2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011

Pros

  • Around 30 mpg in the city, 40 mpg or more on the highway, and a range of 500 miles between fill-up
  • Not a whiff of diesel-exhaust odor, nary a hint of diesel-engine clatter
  • All the virtues and much of the driving enjoyment of a gas-engine Jetta sedan or wagon

Cons

  • A price premium of around $2,000 over a comparable gas-engine Jetta, and at least another half-dollar per gallon out of pocket at the pump
  • About half of U.S. service stations carry diesel, and the fuel is an oily mess when it's slopped around
  • Careful at that crossroad: a TDI with automatic transmission accelerates slowly from a stop

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2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Buying Advice

The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is the best car for you if you’re among the majority of drivers for whom a diesel is actually a better fuel-economy solution than a gas-electric hybrid.

Jettas are five-passenger front-wheel-drive compact cars that stand out for genuine European character. In that sense, the TDI is the most “European” Jetta of all, given that about 54 percent of cars sold on the continent are diesels, versus about 1 percent in America.

Diesel VWs have a loyal following in the U.S.: 850,000 have been sold here, starting with the 1977 Rabbit. Today, the Jetta is VW’s most-popular U.S. model, with about 100,000 annual sales. The last time VW offered a diesel Jetta was model-year 2006, and it captured about 20 percent of Jetta sales. For 2009, VW expects 25 percent of the Jetta sedans and 33 percent of the Jetta wagons it sells here to be TDI models. That’s basically all it will build for this market, so demand will be strong and volume limited.

It looks to be a seller’s market for the 2009 VW Jetta TDI, so shoppers won’t have much bargaining power and transaction prices are likely to be close to sticker. On the upside, VW says that come trade-in time, diesel Jettas command prices about 25 percent higher than those of gas Jettas. It also says those 2006 Jetta TDIs sell as used cars for as much as they cost new.

TDI, by the way, stands for turbo direct injection. The turbocharger helps give Jetta’s little diesel engine more oomph than a gas engine of equivalent displacement. Direct injection describes the fuel-management technology that helps banish diesel “clatter” and is responsible, along with special exhaust-system filters, for allowing the 2009 Jetta TDI to satisfy even the most stringent automotive emissions regulations. Thus, VW can sell the Jetta TDI in all 50 states for the first time since 2006, and the model is making a return to showrooms in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. VW advertises this car as the “Jetta TDI Clean Diesel.”

The quintessential choice of the diesel geek – and we say that in the most affectionate way – is a manual-transmission Jetta TDI wagon with virtually no options: manual transmission for best mileage and performance, the wagon for its cargo capacity, and the absence of options because the simple path is the best path. Think small, remember?

The reality is that a manual-transmission 2009 Jetta TDI rates just one mpg higher than the automatic-transmission version, and its primary performance advantage -- though not an insignificant one -- is quicker movement away from a stop. Even a 2009 Jetta TDI without options brims with stuff to keep you safe and smiling, including antilock four-wheel disc brakes with antiskid control, head-protecting curtain side airbags, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles. The wagon body style of course has more cargo room than the sedan, but it also better symbolizes the earth-shoe ethos at the heart of this whole diesel business.

Should you buy a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI or wait for the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI? Get the 2009 if you’re a diesel disciple, can’t stand to be without one, and plan to keep it so long that having one with the latest styling is irrelevant. VW, after all, says diesel engines last three times longer than gas engines.

Wait for the 2010 VW Jetta TDI if you want the first edition of Jetta’s next-generation design. VW is poised to introduce significantly revamped versions of the Jetta sedan and wagon and of the Golf hatchback that shares this basic design. Dimensions won’t be altered much, and little change is in store for the powertrains. But the 2010 Jetta and Golf will have new sheet metal with a horizontal theme to the front end that’s the new stylistic “face” of Volkswagen.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Changes back to top

Styling: The 2009 Jetta TDI slots midway within a five-model 2009 Jetta lineup. Base S and SE models are below it in price and equipment. Upscale SEL and sporty GLI models are above. Aside from the “TDI” insignia on the sedan’s trunklid and on the wagon’s tailgate, the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is visually undistinguishable from the SE models. The looks can be dressed up with 17-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 16-inch alloys, but the TDI versions are not eligible for the optional Sport Styling Package, which includes special body cladding and a rear spoiler.

Mechanical: The 2009 VW Jetta TDI is defined by its diesel engine, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a turbocharger. This turbodiesel is rated at 140 horsepower at 4000 rpm and 236 pounds/feet of torque at 1750 rpm. Torque is an engine’s most important motive force. It’s what a car draws on for most of its acceleration; horsepower, in effect, is what it uses to sustain movement. Turbodiesel engines generate lots of torque – that’s one reason big-rig trucks rely on them. VW says the Jetta TDI has 20 percent more torque than a typical 2.0-liter gasoline engine.

The diesel engine in the Jetta TDI is tuned to run on ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel that’s now the standard at filling stations. This has 97 percent less sulfur than other diesel fuel, radically reducing both emissions and the sulfur-generated odor for which diesel engines had been justly criticized. VW says the Jetta TDI’s high-pressure fuel-injection system eliminates the problem of unburned fuel that caused diesels to smoke and quells traditional diesel clatter. On the exhaust side, emissions-capturing technology drastically reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses the TDI emits. VW says the 2009 Jetta TDI’s tailpipe emissions are as clean as those of a car with an equivalent gasoline engine.

The TDI is available with a five-speed manual transmission or with Volkswagen’s Direct Shift Gearbox. The DSG mimics the behavior of a conventional automatic transmission but is really a six-speed manual that shifts automatically and does not have a clutch pedal. VW’s DSG is a sophisticated unit with internal twin-clutch technology that gives it quick, responsive shifts. This DSG is also used in the Jetta GLI, as well as in cars from VW’s premium Audi brand. The DSG in the Jetta TDI, however, is the only one without steering-column paddles to facilitate manual gear changes. Manual changes in the Jetta TDI are accomplished by moving the center console-mounted shift lever to an adjacent gate and toggling it forward and back. VW says it used a DSG in the Jetta TDI because it’s lighter in weight and more fuel-efficient than a conventional automatic transmission, but that it wanted to reserve the paddle feature for its truly sporty cars.    

Features: The 2009 VW Jetta TDI comes standard with antilock four-wheel disc brakes, antiskid control, manual tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, and heated power mirrors. The standard 10-speaker six-disc CD-changer audio system includes an AUX input jack. Also included are 60/40 split folding rear seats with center armrest pass-through, power windows, locks, and mirrors, and outside temperature display. Among options are a USB iPod adapter, and a navigation system that includes an integrated 30-gigabyte hard drive, DVD playback, and an SD memory-card slot. The sedan can be equipped with an optional power glass sunroof of conventional size and the wagon with a 12.7-cubic-foot panoramic power sunroof.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Test Drive back to top

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Test Drive
From behind the wheel:
The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is most powerful car on the road with an EPA rating of more than 40 mpg. In a field of hybrid Toyota Priuses and dorky Smart cars, that’s nothing to crow about. The more salient fact is that while the Jetta TDI doesn’t respond exactly like a gasoline-engine car, it performs very well for a modestly priced vehicle that uses so little fuel. The only real flaw is a dead zone of acceleration as a DSG-automatic-equipped Jetta TDI moves away from a stop. It lasts two or three car lengths and is most evident when you’re trying to hurry off the line – pulling onto a busy street, say -- and it’s present whether the DSG is set in automatic mode or is begin shifted manually.

Once underway, an automatic-transmission 2009 VW Jetta TDI answers the throttle with more authority than a gas engine of similar size would, moving through traffic and merging onto highways in fine fashion. With manual transmission, the Jetta TDI steps off the line smartly, but is otherwise no faster than the automatic. That’s mainly because the diesel engine generates nearly all its power in such a narrow window, from roughly 1800 rpm to just 3,800 rpm. There’s little opportunity to exploit the advantages of choosing gears manually.

As billed, there is no diesel clatter at idle, and no untoward mechanical sounds at any time. Put to the spur, the 2.0-liter turbodiesel responds with a growling hum that isn’t gravelly, but isn’t quite gas-engine smooth, either.

As in other Jettas, meaty, natural-feeling steering, a firm but compliant suspension, and strong, easily modulated brakes work in harmony to create a confident, involving driving experience few cars in this price range match.

Dashboard and controls:
Mature beyond its class might describe the sober yet sophisticated layout of the Jetta’s gauges and switchgear. No control is out of reach, none has a finicky movement. VW’s choice of fuzzy blue dashboard lighting isn’t crisply legible. And you’ll be required too much interaction with the navigation screen to make certain audio-system adjustments.

Jetta’s cabin doesn’t have as many soft-touch surfaces as its rich graining and muted colors lead you to believe. But the materials are heavy and seem durable, and this car’s substantial overall feel makes you believe it’ll be a nice companion over the long haul. Unfortunately, the VW brand continues to suffer low scores on customer satisfaction surveys, rating below average for reliability of mechanical components and accessories. Owners love their Volkswagens -- when they run right.

Room, comfort, and utility:
This is best treated as a four-passenger car and it’ll carry that many big adults with little scrunching. Head room is generous, and the thickly padded seats provide laudable long-distance support. The rear wheel housings intrude slightly into the rear doorways, so getting in and out of the back seat may require a bit of twisting. Cargo-wise, these are the roomiest cars in the compact class. The sedan has a 16-cubic-foot trunk easily accessible through a wide-opening lid. And the wagon’s a handy little hauler with 66.9 cubic feet of usable space when its rear seats are folded.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Prices back to top

The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI sedan has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $22,640 with manual transmission and $23,740 with the DSG automatic. (The figures quoted here include VW’s mandated $650 destination fee.) VW’s official name for the Jetta station wagon is the SportWagen. The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen has an MSRP of $24,240 with manual transmission and $25,340 with the DSG automatic.

These prices track about $2,100 above those of Jetta SE sedans and wagons, though some of the extra cost can be recovered because buyers of the 2009 VW Jetta TDI are eligible for a federal energy tax credit of $1,300. 

Options available on the 2009 VW Jetta TDI include rear torso-protecting side airbags ($350), the navigation system ($1,990), a USB iPod adapter ($199), and 17-inch alloy wheels ($450). The sedan’s sunroof costs $1,000, the SportWagen’s panoramic sunroof, $1,300.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2009 Jetta TDI put in among the higher-mileage cars on the market, regardless of the type of engine used. With manual transmission, the Jetta TDI is rated at 30 mpg city/41 highway. With the DSG automatic, it’s rated at 29/40. VW says independent testing by Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. found Jetta TDIs driven in real-world conditions increased the EPA’s laboratory-based estimates by 24 percent, reaching 38 mpg in the city, 44 on the highway.

A 2009 VW Jetta TDI was used to break the Guiness World Record for lowest fuel consumption across the 48 contiguous United States with an average of 58.82 mpg. VW furnished an Australian husband-and wife team with a manual-transmission 2009 Jetta TDI sedan for the 20-day record attempt, which ended in late September 2008. John and Helen Taylor broke the Guinness record of 51.58 mpg. They exceeded 60 mpg on several legs of the run. Their total for diesel fuel was $653 over 9,419 miles.

The world record plays to one of a diesel car’s strong suits: long stretches of constant-speed driving, where the engine can coast along at low rpm and stretch its fuel supply. This type of driving is precisely where a gas-electric hybrid is at a comparative disadvantage because it’s unable to take full advantage of its most-efficient mode: stop-and-go, around-town travel. That’s when a hybrid can save fuel by shutting off its gas engine at idle and by propelling itself on electric power alone at low speeds. Unless this sort of urban slog describes most of your driving, a diesel is likely a better choice than a hybrid to go green and save fuel.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Release Date back to top

The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI went on sale in late August 2008. As for the 2010 Jetta, it’ll be preceded by the 2010 Golf, which will be sourced from Germany and is set to go on sale in autumn 2009. The 2010 Jetta likely will debut later in 2009 or early in 2010; the timing could in fact determine whether it gets labeled a 2011 model. Jettas for the U.S. market are built in Mexico at a plant that will become their worldwide source beginning with the next-generation model.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Competition back to top

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid: A dearth of power and small, hard tires designed for maximum fuel economy make the Hybrid the only model in the Civic lineup that doesn’t match the Jetta TDI for driving enjoyment. But the Honda Civic Hybrid’s job is good fuel economy, and it delivers, with EPA ratings of 40/45. The Civic Hybrid comes as a sedan only at base prices ranging from about $23,300-$25,300. Civic is due a redesign for model-year 2011.

2009 Toyota Prius:The poster child for hybrid-car fuel economy is being redesigned for the 2010 model year. Horsepower will increase to 160, from 110, and passenger room will expand, but styling will stay spacey. The 2009 Prius is rated at 48/45 and base prices start around $23,000 but can nudge $30,000 with all the options. Improved technology could push the 2010 Prius to something like 50/47 mpg.

2009 BMW 335d: This is a diesel of another stripe, clearly not in the Jetta TDI’s market segment. But if you’re buying on principal and have the capital, a compact BMW sedan with a diesel six-cylinder engine packing some 280 horsepower and 430 pound/feet of torque and capable of 0-60-mph in under six seconds might sound appealing. Estimated mpg: 24/34. Estimated price: $42,000.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Next Steps