2009 VW Jetta TDI Review – Fuel efficiency for the driving enthusiast

Expert Reviews Volkswagen

2009 VW Jetta TDI

By Alex Kramer


  • 236 lb ft of torque!!
  • Smooth shifting 6 speed manual transmission
  • Perfectly tuned chassis and suspension
  • Outstanding fuel efficiency


  • Squeal-happy tires
  • Spartan interior


Call us eco-crazy, but here at CarReview.com we’ve gone nuts over the new generation of clean diesels. We’ve already raved about the application of this technology in several large, luxury SUVs (the VW Touareg TDI and BMW X5 xDrive35d) and our first impressions of the popular Jetta TDI have been more than favorable. After driving this sedan around Northern California for a few hundred more miles, the positive vibes just keep coming, and we just might have to anoint this compact sedan as the ultimate win-win for eco-conscious driving enthusiasts.


At the heart of the Jetta TDI is a mighty little 2.0 L 4 cylinder turbo diesel engine. As we chronicled late last year, this engine is smooth, quiet, and has none of that nasty smell associated with diesel engines of the past. Unlike most other clean diesels, VW accomplishes all this without the use of urea injection, relying instead on advanced emission-capturing technology that includes a diesel particulate filter and nitrogen oxide storage catalyst. The end result is a car that produces very low emissions (as we noted earlier, it’s even lower than the squeaky clean Honda Civic) and is legal in all 50 states.

With only 140 hp available, the Jetta TDI won’t be confused with a sports car, at least not in terms of raw acceleration. But in everyday driving, the Jetta TDI more than holds its own courtesy of the robust torque that diesel engines provide. With a hefty 236 lb ft of torque on tap even at low RPMs, the car pulls like a team of pack mules on steroids and will motor up hills in 6th gear at 2000 rpm all day long. About the only downside to all this torque is that the car is a bit hard to launch from standstill. If you don’t rev the engine there is noticeable lag and then a rush of thrust that the front tires can barely handle. Rev it too much and you’ll lose traction right away, requiring a short shift to 2nd gear to prevent complete front tire incineration.

2009 VW Jetta TDI

Volkswagen pairs its TDI engine with either a 6 speed manual transmission or a 6 spd DSG automatic. Our test car featured the standard manual transmission, which was a joy to use. Shifts are smooth and the clutch is nice and light, but with enough weight to give the driver useful feedback. Unlike most other compact cars with small 4 bangers, you won’t find yourself using the transmission all that much. The engine has so much usable torque at low RPMsthat you can simply leave it in gear and hit the gas, where ordinarily you’d have to reach for the shifter.

Out on the road the Jetta is exceptionally composed, especially for a modestly priced compact car. The chassis is dialed and the suspension well-tuned, so much so that you often think you’re in a much more expensive automobile. About the only drawback is the tire selection, which leans far more on the side of fuel efficiency than grip. Throw the Jetta into a corner and the all-season Michelins start protesting loudly well before the car has reached its handling limits. Fortunately this can be easily fixed with a visit to the local tire shop. We’d wager that with a set of high performance radials the Jetta TDI would be quite the wolf in sheep’s clothing, ready to carve backroads with a conviction that would surprise more than a few sports sedans.

VW Jetta TDI 30 city/41 hwy

Now you might be wondering, what about fuel efficiency? Sure the Jetta TDI can scoot, but so can quite a few other small compact cars, most of which are also pretty miserly when it comes to fuel usage. This is where diesel’s innate efficiency helps the Jetta TDI trounce its gasoline rivals. Although the EPA gives it a somewhat modest 30/41 (city/highway) mpg rating, in real world conditions the Jetta easily beats these figures. On a road trip to the wine country we were able to get almost 44 mpg, and even in the city 40 mpg is not hard to achieve. These numbers are far better than all but a few gas powered sub-compacts (think Smart ForTwo) and they rival most hybrids, none of which can even come close to the Jetta in terms of handling and performance.


Step inside the Jetta’s all-black interior and you are greeted with a clean and simple design that is both functional and subdued. At first glance the lack of a fancy navigation system or other gee-whiz electronic features makes the Jetta feel almost spartan; you definitely won’t confuse this car with the latest hybrids and their fancy displays and other techno-wizardry. VW did bother to include a few touches of luxury, including heated leatherette front seats and a power sunroof. Also included is a decent 10 speaker stereo system with in-dash 6 disc CD changer and Satellite radio.

VW Jetta interior

Interior room is excellent for a compact car and the trunk is downright cavernous, especially with the rear seats folded down, making for easy storage of larger items, such as a bicycle or set of golf clubs. Like every other Volkswagen we’ve tested in the past few years, the build quality is outstanding, with materials and craftsmanship that are easily on par with more expensive automobiles. Volkswagen also throws in a host of safety features, including a full complement of airbags and all the usual braking, traction, and stability control goodies. Although no longer new, the Jetta’s exterior design is still one of the best in the compact sedan segment, with a sleek, mature profile and VW’s signature chrome front grill. Our test car featured striking lazer blue metallic exterior paint, which further helps the Jetta stand-out from the often mundane sedan crowd.


When we tested the 2008 Jetta sedan with the standard 2.5 liter gas engine, we found it to be in a class of its own, especially compared to most ordinary compact cars. The new Jetta TDI takes this excellence and adds a whole new level of performance and efficiency. With an as-tested price of $24,169, the Jetta TDI isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s in the same price range as the popular Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid sedans, and even compares well to the gas-sipper hybrids when it comes to fuel efficiency. And when it comes to driving enjoyment, the Jetta TDI wins hands down. For driving enthusiasts who care about performance, the planet, and their pocketbook, this just might be the perfect car.

Build Interior Performance Handling Styling Value Overall
Rating 5.0 4.5 4.75 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.65/A-

2009 VW Jetta 2.0 TDI

2009 VW Jetta TDI Photo Gallery

VW Jetta TDI Specs

2009 VW Jetta TDI Sedan Specs

VW of AmericaOfficial website for Volkswagen of America – www.vw.com

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