First Drive: 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

By most accounts, clean diesel is beginning to make its run into the automotive mainstream in the United States. So, we decided to take the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI out for a test drive to judge for ourselves.

“If any car is going to wake America up to the diesel movement, it’s this one,” Ben Davis, road test producer for PBS’s MotorWeek, told The Jetta TDI’s combined benefits—high performance, high fuel economy, and small carbon footprint—come at the right price: about $22,000. That’s less than half the price of Mercedes’ Bluetec vehicles, the only other clean diesels available in all 50 states.

We achieved 36.4 miles per gallon with the Jetta TDI in a 181-mile mixed driving loop in an around the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. The test was comprised of approximately 70 percent highway driving, and 30 percent city driving. The results put this compact diesel ahead of most subcompact cars, and on par with many hybrids currently on the market.

The Jetta TDI is powered by a 2.0-liter common rail turbocharged engine—producing 140 horsepower and an eye-opening 236 pound-feet of torque. The high torque output is characteristic of a diesel powertrain, resulting in very fast launches from zero, and effortless acceleration on the highway.

The Jetta provided excellent handling and a smooth ride, in the tradition of meticulous German engineering. The car took corners at a good speed without any body roll. The vehicle was extremely balanced, and gave a very planted road feel. The well-weighted steering was quick and responsive. Overall the ride was very comfortable—supportive seats lend themselves to the long commute or road trip. Considered a quasi-luxury brand, Volkswagen offers plenty of optional equipment and amenities.

Based on our experience on the road, the 2009 Jetta TDI could be what today’s car shoppers are looking for: a solid feel and great fuel economy, offered at a decent price.

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  • PatrickPunch

    With a fuel efficient driving style you can get this kind of car up to 45 mpg in real traffic.

    Hopefully US readers will now believe you can get “very fast launches from zero, and effortless acceleration on the highway” from a four cylinder and a diesel.

    As a European I made such a statement at a conference near Detroit in 2002 and the public thought I did not know what I was talking about.

  • Matt Miller

    Diesel here ( Southern Pennsylvania ) still costs a buck a gallon more then gas so it wouldn’t really benefit people…

  • RGG

    How come this car gets only marginally better mileage than my 1991 Honda Civic DX automatic in real life driving? First, the tester may have been driving aggressively as most automobile journalists do. He doesn’t say, for example, what speed he was driving on the highway. Second, and I’ve said it before, manufacturers are putting too much emphasis on performance. Performance is fine, but give us a base (diesel) engine option, say around 1.6 Litres. With the torque that their new technology provides, I suspect that 1.6 litres would give adequate performance for those of us that NEED maximum fuel economy.

  • Dan B

    I own a 2006 Jetta TDI and a 2001 beetle TDI and I get excellent MPG on both. Before they switched the diesel to low sulfur, I would get 48 MPG or better on the Bug and 45 or better on the Jetta. Since the sulfur change I get about 5 MPG less on both. We love both the cars. Well build, smart design, low maintenance and fun to drive. We are experimenting with Bio Diesel at this time and hope to be driving solely on this product in the near future. I presently have 100,000 on my Jetta and 140,000 on the bug and both are running strong.

  • Dom

    36mpg is actually rather good considering the EPA combined rating is 33mpg I think. This should improve some overtime, as a this car’s engine isn’t even close to being broken in. Also, this car has been proven to be able to achieve 58mpg with some attention towards economy:

    The problem with the fuel price difference is not much of a concern to me, as diesel doesn’t follow the same patterns as gasoline usually. Consider the recent hurricane in the gulf that cause gasoline (at least in NC) to skyrocket. During that same time diesel prices didn’t budge, leaving it cheaper than RUG for a time.

    Thank you for providing news on all the alternative vehicles.

  • Zachb

    This car set a new record for most MPG. Overall 58.82 US MPG
    Here is the website about the couple who recently achieved this. This is just the beginning and another choice for us to consume less and eventually phase out oil. The article forgot to mention that you get a 1,300 Tax rebate to, which will offset the price difference between Gas and Diesel. Another good website is

    Hope this helps.

  • MilwaukeeT

    I have heard different opinions on the use of biodiesel. 1) Use it only after the warranty expires? 2) The price for bio-D is actually as high or higher than petro-diesel? 3) Performance and mileage are the same or better with biodiesel? Any of these true?

    I love VWs and would buy another if it were A) a hybrid or B) I could run biodiesel.

  • Dom

    Biodiesel is a complicated question. The official answer is only B5 (5% biodiesel) blends or less are currently supported by VW (won’t void your warranty). This has been the limit for several years. Most 2006 and older models run higher blends just fine. The jury is still out on the new ones as this is a new engine. That said, a biodiesel distributor is running a very meticulous test running a new 09 TDI on B100 biodiesel to see what affects it will have on the engine and emission systems:

    Price for biodiesel varies just like diesel prices do. Some places have it cheaper, some more expensive. I’ve run B20 in my 03 Golf TDI a couple of times and I really didn’t notice a difference in power or mpg. YMMV I’d say.

  • harry

    I live in Germany and can say that Volkswagen is really great in Diesel.

    The TDI is fantastic to drive. Till now i drive a Diesel from Mercedes.

    The car is not worth its money.

    Since Porsche is a part-owner of Volkwagen, its the best car for its money value.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Diesel comes from oil or food.
    Need I say more?

  • Dom

    Hmm… do you eat algae?? Biodiesel can be made from all sorts of plants, many of which are not human’s primary food source. And of course regular diesel comes from oil. So does gasoline. Oh, and by the way, hybrids run on gasoline.

  • Dell

    The extra cost of diesel prohibits any real savings to the consumer so a hybrid car is still your best option particularly the Toyota Prius.
    I drive a Honda and that is a great alternative too. Toyota and Honda beat Volkswagen in overall ownership costs and are cheaper to maintain. I also do not like the attitude you get from Volkswagen dealerships and their cars are usually the most expensive cars in their class with comparable options.

  • Davi Ottenheimer

    I’ve been driving a TDI 2.0 liter engine for almost four years now and what most people fail to understand is the *massive* power in this engine coupled with efficiency.

    The torque is more than most pickups such as the Ford F-150. Imagine for a moment if the so-called “utility” and “worker” trucks were replaced with TDI station wagons. You would move a huge average from below 15 to above 35 mpg. More comfortable, more room, better handling/safety, and far better economy in a large segment of the population.

    Moreover, getting 600 miles out of a 15 gallon tank of gas saves an unbelievable amount of time. On road-trips pulling a trailer I shave hours down by eliminating the need to stop for refueling. Even this Jetta has enough torque to tow a nice sized trailer.

    I have nothing against the ultra-light city vehicles like the civics and prius hybrids, but if you want high efficiency without sacrificing performance or power to haul around people and gear (like we Americans tend to do), diesel is the real answer. Personally if I wanted something light and efficient for commuting, I’d just ride an electric motorbike.

    No need for food-based fuel, thanks. Just recycle the oil waste headed for landfill/tallow or start using algae (only 1-2 percent of existing US crop land needed to meet 50 percent of US demand). 0 food impact. We don’t need to go to 100 percent to make a big difference. Small steps start the marathon.

  • Philip Hilgersom

    Could not agree with Patrick more. Europe is full of clean diesels and most brands launch a diesel version of most new models simultaneously with a gas engine model. Espcially in Holland, where I am originally from, diesels are extremely popular, as diesel fuel is somewhat cheaper than gasoline, but road tax is much more than gas engine equipped cars. The fuel economy, paired with the torque is probably the main reason people choose these vehicles. And with the present state of the diesel engine, there is no more or very little “diesel disadvantage” such as smell, sound etc. etc.
    We drive a Jetta Sportwagon (no diesel version yet here, so a gasoline 2.5 liter 5 cylinder), whic is an awesome car. The Touareg we also have is jealous!!

  • Geoff

    I just purchased a 2009 Jetta TDi with 2.0L Turbo Diesel, this is an awesome car, I am a regional sales manager and drive 25-30K per year, with trips between 1-5 hour in drive time each way, a hybrid would probably not have the range ? and I would be asked to sacrifice some perfomrnace over the jetta. My previours car was the 1.8L Turbo Passat, which got around 32MPG, I am expecting more like 48-50MPG from the Jetta on the open road. I opted for the 6 speed version, the torqe is amazing cruising at 65 mph, the RPM is only 2000, it will crusie happliy all the way down to 1500 rpm, and still allow you to accelerate without having to shift down.
    Not having to stop to fill up on a trip from Indy to cleveland and back is real plus, how many cars can do that ?

  • Chuck

    It does cost more. However, a diesel engine will outlive a gasoline one by at least 100,000 miles if it is properly maintained. The carbon footprint is so much smaller. The tested MPG is lower than actual MPG (ask any TDi owner, including me). The availability of biodiesel will increase substantially once gasoline returns to the stratospheric price of this past summer. That will lessen our dependence upon oil from the Middle East which will, in turn, reduce the amount of money we give to folks who generally don’t care much for us Americans. Plus, it’s cool to go to the diesel pump!