2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review – the new age of diesel arrives

Expert Reviews Volkswagen

Volkswagen is proudly promoting their new TDI turbo-diesel engines in America after finally becoming 50-state compliant and exceeding the emission regulations for all 50 states in the U.S., especially California’s strict emission regulations. Volkswagen’s TDI engine is so clean, it qualifies for a $1,300 advanced lean burn federal income tax credit. Not only are future TDI owners helping the environment by not spewing obnoxious CO2 into the air, but they also get rewarded by the federal government. The optional 140 hp TDI engine will be available in the 2009 Jetta sedan and Jetta SportWagen.

We just finished test driving the 2009 Jetta TDI at Volkwagen’s national press event held in Santa Monica. After logging nearly 150 miles on the twisty mountain and canyon roads in and around Malibu, we recorded a fuel economy of 35 mpg. Not spectacular, but we weren’t going for the world record for best fuel economy like John and Helen Taylor. Other journalists who were exercising their hypermiling techniques were able to get 41 mpg or better from their Jetta TDI sedans.

The Volkswagen TDI engines are no where near what many Americans think of in terms of the old generation diesel engines that were noisy, spewed black soot out the back, and smelled like rotten eggs. We discovered what many Europeans have known for years. That modern diesel engines are smooth, quiet, have lots of torque, and produce no nasty, must hold-your-nose type of odor. At idle or when working hard, the new 2.0L TDI was just as quiet as a regular gasoline powered car. There wasn’t any rough idle associated with the diesel engine and maximum torque of 236 lbs-ft was available early in the power range (around 1,800 rpm). The horsepower rating of the 2.0L TDI may not be impressive at 140 hp, but the diesel engine does produce an amazing amount of torque that is useful for accelerating, passing, and moving heavy loads.

Environmentally Clean

One of the toughest hurdles was getting past some very strict emission regulations. Volkswagen has come close in the past, but five states have some really stringent emission regulations. California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont have all adopted stricter emissions regulations for diesels that previously barred some vehicles from entry. Now the promise of clean diesel has been delivered and the ’09 VW Jetta and Jetta SportWagen are 50-state compliant. The TDI became the first 50-state clean diesel by reducing it’s CO2 emissions to 15 ppm or less with Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) and some help from VW engineers. That is a huge jump from 500 ppm with Low Sulfer Diesel. Additionally, clean diesel has 10% lower CO2 emissions compared to gas.

Without the use of injecting Urea into the system, the TDI engine exhaust treatment system produces mostly Nitrogen and water. This is accomplished with improved engine technology, electronic control, a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) storage catalyst cleaning things up after the combustion process. This catalyst is basically a trap that temporarily holds the offensive emissions. Periodically, the engine will switch to an air-fuel mixture that will burn off the material in the traps. The result is that modern diesel engines generate about 25% less greenhouse gas emissions than equivalent gasoline vehicles.

As a test, I stuck my nose to the exhaust pipe and took a cautious whiff. Visibly there was nothing indicating that the Jetta TDI was idling in the parking lot. The exhaust vapor had a light odor that wasn’t overwhelming nor offensive. I’m pretty sensitive to strong odors and diesel exhaust fumes in particular. Standing next to an idling school bus can make my head hurt. The fact that I didn’t get a huge headache or turn green from nausea is a good indication that clean diesel engine technology is the real-deal.


Distillate has more energy per unit gallon which means that diesel engines burn more efficiently than their gas-powered counterparts. On average a diesel powered engine can be 30% more fuel efficient than a gas-powered engine. Volkswagen asked a leading third-party independent certification group, AMCI, to test the real world fuel economy of the Jetta TDI to show that EPA estimates of 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway are on the conservative side. AMCI tested the Jetta TDI and found it performed 24% better in real world conditions, achieving 38 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. The standard disclaimer of “your actual mileage may vary” applies.

As the automakers adjust their business model to the changing environmental demands and tough economy brought upon my rising fuel costs, the automotive marketplace is responding with better choices that will help reduce our dependency upon fossil fuels. In addition to hybrids and PHEVs, diesel-powered cars are being added to the mix that make up the greater solution towards using less gasoline and reducing the greenhouse emissions that are putting a strain on the environment. Future car buyers now have multiple choices that better fit their driving habits and their tight budgets.

Jetta TDI Strengths:

  • 50-state compliant without the use of Urea
  • All-new 2.0L engine with common rail direct injection that produces 140 hp and 236 lbs-feet of torque
  • Diesel engines offer an average of 30% better fuel economy over gasoline engines
  • AMCI certified real world fuel economy of 38 mpg city and 44 mpg hwy
  • Eligible for $1,300 Advanced Lean Burn Technology Motor Vehicle Federal Income Tax Credit

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