Volkswagen Jetta is fun, practical -- and diesel

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2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (diesel) with Premium and Nav: Fun and practicality.

Price: $27,215 as tested. An automatic TDI would start at $24,090. A six-speed manual begins at $22,990. (A gasoline S starts at $16,675 and an SE at $18,995.)

Conventional wisdom: Diesels remain unpopular in the United States even after ultra-low sulfur blends were mandated in 2007. But according to, diesel sales were up 35 percent from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012.

Marketer's pitch: "Joyride from A to B, not A to filling station to B."

Reality: No smell, no performance issues. And the quiet tap-tap-tapping of the diesel engine offers a more historically Volkswagen-like experience.

The perfect car? I've been wanting to spend a week with one of Volkswagen's unusual (for the States) turbodiesel small cars since I began Driver's Seat.

I like my cars fun, but adding some practicality makes the package complete.

While Volkswagen currently has a corner on the low end of the diesel market, Mazda has unveiled a Mazda6 SkyActiv diesel that ought to give the Germans a run for their money later this year.

A Jetta Hybrid added for 2013 makes another choice for economy-minded Volkswagen fans, starting at $24,995.

Fuel economy: Let's start here; this is why we're even considering a diesel. The Jetta got 42 mpg on the highway for me, and 38 around town. (Its average mileage resets automatically after the car is shut off for a certain period of time.)

Say it uses 10 gallons of fuel to go 420 miles; a gasoline Jetta would use 15 about, according to my earlier tests. So using 33 percent less fuel more than makes up for the premium price of diesel (about 15 to 20 percent more per gallon).

Volkswagen tells me about 20 percent of the Volkswagens sold are TDI models. And that percentage has held even as Volkswagen sales overall have jumped 35 percent.

T is for turbo, not turtle: I expected a lethargic ride like Volkswagen diesels of old. But I was surprised that the vehicle was peppy. It's no hot rod, but on-ramps are not frightening.

On the road: The Jetta TDI has all the road manners of its more refinery-palated gasoline cousin. Its handling is taut and the car corners and handles curves as well as any.

Friends and stuff: Again, it's a Jetta. The rear seat is spacious for its segment. The seats are comfortable and easily adjusted.

And trunk space? This car has loads.

A nice big glovebox, armrest storage good for half a dozen CDs, and a good key fob/cell phone holder in front of the gearshift round out the package.

Cheap seats: Volkswagen is brave enough to send testers a stripped-down model. (Mazda, another of my personal faves, also seems to do this.) But 21-year-old Sturgis Kid 1.0 found the interior kind of cheap looking. And I admit the plastic dashboard with rectangular heater vents is not going to win any beauty contests.

And while the rear window seats are comfortable, anyone caught in the middle has a fairly large hump to contend with.

Easy controls: But Volkswagen has made everything easy to find. I'm partial to its three-knob heater controls, simple radio functions and easy-to-understand gauges.

Where it's built: Puebla, Mexico.

How it's built: Consumer Reports says first-year reliability ratings of the diesel version are below average.

In the end: I've met so many people over the years who have been loyal buyers of Volkswagen's diesel models, and their cars were consistently racking up 200,000 and 300,000 miles in the days when most odometers had just five digits.

The fun of the Jetta makes me think someday I'll be in the merry band as well.


Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at First Published February 13, 2013 5:00 AM


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