above average.
The Jetta TDI’s electromechanical power assisted speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering reduces steering effort at parking lot speeds and firms up at highway speeds and the car tracks very well with minimal steering adjustment. The Jetta TDI’s turning circle of 11.1 m (36.4 ft.) is tight enough for most u-turns.
Getting in to the Jetta TDI Highline has never been easier: a “switchblade” type key with remote door unlocking also features keyless entry and keyless engine starting. To unlock the driver’s door, you just squeeze the outside door handle. To lock it, just touch the indentation on the outside of the door handle. Inside the car, the engine starts by pressing and holding the Start/Stop button located just ahead of the shift lever; or pressing it once to stop the engine.
The remote key also has a button to open the trunk remotely, but for some reason, mine wouldn’t work – I had a similar key last week on a Jetta 2.0L which did work. It not only unlocks the trunk but allows it to pop open completely, very handy if your hands are tied up carrying packages or boxes.
The Jetta is easy to get in and out of, but rear passengers should mind their heads on the sloping roofline, and all passengers need to be careful not rub their pant legs on the rather wide doorsills. As I mentioned earlier, rear passengers now have generous legroom, and though the cabin is only marginally wider, it feels wider than the previous model’s, perhaps because of the horizontal design layout of the dashboard.
The new instrument panel design is traditional and straightforward rather than “space-age”, like many of its competitors’. The top-of-the-line Jetta TDI Highline has the nicest looking interior thanks to its attractive leatherette seats with perforated inserts, two-tone colour scheme, leather-wrapped steering wheel, “matte chrome” trim on the dash and doors, comfy centre armrest, and large navigation screen (optional) in the centre stack. Let me complement Volkswagen on choosing to offer black floormats in the “Cornsilk” interior – they’re much more practical.
In the Highline, the driver’s seat features a manual lumbar adjuster in addition to a height and rake adjuster. There’s also a manual tilt/telescopic steering wheel, allowing most drivers to find a comfortable seating position. The front passenger seat also has height/rake adjusters, but no lumbar adjustment. I found the driver’s seat comfortable over a week of driving, and appreciated the adjustable lumbar support which is not offered in the Jetta 2.0L. All Jetta TDIs feature seat heaters for both front seats with three temperature levels – often the most appreciated feature in this car on a cold winter’s morning. As the heater in the TDI seems to take longer to warm up, the seat heaters are especially appreciated. I was bit surprised to see that the top-of-the-line Highline trim didn’t have automatic climate control.
The Jetta’s white-on-black speedometer and tachometer are easy to read at a glance, and the central digital display provides useful information such as the outside temperature, time and fuel gauge. The digital display could be a little bigger, though. Highline models features a trip computer with average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, distance to empty, trip time, average speed, and alternate speedometer in mph.
The standard audio system in the Jetta TDI Comfortline is an AM/FM/single CD/MP3 player with six speakers; optional as part of a Multimedia Package ($1,300) is a premium AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD/MP3 changer and 6.5-inch touch-screen, SD card input, Sirius satellite radio and six speakers. This package also includes iPod connector, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and multifunction steering wheel.
The same Multimedia Package is standard in the TDI Highline while an AM/FM single CD/MP3 player with navigation system, five-inch touch-screen with SD card input, 4-GB flash drive, auxiliary input, Sirius satellite radio with free three-month subscription, and eight speakers is optional ($890) in the Highline.
My test car had this optional audio/navigation system which I found to be an excellent value for $890. The touch-screen, though smaller than some, is bright with clear graphics and easy-to-understand interface. The navigation system is easy to use with both visual and audible directions that make it easy to drive in unfamiliar territory. The colour touch-screen can also be used to operate the radio, CD player, auxiliary music player, iPod (connector is in the glovebox), or to set up driver preferences in a menu, however major functions like Volume, Tune, and Seek are controlled by small dials on the radio; as well, the multi-function steering wheel has controls for Volume and Seek as well as Bluetooth hands-free phone activation.
For charging accessories, there are two 12-volt outlets, one in the front and one in the rear, and an auxiliary jack in the radio faceplate for music players. One thing missing is a USB port.
All Jetta models include four power windows with automatic up and down operation and “pinch-protection”, power door-lock buttons in the front and rear, heated power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers and heated windshield washer nozzles, cruise control, and anti-theft alarm.
A power glass sunroof with tilt-up and slide-back operation, and a manual sunshade is optional in the TDI Comfortline and standard in the Jetta TDI Highline – it can be opened and closed using the remote key or from the drivers’ door, as can the windows.
Storage areas in the new Jetta are limited: the glovebox is large with a separate ledge for the owner’s manual; there’s a small open bin in front of the shift lever for music devices and phones; the centre armrest hides a small bin; there’s an open bin at the back of the centre console for rear passengers; and all four doors have pockets. Two cupholders with spring-loaded cup grippers reside between the front seats and there are two more cupholders in the fold-down rear centre armrest.
All Jettas come with six airbags, two front, two side (in the front seats), and two curtain airbags (for front and rear passengers), but the rear side airbags have disappeared from the features list this year. For children, all Jettas include child seat lower attachment points and top tether anchors in the rear, and child locks on the rear doors.
A trunk pass-through behind the rear centre armrest is standard in all Jettas, as are split 60/40 folding rear seatbacks which fold down easily and release from inside the trunk. The big 438-litre (15.5 cu. ft.) trunk is fully lined and includes a large opening and a power trunk release.
With its punchy performance, excellent fuel economy, roomy cabin, comfortable ride, standard four year/80,000 km warranty, and reasonable price, the 2011 Jetta TDI offers a rare combination of great performance and miserly fuel consumption in a comfortable four-door sedan for under $30,000.
With no other diesel competitors on the market, it’s difficult to pinpoint its competitors, but likely contenders would include other compact sedans, especially the Honda Civic Hybrid, as well as the Toyota Prius and maybe the Golf TDI or the BMW 335d.
The 2011 VW Jetta TDI is built in Puebla, Mexico.
Pricing: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Highline
Base price (Comfortline): $21,175
Base price (Highline): $26,655
Options: $3,185 (6-speed DSG automatic transmission, $1,400; Leather package, $895; RNS 315 Navigation system, $890)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $31,305
Crash test results