Even before picking up the Green Car of the Year award at the 2008 LA Auto Show, the VW Jetta TDI was the posterchild for Volkswagen's green efforts and, as a result, nearly impossible to keep on dealer lots.
The heart of the Jetta TDI is the 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected diesel engine. With an EPA estimated 30 city/41 highway mpg and low emissions when using Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, it's easy to see where the Jetta TDI gets its green cred.
Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel is becoming more readily available in the United States every day, and diesel prices are steadily dropping (at time of publication, diesel fuel is less expensive than Premium grade gasoline). Factor in the tax rebate the TDI qualifies for, and it starts to look like an attractive alternative to the hybrid for owners who can take advantage of the high highway mpg.
While the TDI outputs a rather run-of-the-mill 140 horsepower (30 fewer than the gasoline variant), it really shines in the torque department. Its 236 pound-feet of twisting force is available as low as 1,500 rpm, which really makes the Jetta's acceleration feel smoother, more composed, and more confident than a high revving gasoline-four.
While the TDI engine is a spectacular powerplant, the vehicle it motivates is uninspiring. Volkswagen doesn't take any chances with the Jetta, and as a result, it's a rather forgettable vehicle. Particularly the styling, which is a bit too plain-vanilla for our tastes.
The Jetta's interior looks like it was designed by someone who would never have to look at it, perhaps a robot, an algorithm, or a blind man. While everything functions as one would expect it, the Jetta's cabin just isn't a pleasant place to be.
Everything in our Jetta's interior was black, even the instrument cluster. In the center of the gauges is the Multi Function Indicator, which displays fuel economy, trip, and audio playback information, as well as a menu for adjusting various convenience features.
The steering wheel features buttons for controlling volume, adjusting the MFI, and hands-free calling. Unfortunately, our vehicle wasn't equipped with Bluetooth, so the telephone button merely muted the audio system.
Standard on the Jetta TDI is the Premium VII audio system, which features eight speakers, a six-disc MP3-compatible CD changer, and AM/FM/Satellite radio. The system is loud, but features muddy sound quality and poor staging.