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Juiced-Up VW Jetta TDI

We Road-Test Eurotuner Magazine's 170hp TDI

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When we got the keys to eurotuner magazine's Volkswagen Jetta TDI project vehicle, we didn't know quite what to expect. After all, lowered vehicles with low-profile tires and big brakes aren't exactly a normal ride for us here at Diesel Power. On one hand, a stock TDI is a gentle little commuter car. On the other hand, eurotuner's TDI is a hard-braking, corner-carving, road-racing machine. We decided the best way to exploit this Volkswagen's dual persona was through a fuel economy test. For the first stage of the test, we'd do 0-to-60-mph runs, braking tests, and generally drive like maniacs to try and achieve the absolute worst fuel economy number possible. Our second test would involve driving slow, coasting, and trying to wring as many mpg out of the TDI as we could.

Fuel Economy Test: Worst-Case Scenario
After taking a few minutes to figure out how to get the TDI into Reverse (you push down toward the floorboard on the gear lever), we were off. We could definitely feel the low-profile tires and suspension upgrades affecting the ride, as it was a bit stiff and bouncy. Still, it was no worse than most of the 1-ton trucks we test. After the first freeway onramp we were hooked on the suspension modifications. There seemed to be no end to the amount of grip the little Jetta could produce. We eventually started taking corners at speeds we were sure to crash at, only to make it safely around the bend without so much as a tire squeal. Even more impressive than the suspension, were the brakes. During panic stops we could feel all the blood rushing to the front of our face, as 60 to 0 mph could be accomplished in just a few seconds. "I feel sick," was the unanimous response of our passengers when confronted with the enormous braking capability of the Jetta.

While 170 hp wasn't all that much, the engine produced about 300 lb-ft, which scooted the lightweight car along pretty easily. There was a downside, however, and that involved the manual transmission. We don't know if it was turbo lag, emissions lag, or just the drive-by-wire technology, but the VW's manual transmission was almost impossible to shift quickly while keeping on top of the turbocharger. During acceleration runs, we found the best strategy was to slightly lift off the throttle while pulling the transmission out of gear, and then floor it while pushing in the clutch and engaging the next gear. By the time all the electronics had caught up, the clutch would already be engaged and the turbo would be spooled. Our 0-to-60-mph times hovered in the mid- to low-8-second range, which is only slightly better than the stock Jetta with the DSG manual-automatic transmission. The gear spacing was also a little odd for performance use. In fact, by the time we hit 60 mph, we were shifting into Fourth gear. If it were our car, we'd definitely spring for the $1,100 DSG option.

Bet you forgot this was supposed to be a fuel economy test, huh? After about ten 0-to-60-mph runs, numerous stops, and a bunch of canyon carving, the Jetta hit 36.3 mpg. Not bad, considering the car was driven foot to the floor much of the time.

Fuel Economy Test: Best-Case Scenario
Our second fuel economy test involved driving the car easy but that didn't mean we were going to give it the day off. We took the Jetta TDI over California's Grapevine grade not once, but twice, which meant going from sea level to more than 4,000 feet and back to sea level. With gas-powered cars downshifting like crazy all around us, we simply put the diesel Jetta in Sixth gear and cruised up the 6 percent grade at 65 mph. The seats were comfortable, and the interior had cool blue gauges to keep us entertained while we made our way up the big hill. The car was very quiet-a good quality for any commuter car. In high gear (Sixth) the Jetta maintained 65 mph at about 2,000 rpm, which still offered quick spooling in case we needed to pass a semi. So how much difference did our relaxed driving make? Our fuel economy improved more than 20 percent to a thrifty 46.2 mpg.

The Verdict:
Most diesel owners drive their vehicles because of their enormous potential in a variety of situations. A diesel work truck is reliable, yet powerful. It can carry and pull heavy loads, yet still remain efficient. The Jetta TDI still retains this diesel advantage. With a few tasteful modifications, it can be made to handle and brake as well as anything on the market, yet still break the 40-mpg barrier. Yes, the Jetta TDI (especially eurotuner's version) would make a great addition to any diesel family.

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