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21 September 2010

Memory Row Week- 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review

I wrote this article back in January after we purchased our new 2010 VW Jetta TDI. My update is at the end.

Last weekend, we finally traded in my Nissan Pathfinder for a new vehicle. The old girl had 147,000 odd miles on it, the exhaust system was falling off and it was doing annoying things like shutting off when I applied the brakes too hard. As if to make the point that it really didn't want to go to the big recycling plant in the sky, it died at the largest intersection between my house and the dealer where we had been looking at cars the week before. After a bit of swearing, pleading and pounding on the steering wheel, it wheezed into the dealer's lot and gracefully expired as it coasted into a parking spot.

After weeks of test drives, visiting dealers and doing some research, we settled on the 2010 VW Jetta TDI (diesel.) I've always had a sneaking love of German cars, born of racing AFX cars in the basement, reading racing magazines and dreaming about flying down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans in a Porsche 917. My first German car, a used 1998 Audi A6, sealed this love affair and also confirmed everything that my engineer father thought of them- "over-engineered and over-priced" he would fume at the dinner table. Being an engineer he just couldn't see any point of designing anything beyond the functionality of an engine, four wheels and a steering wheel. The Audi was like dating a beautiful, temperamental woman. When it worked, it was an absolute blast to drive, luxurious and absolutely bulletproof when driving way beyond the safety limits on a snowy highway. When it bitched and was in a snit, it was horribly expensive to fix, cranky and temperamental. At one point I actually owned two Audis as I re-built a 1991 Quattro V8 which I bought for $ 3,500 cash but that's a story for another day.

Anyways, in the rush to build green vehicles with great gas mileage, Volkswagen has gone back to the future in the TDI. Years of building diesel vehicles (and testing them on the racetrack in Audi's TDI program) has yielded a vehicle that seems to do the impossible- get great gas mileage and yet be fun to drive. Many of the problems that hounded diesels in the past such as engine noise, wet and cold start issues ("don't call me when it's four degrees out" huffed my dad) have been eliminated. The interior is very well appointed, functional and the fit and finish is nice and tight. Turn the switch to the first position, wait a second for the glow plug light to go out and the 4 cylinder diesel rumbles to life.

4 cylinder you say ? No power you think ? Wrong again. Although the engine only generates 140 horsepower, it also pushes nearly 230 pounds of torque to the front wheels. Mash the pedal, wait amount for the turbo to spool up and the beast punches you back into your seat (rumor has it that Audi's new electric sports car will generate over 1,000 pounds of torque.) This is no breadbox with batteries stuffed into every nook and cranny, it is 3,600 odd pounds of solid German iron that makes me shake my head everytime I see a Prius. Although diesels have never really caught on in the US the way they have in Europe, Volkswagen may have finally come up with the right package of fuel efficiency, power and luxury to make more car owners take a serious look at vehicles like the TDI.

So far, so good. The car now has 19,900 miles on it after enduring two very long trips- one to southern Texas, another to northern Maine. As the engine is now broken in, the mileage from the little diesel continues to impress. During the trip to Texas, I averaged 48.5 mpg and slightly less during our summer trip to Maine. One thing that took getting used to was wondering if the fuel gauge had broken- on long highway trips, it barely budges. Getting nearly 700 miles of range out of a 14 gallon tank forces you to think differently about your trip- no more saying to the kids, we'll take a break when we stop to fuel up since that can literally be a few hours away. Despite the fears of my father, we have had absolutely no problems starting the car even during the extremely cold winter we had in Pittsburgh.

Mechanically the car has had no issues except for the hood shocks needing to be replaced. Although this gave me shudders concerning German reliability, they were replaced at no charge under the car's warranty. I am also liking the fact that the diesel only needs to have its oil changed every 10,000 miles and this is covered at no cost as well. The car rides well, is a blast to drive and the Satellite radio and I phone hook up are a godsend on long trips. On the downside, it can be a bit noisy inside the cabin during long trips and the seats aren't that well suited for marathon trips. Still, I can't complain. For a little less than $ 25,000, the car has been an absolute bargain.

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