A Canadian perspective.
Manuel Santos – CleanMPG
– April 26, 2009
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - $24,275 Canadian to start and 6.8/4.8 L/100 Km City/Highway per the Transport Canada.
There is no question about it; consumers are increasingly conscientious when it comes to automotive choices and the financial implications they involve. Questions about fuel economy and emissions echo in the minds of many new car buyers today, and manufacturers are compelled to invest heavily in their product line-ups -- not only to meet the added scrutiny of our times but also to improve long term survivability and reputation.
If just one third of all light duty vehicles in the United States was diesel powered, crude oil consumption could be reduced by approximately 1.4 million barrels a day—equal to the U.S. daily imports from Saudi Arabia.
With clear incentives and technology to take on the challenges of our times, Volkswagen presents their Clean Diesel TDI technology as the solution -- one we eagerly tested in the new 2009 Jetta TDI sedan.
Let's get started, shall we?
A handsome shape that is far more aerodynamic than its predecessors with a CD of only 0.31
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Testing and Review methodology
Before we begin, please note that this is not
another review of the TDI’s 0-60 MPH performance. If you were hoping to enjoy that type of review below you’ll be seriously disappointed. If however, you are interested in its 0-60 MPG
performance then read on -- we think you'll be pleased with this vehicle's capabilities.
Rather than pursuing the testing script so typical of other automotive media outlets, we chose instead to focus on what this particular vehicle offers in terms of fuel economy potential. For the purposes of this review, no testing methodology could reveal more of a vehicle’s potential than our trusty hypermiling toolkit.
Sure -- we could have spent some time describing how powerful the car is when merging with speeding traffic (often at illegal speeds)... or how easily and quickly we can bleed kinetic energy in wasteful panic stops... but frankly, that would say nothing about this car's true fuel economy potential when driven responsibly and legally. You won't find such measurements here.
Though we were given the opportunity to test this car in less than ideal Spring time temperatures, we Canadians are still up to a worthy fuel economy challenge. To get a good idea of what to expect on public roads, we took this 2009 Jetta TDI through a variety of driving scenarios ranging from stop-and-go commuting to highway driving. To round out the overview, we also ran it through our suburban roads -- which often provide good periods of slower speed commuting with few stops.
Ensuring this review could withstand critical scrutiny, I invited Mike Sefton (an experienced TDI hypermiler) to take this car through its paces for an expert's analysis of the new model. You see, he's the owner of a sweet running 2001 Golf TDI and if you want the most mileage out of a Diesel in this part of the country, Mike is the guy to call. He not only answered my call but also had quite a bit to add to this review. You’ll find Mike’s excellent additions below.
Finally, we configured and used the absolutely indispensable ScanGauge II (equipped with Linear Logic's latest firmware update) to help guide our throttle inputs and monitor the vehicle's fuel economy performance on all of our trips.
Huh... Diesels and the ScanGauge.
We configured our ScanGauge with the help of included documentation from Linear Logic. Engine displacement was set to 2.0 liters and we set the fuel type to Diesel-A. The only other option was to set it to Diesel-B, but this option not only did not apply (due to the type of vehicle), it produced wildly erratic FE values. Despite this, it was soon discovered that FE performance numbers (consumption rates and instantaneous fuel economy) reported by the ScanGauge were grossly inaccurate; we had to resort to calculating fuel economy by frequently topping off of the tank. Our best efforts to procure better results from the gauge were for naught.
Mounting the ScanGuage was definitely easier than configuration and use proved to be in this particular vehicle...
Undeterred by unreliable readings obtained from our ScanGauge, we still found it indispensable not only as a guide for our accelerator manipulations, but also an indication of actions and conditions contributing to higher fuel consumption. You see, this particular TDI model's trip computer offers neither an instantaneous nor an average fuel consumption display. For that you will have to obtain the top trim level in the Jetta TDI lineup.
2009 Canadian VW Jetta TDI Sedan Specifications
The VW Jetta TDI’s pricing and specifications can be viewed in the CleanMPG - New Fuel Efficient Automobile Specifications
forum in the following thread: 2009 Canadian VW Jetta TDI Sedan
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Ergonomics and driving comfort
The Jetta TDI offers good support and a comfortable ride for someone my size, but then again at 5'11" I am not challenged for space in most cars. The driver controls are intuitive and within easy reach. However, despite seldom use I found the cruise control's user interface both dated and busy. Its functionality is aggregated in the left turning stalk lever -- a design decision which forced me to look twice every time I wished to use the turn signal to ensure I was doing the right thing. I suppose it just takes a bit of getting used to, but it is far from what I would characterize as user friendly.
Visibility to the front is good (despite a high dash) and all around visibility offers unobstructed views of all quadrants for good safety.
Low noise levels inside the cabin are a standout feature of this car, and I am absolutely amazed by how effectively Volkswagen has managed to control and reduce intrusive engine noise. This vehicle actually sports decibel levels quite comparable to those found in a modern day gasoline car.
To quantify this characteristic, we performed an informal test by placing the 2009 model alongside Mike Sefton’s 2001 TDI Golf. Even though both generated similar sound levels when started and idling, the interior of the 2009 Jetta TDI was markedly quieter than the Golf’s. (I used the audio meter on my Canon HD camcorder to compare exterior and cabin sound levels). This gives the impression of a much more refined vehicle -- an impression which is not entirely unjustified, I might add.
As Mike demonstrates, driver positioning, seat, and steering wheel adjustments are easy and effective
while rear passenger space is both ample and comfortable... even with the front seats pushed back.
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Cargo space and conveniences
I found the cavernous trunk particularly impressive and with folding rear seats, total cargo capacity will easily satisfy the needs of most small families.
The interior has a good assortment of cubby holes but none were sized for larger items. The same could be said of the cup holders, which unfortunately hold nothing more than a small bottle or cup. Likewise, the storage tray mounted on top of the dash will accommodate smaller items only.
This picture does not do justice to the voluminous cargo capacity of the Jetta TDI Sedan.
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Overall vehicle quality
The vehicle appears solidly assembled and no unusual trim noises were heard when negotiating rough road surfaces. Many of the interior surfaces are pleasing to the touch but others are made of hard and dull plastic. The cloth seats also appear to be made of durable fabric, yet they are not particularly austere.
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Driving impressions
The 6 speed DSG AT Transmission
- In my opinion, the 6 speed automatic transmission is the standout performer in this vehicle. When operated in automatic mode it is smooth and shifts very early, especially in an urban driving routine. Without a doubt this is a major technical asset since the 2.0 liter diesel engine can provide all the torque needed for such driving even at its lowest RPM. We really enjoyed seeing the actual gear shifts occur between 1500 and 1700 RPM -- the engine is not noisy and the shifts are not rough at all in this mode. The car is an absolute joy to drive when operated in this manner.
When placed into its manual shift mode, the transmission changes the character of this vehicle entirely and turns it into a much rougher and less refined performer. Clearly, the manual shifting mode is not intended to be used by sensible (let alone ecologically) minded drivers. Instead, it appears to be configured to satisfy a more visceral and spirited form of driving. Unlike automatic mode, early up-shifting is difficult and very frustrating because it retains each gear much longer before allowing the shift to occur. A fuel conscious driver would NOT use this transmission mode at all, as it hurts any quest for fuel economy in the worst possible way, even at low throttle input.
In the end, we conclude that any kind of fuel efficient manual control of this vehicle should be left to a true 5 or 6 speed manual transmission.
The 2.0l TDI Diesel Engine
- Starting this engine on a cold morning at -5C produces a fair amount of noise -- not atypical of the Diesel power plants we know. Use of a block heater is mandatory for quick and less noisy starts even for barely above freezing ambient temperatures. Much of this noise is effectively suppressed inside the passenger cabin (with the windows and doors closed), resulting in levels comparable to an average gasoline powered sedan.
The power train package
- For a fuel conscious driver this engine and transmission combination exhibits several noteworthy and welcome traits.
For instance, coasting the vehicle is achieved without the usual resistive drag exhibited by the average automobile (due to engine braking). At first, it felt unnatural. Furthermore, when the driver lifts his/her foot off the throttle pedal the highest gear is retained and the engine goes into fuel cut mode. This allows the car to come very close to a neutral glide and as a result the distances covered during a powered coast can be quite phenomenal. Of course, this particular behavior is still not comparable to a soft glide performed in either a Prius or HCH-II since the 6 speed still induces far more drag when in “D.” Unlike those vehicles, the throttle pedal on the Jetta TDI is of no help in this scenario.
The only way to remove all drag in a glide is to FAS or NICE-ON your way to a stop... but the later technique will cause the engine to burn fuel while the distance is covered.
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Fuel economy results
Bumper to Bumper – City driving
: This was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the review. Compared to a hybrid vehicle (full or assist type hybrid), the TDI requires far more work to achieve good mileage.
I had to throw every technique and skill I had available at it and in the process, I drove other motorists up and completely over the "Anger Hill". Of course, I use my entire skillset on a regular basis in my own vehicles but this car needs a lot more attention and effort to achieve the same goals. Still, both Mike and I managed to achieve 5.3L/100km after slightly more than 100km worth of this grueling driving. It is likely that the fuel consumption would have been significantly worse if we'd been a little less aggressive in the pursuit of good fuel economy. Considering the ambient temperatures we experienced were only 0-10C, this is clearly an indication that this car can be a worthy city commuter in the hands of a skilled driver. Be warned, though: you'll have to FAS your heart out to get the best from this car in stop-and-go traffic.
Low speed urban commuting
: This is one area where the car really excels as long as RPM is kept steady and low... and there aren’t too many stops in the commute. In this driving scenario, the 6 speed automatic transmission along with a careful foot on the throttle will be all you need to get great fuel economy. In approximately 90kms worth of this type of driving we observed a fuel economy of 4.2 L/100km -- quite good, all things considered. The aforementioned ScanGauge issues meant we saw exaggerated fuel consumption numbers that placed the car into the 6-8+ L/100km range, but subsequent tank top-off showed the car actually did a lot better.
: This is yet another area where the 2009 Jetta TDI does quite well. Of course, we kept our average speeds around 80 km/h in part because we wanted to keep the engine in the 1600 to 1800 RPM range. Higher speeds call for dramatically higher RPM and since the transmission begins using 6th gear as early as 60km/h, consumption only gets worse as speed mounts.
We incurred approximately 160 km worth of highway driving under this regimen using fuel cut-off coasting and driving with load (allowing speed drops of 20-30km/h for small climbs). Accelerations and other minor ramp-ups in speed rarely exceeded the 2000 RPM threshold.
Summary: Fuel economy
The final result
|Driving regimen||Average Speeds||Distance covered||Ambient Temperature||Measured fuel economy (at pump)|
|City (Stop-And-Go)||0-50 kph||100 Km||11C (52F)||5.3 L/100Km (44.3 MPG US)|
|Suburban (Low speed)||40-60 kph||90 Km||7C (44F)||4.2 L/100Km (56 MPG US) |
|Highway (High speed)||80-100 kph||160 Km||0C (32F)||4.1 L/100Km (57.4 MPG US)|
|2009 Canadian VW Jetta TDI Sedan – DSG||City||Highway||Combined||CleanMPG Observed Fuel Economy|
|Canada||6.8L/100 Km||4.9 L/100 Km|| -- ||4.5 L/100 Km|
|US||29 mpgUS||40 mpgUS||34 mpgUS||52.6 mpgUS|
|British Imperial||34.7 mpgIMP||48 mpgIMP||40.8 mpgIMP||63.1 mpgIMP|
Review Tank data: 356 km on 15.93 L = 4.48L/100 Km (52.6 mpgUS).
: We observed a fuel economy of 4.5 L/100 Km in ambient temperatures that were mostly quite close to the freezing point. Not bad at all and certainly very comforting -- particularly after observing the depressing numbers produced by our ScanGauge!
2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan - Conclusion
- Very fuel efficient when compared to many of its gasoline powered competitors.
- Huge trunk. Did I mention it was cavernous??
- Very quiet passenger cabin. In fact you would swear it is NOT a diesel powered vehicle.
- Soaks up the road imperfections very well, even when sporting tire pressures higher than the maximum pressure rating of the tires.
- Great coasting distances due to its low power train drag and engine fuel cut off.
- Smooth and efficient 6 speed automatic transmission. Very impressive.
- If you hate space age and technology laden interiors like the ones in today hybrids, this car is definitely for you.
- Good peripheral visibility.
- Comfortable seats and generous seating accommodations.
- No trip computer and no easy way to assess the fuel economy (average and instantaneous) . After multiple attempts, we were also unable to get our ScanGauge to reflect accurate fuel consumption readings. In the end, we could only assess its fuel consumption by visiting the diesel pump more often to top it off.
- Dated and monotonous interior styling, the tall dash and the somewhat small cup holders seem to accentuate this more glaringly. General storage areas such as cubby holes and center compartments are also very small.
- High price. Frankly, a little too steep considering what the competition is offering in terms of convenience features and active driving aides.
- If you are standing outside the car, this TDI is no longer smelly but it is still noisier than the average gasoline powered vehicle. Perhaps even a bit noisier still if it is cold.
- Diesel refueling opportunities are somewhat more limited than gasoline. However, this is not a problem once you identify a preferred station and you keep an eye on the fuel level.
- The manual shifting mode is utterly useless for improved fuel economy performance. For a fuel savvy driver this feature is worth ignoring.
If the objective is to promote a fuel efficient alternative to today’s gasoline powered vehicles then Volkswagen is definitely on the right track. In the hands of a fuel efficient driver, this car will not disappoint and even does an admirable job of destroying the myth that late model Diesels are smelly and noisy. At least on the former count, consider that myth unfounded. As for noise, the car is definitely quieter for the passengers and that may be all that matters to some.
With this said, I find the 2009 Jetta TDI to be an excellent alternative to VW’s own lineup of gasoline powered models and well worth the extra expenditure for a Diesel powertrain. The driver and passenger living space is extremely quiet and particularly so at highway speeds despite the vehicle’s “just” average drag coefficient.
In my view, this car would be very appealing to anyone seeking a fuel efficient, non-hybrid vehicle. It is spacious and it offers prodigious amounts of torque... in fact, far more than what any efficient driver would ever need. The vehicle feels very solid, and this feeling can be further enhanced if a good dealer is at hand to help mitigate any fears about VW’s reputation for reliability. A very strong and active online community also helps to reduce many of the remaining concerns -- particularly for TDI owners who prefer to have a more active role in the maintenance of their car.
As an owner and proponent of hybrid vehicles, I purposely forced myself to view the 2009 Jetta TDI as a viable and efficient alternative fuel vehicle. Believe me, this was not all that difficult! Temporarily emptying my mind is as far as I can go, however... my will power alone is not enough to allow a direct comparison between this TDI and any of the fuel efficient hybrids available on the market today. But, if I really had to try, the closest comparison I could make would be with the second generation Honda Civic Hybrid, in part because the TDI reminded me more of the HCH than the Prius.. at least in terms of fuel economy vices and advantages.
Then my wife’s final comments really crystallized one last element that makes the prospect of any direct competition even more unlikely. One that I never really thought of before:
"What happens when you ask a hybrid owner to consider trading his/her hybrid vehicle for a brand new 2009 Jetta TDI?"
While hardly scientific, the type of feedback you get is not surprising. As if to re-affirm the levels of owner satisfaction reported amongst the majority of hybrid drivers, even my wife found this particular proposition a serious challenge. One that she promptly rejected, even if I had meant it as a joke.
Perhaps VW still has some work to do in this area. Then again... maybe they don't need to. At least not on account of people like me.
Finally, I would like to thank Auto Haus Volkswagen in Winnipeg for graciously providing us with this unit -- without which this review would not have been possible. If you live in Manitoba and you are curious about this or any other TDI, please don't forget to visit the nice folks at Auto Haus.