Volkswagen Jetta TDi

The Diesel Daemon

Volkswagen Jetta TDiVOLKSWAGEN Jetta TDi
km reading: 72km
1,9 litre in-line 4 cylinder turbo-diesel engine
developing 110kW (150bhp) @ 4000rpm
0-100km/h: 10 seconds
v-max: 200 km/h

Where to begin? First of all, this was one of the shortest test-drives I've ever undertaken, but it was just long enough to capture (and enjoy) the workings of the TDi motor. Having already driven the V5 Jetta, the other aspects of the car (despite a few minor upgrades) haven't changed.

A very visable change was the instrument cluster, which (at least in TDi guise) has different needles and markings, but keeps the magnificent neon-blueish lighting. Controls like buttons and stalks were still in the familiar place and easy to use.

Turn the key and, if you're not used to it, get ready for a shock. Cluck-cluck-cluck, it's a diesel allright. What's usually associated with tractors, trucks, farm-bakkies and 20-year-old Mercs, suddenly escapes from the engine bay of the Jetta. It takes a few seconds to get used to it: sitting in a new, high-tech, superbly assembled, comfortable car and being entertained by the clucking of a Diesel engine?!? To be fair I have to add that this is when the engine is at its noisiest, at idle. And even then, only the clucking is fairly loud, and barely perceivable if you've got the windows and doors closed with the aircon and radio going. Added to that, the car doesn't vibrate, rattle, shake or shudder like the 1982 Hilux would. It sits quietly and refined at idle and responds to throttle blips with a quick rasp of more clucks and a turbo whine.
The gears were a familiar experience, I'm pretty sure they're not the same as the V5's but were just as easy to engage. The pedals did take a while to get used to, but not as long as in the A4 Audi. There's a wedge next to the accellerator, which takes some getting used to as well.

A bit of a disappointment was the lack of power under 1500rpm, not that there are supposed to be masses of brute power, but I expected a little more from a diesel, even when the turbocharger isn't strutting its stuff yet. This little power-gap led to my nearly stalling the car a few times on takeoff, but when the tach-needle soars past 1500rpm... oh dear! Get the revs up to 2500rpm, progessively release the clutch in first and you have to be VERY careful not to let the front rubber go up in smoke.
When the TDi hits about 2000rpm, it unleashes everything it's got. The car pulls away soooo strongly that you'll be fooled into thinking you're driving a V5 petrol version. No wait, perhaps even more than that... Having tested the V5 at coastal altitudes, and this TDi at Reef altitude, I can't find much of a difference. In fact, should the V5 ever get up to 1500m+ altitude and fill up with inferior petrol, I'll put my money on the TDi!!! The beauty of this car is that its performance stays the same at varying altitudes, and although modern petrol cars promise the same, 2 or 3 octane and thinner air DO make a difference.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hit the highway with this car, but I managed 80km/h on a semi-open road and tested the abundant torque on tap. The TDi redlines at 4200rpm, no wait, 4500rpm. Or was that 4600rpm? However low the figure might be, I don't really care and neither should you. As mentioned, at 2000rpm you've got the maximum power band already, and can comfortably put your foot down to dash off into the sunset. I think I clocked 4000rpm in first or second, but changing gears at 3500rpm and putting your foot down again results in (nearly) uninterupted, jaw-dropping performance.
Don't expect to humiliate sports cars at traffic lights, but the odd tussle with a six-cylinder sedan is possible.

Fifth gear seemed proper for cruising efforts, at 80km/h it was obviously outside the powerband but still started to pull the Jetta onwards. Drop her into fourth, floor the accellerator and get pushed into the black leather seats. Snick the gearlever up to third, bury the accellerator, and she takes off like a bat out of hell. Actually, there isn't much need for 2nd, 4th or 5th gear in town. You can start off in first (second didn't work THAT well) and go straight to third, knowing that if you floor her at 60km/h, not many of the cars behind you will be able to keep up.

In fact, going up a steep hill in second gear proved to be an effortless job for the TDi, it even accellerated up the incline. I've gone up the same hill in a 195bhp 6-cylinder petrol sedan, and it doesn't gain ANY momentum up the hill. Granted, the weights of the cars were different, but astoundingly the torque of the two is nearly on par.

And that's about as far as my test-drive went. The seats were different from the Recaro ones in the V5, but also featured the marvellous heating option and good side & lumbar support. The steering has just the right amount of weight to it, but torque-steer can become evident when using full power out of a corner. Driving through town doesn't do the suspension much justice, but the Volkswagen stayed true to its line even during a sudden change of direction. The car produced no rattles or shakes over uneven surfaces, and none of my passengers reported any discomfort.
After a few blocks of spirited driving, we had also determined that the brakes were not only superb in their stopping ability, but also delivered consistency (i.e. didn't fade).

Unfortunately I was denied the pleasure of playing with quite a novelty: a dash-mounted 6-disc CD shuttle. The optional extra VW/Sony unit wasn't functioning properly during my test-drive, so I could only test the system via radio reception, which was more than enough to overpower the engine noise which, under cruising conditions, is no more than in any other car. Nonetheless, the sound system was satisfactory in all departments, highs, lows and mids, as well as a nice spread of sound around the cabin.

So what's my final verdict? I'm torn between the V5 and the TDi Jetta, unfortunately they are the two most expensive models. Should I have to choose between the two, I'd probably have to think about it for a few days. I prefer the sporty petrol V5, but the TDi is no slouch either. I'm not too fond of the Diesel-lifestyle in this country, where outside of the main cities you'll be queing with farmers and delivery trucks on the wrong end of the petrol station. And from the pumps, the TDi wins hands down. It's got plenty of oomph, a nice selection of equipment and might even achieve 1000km on a single tank, when driven properly.

Torque, Elasticity, Accelleration
Efficiency, Range
Interior Appointments and Ergonomics
Trusted name and very popular model

Slight power gap below 1500rpm
VW spares, services & repairs reputed to be the most expensive
Diesel-lifestyle not quite there yet
Long waiting list in some parts of the country




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