2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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Diesel-powered passenger cars have been a tough sell in North America, saddled as they are with the tired old stigma of being noisy, slow and smelly. Never mind that nearly 50% of all new cars sold in Europe are oil burners. Never mind that modern diesel engines are increasingly cleaner, quieter and more powerful than ever, while delivering impressive mid-range torque and burning 40% less fuel than a gasoline-powered equivalent.

Granted, a few more diesel cars are showing up in our market (Jeep Liberty CRD, smart fortwo and Mercedes E320 CDI), but we really must tip our hats to Volkswagen, which has been the lonely champion of the diesel dogma here for, well, decades it seems, pedaling the perennial diesel Golfs and Jettas to the lunatic fringe.

In this time of higher fuel prices and increasing environmental awareness, the V-Dub diesels now appear to be looming larger on the North American consumer’s radar screens. And Canadians are leading the charge.

In 2005, the TDI diesel accounted for 49% of total Jetta sales in Canada, while in the US only 15.4% were TDI-powered. Even taking into account the TDI is a 45-state engine only, those figures still represents quite a discrepancy.

After spending a week in a 2006 Jetta TDI (and being a card-carrying pragmatic Canuck) I can fully appreciate the appeal of this competent yet miserly Euro sedan.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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So let’s cut to the quick. Over a week of mixed city and highway driving, the Jetta daintily sipped the crude at a rate of 5.5 L/100km. That’s darned impressive for a roomy, well equipped sedan that’s actually enjoyable to drive.

When this restyled Jetta arrived as a 2005 model, it was criticized for looking a tad too plain – almost Japanese-generic in its cookie cutter profile. The Corolla-esque taillamps didn’t help. I was of that opinion too, although the shape is growing on me. The new Jetta does have a simple elegance, and that German tautness and stance give it a substantial, if not totally unique, presence.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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Adding a dash of elegance are the C-pillars that echo those on the Phaeton. Not that anyone around here knows what a Phaeton is anyway.
That said, the standard low-rent fifteen-inch steel rims with hubcaps didn’t do this tester any favours. The $2075 Luxury Package (16 inch alloys, sunroof, chrome window trim) would remedy that, but we’re all about frugality here, aren’t we?

The Jetta TDI is motivated by a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder engine featuring a high-pressure pump injection system. Output is 100 hp at 4000 rpm and 177 lbs-ft of torque from 1800 to 2400 rpm.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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You could never mistake this Jetta for a gasoline-powered car, as it’s a bit gravely when accelerating through the lower gears, and the odd whiff of diesel smog will occasionally tickle your nose. But I must confess I found these quirks kind of charming. All of a sudden I was a member of a unique motoring fraternity, grooving on my diesel-ness and smug in the knowledge I was spewing fewer green house gasses (CO2) than all but a few hybrids and tinny econoboxes.

Once into the upper gears, the Jetta TDI really comes into its own. This car has legs. Out on the highway, it is stable, comfortable and serene, showing 2500 rpm at 120 km/h. With 177 lb/ft of torque under foot, brisk acceleration is just a Reebok tip away.

Structurally, the Jetta feels as solid as a bank vault, and as would be expected of a Volkswagen, it cuts an accurate path through a twisty road with well controlled body motions.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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The 195/65×15 Michelin Energy MXV4 all season radials aren’t particularly sporting, but they do contribute to the comfortable ride.

Inside, you’re treated to a high quality interior that feels considerably roomier than the previous model. Legroom in the rear is markedly improved. My tester’s beige and brown colour scheme was quite pleasing. These cars have a high belt and cowl line, and lighter colours in the interior help dispense with the potential Germanic black-hole syndrome.

The heated seats are firm yet comfortable – perfect for long distance touring. The five-speed shifter in my tester had longish throws, but felt positive and worked well with the smooth clutch.

For $1,400, you can opt for VW’s brilliant twin-clutch six-speed DSG transmission which can be shifted via a floor shifter, or run in fully automatic mode.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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Niceties include a good sounding 10-speaker AM/FM/CD system that’ll read MP3s, an air-conditioned glove box, manual lumbar seat adjustment and front and side airbags. Front side-curtain airbags are optional ($250), and can be bundled with rear passenger side airbags for $450.
The only option my blue tester sported was the $450 ESP (electronic stability program).

The trunk in this new Jetta is huge, and with the 60/40 split rear seat folded flat, you could rent it out as a student apartment. And bonus – the trunk lid flips up automatically with the press of the key fob button just like a BMW 750iL. How cool is that?

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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Time to crunch some numbers. With a base price of $26,750, the TDI commands a $1775 premium over the base 150 hp 2.5-L five-cylinder gas Jetta. Depending on how much driving you do, it could take a few years to recoup that extra hit. But as I write this, gas jumped from $1.02 to $1.09 overnight, and diesel is still 97.5 cents at my local station. The TDI is looking better by the minute.

From a tree-hugger’s perspective, the TDI engine is not as clean as a hybrid, as particulates (soot) and nitrogen oxide (NO2) are byproducts of a compression engine, although all are well within the mandated limits.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
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Where the Jetta shines is with the aforementioned reduction in greenhouse gasses. Based on a 20,000 km year, Canada’s EnerGuide estimates the 2006 Jetta TDI will emit 3186 kg of CO2, versus 4416 kg for the base gasoline Jetta.

Gas or diesel, the inherent goodness of the Jetta stands up – namely the solid platform, well executed interior, European dynamics, a subtle ride and the fluid harmony of all major controls. Call it that intangible “Germaness” if you like. This would be on my short list of cars I’d pick for a cross-country jaunt.

If you get your thrills keeping the needle pinned on the fuel gauge instead of the tachometer, the Jetta TDI could be your ride.

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Technical Data: 2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Base price $26,750
Options $450 ESP (Electronic Stability Program)
Freight $615
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $27,915 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Layout Transverse front engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.9-L turbo-diesel four-cylinder
Horsepower 100 @ 4000 rpm
Torque 177 lb-ft @ 1800-2400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires P195/65R15H all-season
Curb weight 1465 kg (3230 lbs)
Wheelbase 2578 mm (101.5 in.)
Length 4554 mm (179.3 in.)
Width 1781 mm (70.1 in.)
Height 1459 mm (57.4 in.)
Cargo capacity 453 litres (16.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 6.6 L/100 km (42.8 mpg Imperial)
  5.2 L/100 km (54.3 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Diesel
Warranty 4 yrs/ 80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Puebla, Mexico

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