Affordable with refined handling, the Jetta TDI burns good and clean
In the early ’80s, my parents fulfilled some demented dream of owning an Oldsmobile Cutlass Wagon — wood Âgrain and all — with a diesel engine.
After their metallic blue Pontiac Phoenix, which shed parts like a stripper, I can understand their elation. The Cutlass turned in great mileage, but rattled like a freightliner, severly disdained cold weather and could barely get out of its own way. Those are the memories that played as I stepped into the Jetta TDI.
Only the great fuel economy remains.
If you can remember waiting for glow plugs to warm up before starting the car, you haven’t driven a diesel lately. The Jetta’s 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine steps off with 140 horsepower and ground-churning 236 lbs.-ft. of torque. High torque figures translate into a solid surge off the line while the turbo makes high-speed ass hauling a delight.
At ridiculous speeds, the Jetta feels bored. Fuel economy ratings of 29/40-miles per gallon will really make you bored as you wait 450 or more miles between fill-ups. Independent testers achieved an even better 38/44-mpg city/hwy — better than a Smart ForTwo.
The Jetta TDI is fun to drive. Tight steering, firm four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel ABS disc brakes and electronic stability control make haste without waste. Our tester came with VW’s six-speed manumatic "DSG" transmission which shifts just fine on its own, or can be manually controlled to make the most of curvy backroads.
It might be fun, but how is this "clean?"
Diesels usually make you think of lingering black, stinky fog. But Volkswagen has been hard at work on the stank clouds. The Jetta burns ultra-low sulfur diesel. A sophisticated "common rail" diesel engine design reduces 95 percent of all sooty tailpipe exhaust. That’s not to mention the radically decreased fuel burnage that is inherent in diesels.
Don’t be disappointed if you can’t see or smell Jetta coming or going.
You won’t hear or smell anything anyway when ensconced in the Jetta’s interior. In the German tradition, it is all business with materials expertly crafted. Everything from the stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel to the big round gauges (in indigo lighting, of course), square-topped leather gear selector, beige color scheme and thick pile carpets feel like they came from a Bentley.
Doors open and close with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. Firm vinyl seats, with Turkey roasting heat, fooled most friends with their leather look and will last forever. Besides that, they are all-day comfortable, leaving you better for the journey. There’s not an ounce of cheap-feeling plastic.
You may want to plan a long trip just to play with the audio and navigation systems. Sweet thumpin’ road tunes come from suave speakers, six-disc changer, iPOD input jack, and Sirius Satellite Radio. To get directions, conjure up NAV on the touch screen and let the car call the shots.
With all of the technical wonderment, it is easy to forget the Jetta’s understated style. Its body sweeps in an arc from air-parting bumper to high decklid, taking on the profile of a German NASCAR racer. A large chrome grille adds flair while a subtle lip spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels buff the Jetta’s sportier side. Like most German sedans, the Jetta looks as if it were carved from an aerodynamic brick that three freightliners couldn’t destroy. It is especially debonair in white or black.
Diesel is a couple of quarters more per gallon than regular gasoline, but a $1,300 Federal Income Tax Credit for clean burning cars numbs the sting, leaving only a great-driving sport sedan in your dreams. Of all the Jettas, the TDI is my favorite, making it a great choice and not just a way to save fuel.
Based on the early-’80s Rabbit and Golf diesels, I still see huffing about, the 2009 Jetta TDI is likely to last forever — which is more than I can say for my parents’ Cutlass.
Prices start at $22,270, but leapt to $28,038 fully equipped.
Who: Julian Harris
Occupation: Medical researcher.
Why are you famous in the gay community? I’m Mr. Texas Leather 2007 and Mr. Dallas Eagle 2007.
Current car: 2003 black Mustang convertible.
Purchased from? Grad Prairie Ford
Were you a tough negotiator? So they told me.
How much did you settle on? Got the deal and trade-in I wanted.
Insurance agent: State Farm — since age 14
Monthly insurance rate? Not real sure.
Why this car? Always been a Mustang and Ford man.
Favorite feature: Hello, convertible!
Anything interesting in your glove box? And extra hankie — just in case I’m wearing chaps in public.
Car nickname: Sally
Previous vehicles: Always a Mustang man — except for one lapse for a hot Trans Am.
Average weekly fuel expenses: $40.
Do you merge well with other drivers? Hmmm… That could get kinky. But, yes. I do.
Ever been naked in your car? Yeah.
Do you think good driver’s make good lovers? Road ragers are more fun.
How do you wash your car? At the drive-thru. Thank God, The Car Wash Club came to Oak Lawn.
When was the last time you rode public transportation in Dallas? A few years ago, I took the train — once. Just for the experience.
Thought that races through my head when I’m going through a yellow light: It’s mine. I can make it.
Best car memory: First trip to Oak Lawn as a teenager.
MOTOR WITH A MESSAGE
Want something on your car’s ass, but you’d rather die before you’d ride around with a Christian fish or a flimsy bumper sticker?
Pidplates lets you say anything you want.
Because the chrome-plated injection-molding design is so snazzy looking, most people use customized Pidplates to advertise a Web site. But you can inscribe any ol’ queer message — like "Drive for Gay Marriage" — up to 20 characters.
Cost is $95. After removing a protective foil from the self-adhesive back, the Pidplate is attached by pressing the plate onto the body of your car. As easy as putting on a Band-Aid. After you place your order, Pidplates are delivered within four business days.
To order, visit Pidplates.us.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 27, 2009.