2005 Volkswagen Jetta wagon TDI
2005 Volkswagen Jetta wagon TDI. Click image to enlarge

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First Drives

2004 VW Jetta TDI PD, by Richard Russell

Test Drives

2006 VW Jetta TDI, by Peter Bleakney
2006 VW Jetta TDI, by Greg Wilson

2005 VW Passat wagon TDI, by Greg Wilson
2004 VW Golf TDI PD, by Greg Wilson
2004 VW Jetta wagon TDI, by Greg Wilson
2003 VW Jetta wagon TDI, by Greg Wilson

Manufacturer’s web site

Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase
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VW TDI, 1997-2006

Volkswagen has a long history of selling diesel-powered vehicles in North America, being one of only two automakers – the other being Mercedes-Benz – to do so consistently here.

VW’s earlier diesels tended to be noisy, smelly and smoky – all things that turned off many drivers who weren’t willing to deal with those aspects in return for a diesel’s lower fuel consumption.

Enter the TDI diesel. TDI stands for Turbo Direct Injection, and according to the FAQ at TDIClub.com, the design is similar to that used in heavy truck diesels for years, but with “countless improvements to refine the process and make it suitable for a passenger car engine.” This certainly seems to be the case: while TDI engines are unmistakably diesels, they run much more quietly than older VW diesels, and with less of the smoke and smell of those older engines. For general info about the TDI engines, check the FAQ at TDIClub.com.

The first TDI engines appeared in 1997 Golf, Jetta and Passat models. This motor apparently made 90 horsepower and either 107 or 121 lb-ft of torque, though I couldn’t find a straight answer one way or the other. In 1998, horsepower remained at 90 and torque increased significantly to 149 lb-ft, and the TDI was offered only in the soon-to-be-replaced Jetta.

Verdict
Highs: Great fuel economy; reasonable prices
Lows: Some reliability questions; resale values tied to gas prices

The 1999 model year brought with it an all-new, fourth-generation platform for the Golf, Jetta and New Beetle, in which the TDI now generated 155 lb-ft of torque. In 2004, power increased again to 100 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. The extra juice came courtesy of the “Pump Duse” system, a more precise method of delivering diesel fuel to the engine that, in addition to boosting power, also resulted in a quieter, cleaner engine and better cold-weather starts. Read more on this engine in Richard Russell’s 2004 Jetta First Drive here.

2004 Volkswagen Golf TDI
2004 Volkswagen Golf TDI. Click image to enlarge

The Pump Duse system was also used in a 2.0-litre, 134-horsepower, 247 lb-ft TDI engine for the Passat and a massive 5.0-litre V10 TDI engine for the Touareg SUV that made 310 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. Both were short-lived and would disappear after 2005. Volkswagen’s diesel engine would disappear altogether in 2007 as the company worked on a new diesel design that would meet stricter emissions standards; that 2.0-litre engine, to be offered in the Jetta sedan and wagon, makes a healthy 140 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque. Read Greg Wilson’s preview here.

Fuel consumption has always been diesel power’s drawing card. In 1998, VW’s TDI motors earned Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption ratings of 5.9 L/100 km (city) and 4.4 L/100 km (highway). By 2006, consumption had risen slightly, to 6.2 L/100 km (city) and 4.6 L/100 km (highway). These ratings are for cars with a manual transmission; opt for the available four-speed auto and city fuel consumption increases by 15 to 20 per cent. The difference is more like 10 per cent in highway driving, according to NRCan.

2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon TDI
2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon TDI. Click image to enlarge

By all accounts, VW’s TDI motors appear to be pretty durable. Diesels in general benefit from good longevity thanks to their robust construction. According to TDIClub.com, it’s particularly important to have the timing belt replaced every 90,000 km, “or else.” The site’s FAQ also mentions the relay for the glow plugs (small electric heaters that aid cold starting in diesels) is a known common trouble spot.

Most of the engine-related electrical gremlins that plague gas-powered VWs are absent in TDI cars, simply because diesels can do without certain electronic components used on the gas motors. You can get an idea of general reliability here and at the fourth-generation Jetta and Golf FAQ at VWVortex.com.

2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Click image to enlarge

All fourth-generation Golf, Jetta and New Beetle models got side airbags as standard equipment, and crash safety tends to be good. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Golf five stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts from 2000 through to 2006 models, and four stars for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts. Those ratings apply to the Jetta, too. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) mostly agrees. It gave the Golf, Jetta and New Beetle a “good” rating in its frontal offset crash test. The IIHS didn’t test the Golf or Jetta for side impact crashworthiness, but they did test the New Beetle (2004 and newer versions), which got a poor rating despite the presence of side airbags. The IIHS cited a high likelihood of torso and pelvis injury to the driver in a side impact.

2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon TDI
2004 Volkswagen Golf TDI
2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon TDI (top), 2004 Volkswagen Golf TDI. Click image to enlarge

The Passat earned a “good” rating in the IIHS’ frontal offset crash test, but wasn’t tested for side impact safety. The NHTSA gave the Passat five stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and four stars for front and rear-seat occupant protection in side impacts.

Volkswagen resale values tend to be strong; the higher new MSRP commanded by TDI models makes these ones a little more expensive as used cars than their gas-engined counterparts. Look for TDI cars to command even higher resale values whenever fuel prices spike.

The latest generation of VW diesels might be the cleanest and most efficient ones, but don’t rule out an older TDI-powered Volkswagen as a good choice for a thrifty vehicle. If anything, a recent diesel-powered Golf, Jetta or Passat should be more reliable than the gasoline-powered alternative.

Online resources

TDIClub.com is the go-to spot for TDI specific information. One of the most appealing aspects for Canadians is that the site itself appears to Canadian-owned, so it quotes many Canadian prices for replacement parts. You might also check the diesel section at Ottawa-Vdubbing.com, and you’d be wise to stop by the super-popular forums at VWVortex.com

Related stories on Autos
First Drives
  • 2004 VW Jetta TDI PD, by Richard Russell
    Test Drives
  • 2006 VW Jetta TDI, by Peter Bleakney
  • 2006 VW Jetta TDI, by Greg Wilson
  • 2005 VW Passat wagon TDI, by Greg Wilson
  • 2004 VW Golf TDI PD, by Greg Wilson
  • 2004 VW Jetta wagon TDI, by Greg Wilson
  • 2003 VW Jetta wagon TDI, by Greg Wilson
    Manufacturer’s Website
  • Volkswagen Canada
    Recalls

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005107; Units affected: 7,709

    1999-2000 Golf and GTI: On certain vehicles equipped with a gasoline engine, fuel supply line tension may cause the fuel pump supply nipple to crack, which could result in a leak. A fuel leak, in the presence of an ignition source, may cause a fire. Correction: Dealers will inspect the fuel supply line for tension, and inspect the fuel pump supply nipple for cracks. If tension is present in the fuel supply line, it will be replaced. If the fuel pump supply nipple is cracked, both the fuel line and the fuel pump will be replaced.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004436; Units affected: 80,752

    2000-2002 Golf, GTI and Jetta: On certain vehicles, the hazard switch and flasher system function may degrade over time because of distortion and material transfer of the contacts of certain hazard switch relays which occurs due to substantially increased electrical current load from higher-wattage turn signal bulbs. The subject vehicles utilize a 27-watt turn signal bulb, instead of the 21-watt bulb used in other VW vehicles, which results in substantially higher current draw through the hazard switch relay. This may result in intermittent or inoperative turn signal and hazard flasher function. Correction: Dealers will replace the hazard switch relay.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000214; Units affected: 2,094
    2000-2001 Golf: On certain vehicles, one of two brackets used to bolt the front control arm to the body structure may not have been welded to specifications. Depending on the strength of the weld seams, the control arm could gradually loosen and ultimately separate from its bracket resulting in control difficulty or possible loss of vehicle control. Correction: Vehicles will be inspected and suspect control arms will be replaced.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000189; Units affected: 32
    2001 Golf: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 115 – Vehicle Identification Number. Vehicles were produced with a V.I.N. which contains an incorrect check digit. Correction: V.I.N. Plate and Certification Label will be replaced.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002028; Units affected: 18,615
    2001-2002 Golf, Jetta and New Beetle: On certain passenger vehicles short circuits can occur within the electronic control unit of the anti-lock braking system (ABS). This can result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the ABS control unit.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005012; Units affected: 47,800
    2002-2004 Golf, GTI and Jetta: Certain vehicles equipped with the comfort seats option may have a seat heater element that can malfunction when the ignition switch is in the “ON” position and the seat heater switch is also “ON”. If this happened, the seated occupant may experience excessive heat in this location. The heating mat could damage, or melt a small hole in the seat. If this were to occur, an electrical/melting smell or small amount of smoke would be noticeable. In some cases, the small hole in the seat could damage the seated occupant’s clothing. In rare instances, this could lead to a minor or superficial skin injury. Correction: Dealers will modify the driver’s seat heater by installing an electrical repair kit and will install a new passenger side seat heater switch.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004435; Units affected: 8,072
    2004-2005 Golf, Jetta and New Beetle: On certain vehicle equipped with TDI-PD (Pumpe-Duse) engines, the high-pressure diesel pumps were produced with improper fasteners. In rare cases, one of these improper fasteners may yield due to repeated cyclic loading and allow diesel fuel to escape from the high-pressure pump. Diesel fuel in the presence of an ignition source may lead to a fire. Additionally, due to the quantity of fuel that may be released, there is a crash risk posed to vehicles traveling behind the subject vehicle. Correction: Dealers will install a replacement diesel pump kit.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004075; Units affected: 65,548
    1999-2002 Jetta: On certain vehicles, the brake lamp switch may malfunction. If this happens, the brake lamps could become inoperative; or the lamps could come on and stay on, even though the vehicle is parked. Correction: Dealer will inspect and, if necessary, replace the brake lamp switch.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003184; Units affected: 25,931
    1998-2002 New Beetle: On certain vehicles, the brake lamp switch may malfunction. If this happens, the brake lamps could become inoperative; or the lamps could come on and stay on, even though the vehicle is parked. Correction: Dealer will inspect and, if necessary, replace the brake lamp switch.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006122; Units affected: 91,082
    1999-2002 Jetta and New Beetle: On certain vehicles, the brake lamp switch may malfunction. If this happens, the brake lamps could become inoperative; or could come on and stay on, even though the vehicle is parked. Correction: Dealers will replace the brake lamp switch with a newly revised version. This action includes vehicles previously affected by Transport Canada recall 03-184 and 04-075. The switch installed during this prior repair may not function properly. Note: parts available December 2006.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999021; Units affected: 4,583
    1999 Jetta: On certain vehicles, a sound absorbing mat attached to the inside of the B-pillar side trim panel could have been improperly installed. The surface and edges of the mat could have been damaged during the assembly process. It could ignite when exposed to the exhaust gas of the seat belt pre-tensioner in the event of a severe front or side collision resulting in a vehicle fire Correction: Matting materials will be removed from inside the B-pillar on both sides of the vehicle.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002028; Units affected: 18,615
    2001-2002 Golf, Jetta and New Beetle: On certain passenger vehicles short circuits can occur within the electronic control unit of the anti-lock braking system (ABS). This can result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the ABS control unit.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998101; Units affected: 1,515
    1998 New Beetle: Electrical wiring may chafe against the battery tray during normal vehicle operation. If damage occurs, the fuel pump could malfunction, causing the vehicle to stall without warning. In some instances chafing could also result in a wiring fire in the engine compartment. Correction: a modified battery tray will be installed and wiring will be properly routed and secured.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003313; Units affected: 375
    2004 New Beetle: On certain vehicles, the tire information label incorrectly identifies the vehicle as a five-passenger instead of a four-passenger vehicle. Correction: Volkswagen will send a new label to owners of affected vehicles.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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