The cheating’s over. After selling a 2006 Jetta TDI well into 2008 because of federal emissions regulations in effect for 2007 models and up, Volkwagen has finally introduced the 2009 model with a brand-new turbo diesel engine. Better yet, the new car costs $2,475 less than the outgoing one.

For 2009, the German automaker offers no less than 16 variations of the Jetta, including sedan and wagons models, the GLI, and excluding the old-school City Jetta.

Torque, the magic ingredient
Diesel engines have always relied on torque to motivate the vehicles they’re bolted into. In recent years, though, progress seems to have escalated as all new turbodiesels boast stump-pulling low-rpm torque numbers.

And the TDI is no exception: 2.0 litres, 140 horsepower, but 235 lb-ft of torque. That’s quite a step from the previous TDI, a 1.9-litre unit rated at 100 hp and 177 lb-ft. And I still remember the diesel VWs of the ’80s, which developed a puny 52 horses in naturally-aspirated spec and 68 horses with a turbocharger.

The oil-burning Jetta gallops to 100 km/h in 8.8 seconds, which is just a little slower than with the 2.5-litre engine. The TDI’s power curve peaks at 4,000 rpm but seems to drop like a stone right after that; redline is 4,500 rpm.

But unlike high-revving, twin-cam 4-cylinder engines that are virtually gutless at low revs, the TDI’s torque steps in right off the line to get the car moving along swiftly. The result is that under normal driving circumstances, you don’t feel much of a difference between the TDI and 2.5 engines. When you listen to the car at idle and during acceleration, it’s still unmistakably a diesel, but it’s quieter than before.

The all-important number here is its fuel consumption average. Well, in our hands, the TDI is averaging 7.4 L/100 km, which is pretty good considering we didn’t do much highway mileage. We seriously doubt you’ll rack up 1,100 km on a single tank like VW is claiming (which is basically the 55-litre tank averaging 4.8 L/100 km), but if you’ve got a light right foot, you’ll get close to a thousand kilometres for every tankful.

The Jetta has always been a driver’s car, as far as compacts go. One has to admire the car’s precise steering, slick 6-speed manual and sharp reflexes. It’s not as engaging as a Mazda3, or at least the Jetta doesn’t entice you to adopt a dynamic driving habit, but it definitely is a good long-distance cruiser.

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Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review

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