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2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI 2.0L Highline Review

2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI 2.0L Highline | Photo: Rob Rothwell
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Rob Rothwell
The hybrid alternative
If the diesel engine powering the Jetta TDI could talk, it would say, “the Jetta’s a great car – but it’s all about me.” And really, it is.

Diesel power sets the gold standard
I’ve driven a multitude of hybrid cars, including a Ford Fusion Hybrid that I lived with as a company car for more than a year, but have never found any to be as frugal and straightforward as Volkswagen’s diesel-powered Jetta.

The 2.0L TDI (turbocharged direct injection) mill powering the compact – yet roomy – Jetta sedan pulls like a freight train while returning impressive fuel economy without the need to modify driving habits to take advantage of battery power, such as with hybrids.

With the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, it’s business as usual behind the wheel. No fancy on-screen graphics to illustrate where power is derived and how it ebbs and flows through a system more complex than Einstein’s cerebral manifestations.

Really, is all that techno-clutter necessary to achieve prudence with a litre of fuel? Apparently not.

The 2012 Jetta TDI is rated at 6.7L/100km and 4.7L/100km of city and highway driving, respectively. I actually managed a combined net of 5.6L/100km during a run through town and onto the highway and back through town.

That’s generally better than the return I’m rewarded when driving a hybrid vehicle.

Now that we’ve established the diesel as the “gold standard” (at least in my mind) in the power-versus-economy struggle, let’s have a further look at the Jetta.

Clean and conservative
I’d like to describe a politician as clean and conservative, but…

Oh well. At least I can describe a car as such. The 2012 Jetta is nicely proportioned and aesthetically pleasing to my eye. While it’s not a daring piece of automotive sculpture by any stretch, it’s less likely to look as ‘out of date’ in a few years as the clothes at the dark end of my closet.

Moving inside the Jetta introduces one to an appealing, no nonsense cabin composed of high-quality materials. My tester was the Highline variant, which meant that my butt lounged on leather-lined heated seats while my hand fell to the Jetta’s DSG shifter.

DSG and diesel: the desirable duo
It’s back to the diesel engine for further discussion – I guess it really is all about the diesel – which in the Jetta’s case delivers 140 hp. More inspiring than the horsepower though is the torque; diesel engines produce torque, plenty of it.

With 236 lb-ft of twist @ only 1,750 rpm, the Jetta TDI launches effortlessly on both flat and steeply inclined roads, and that characteristic is a delight which only gets better thanks to VW’s 6-speed, automated Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG).

The double-clutch DSG is essentially a manual transmission that shifts automatically, and those shifts are capable of occurring more quickly than any human could ever hope to achieve. Push the Jetta TDI hard from a stop and two things happen: a massive dump of torque to the front wheels and a run through the first three gears with amazing rapidity.

Now, a last comment on the diesel before we leave this dominant aspect of the Jetta TDI: the diesel mill is a little clattery, producing more auditory intrusion than a gas equivalent. That said, I enjoyed hearing the TDI engine and viscerally sensing its low-rpm harmonics, which makes driving the Jetta TDI tremendously enjoyable for the mechanically-minded.

Behind the wheel
Whether mechanically-minded or budget-minded, the 2012 Jetta TDI is sure to please. It provides a fairly unique driving experience, combining sensational fuel economy with fairly inspiring driving dynamics.

Not long ago, I took a full-day performance driving course that utilized Jettas as instruction vehicles.

This program included plenty of high-speed maneuvers that would push any car to its limits, and while I learned a tremendous amount about track driving, I was particularly struck by the outstanding handling capabilities of the Jetta.

This comfortable, smooth-riding sedan is remarkably athletic and rewarding when inhaling curvy pavement. It’s also notably competent when stopping, thanks to brakes that feel decidedly German in their operation.

It’s all about the diesel
Regardless of how accurate that claim is, and for me it’s pretty darn accurate, the Jetta TDI is a tremendously satisfying vehicle whether one buys it for its turbocharged diesel mill or for its many other attributes.

A colleague of mine bought herself a 2012 Jetta TDI, and is completely smitten with the car and its 900+ km driving range on a single fill-up.

Before jumping into a hybrid for economy or reasons of social conscience, take a good look at diesel alternatives. They’re not the particulate producers they once were.
2012 Volkswagen jetta 2.0L Highline
volkswagen jetta 2012
2012 Volkswagen jetta 2.0L Highline
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Rob Rothwell
Rob Rothwell
Automotive expert