A face only a mother can love, gas mileage that everybody can love.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Cheap, clean fun.

By: Andrew Krok

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: December 23rd, 2013

There are three things you should know before you buy a diesel. One, the engine noise will be different - not worse, different. Two, you may experience some very slight vibration. Three, you're going to have a whole lot of torque and not a whole lot of power.

For one or more of those reasons (and despite the fact that they're damn efficient), people have shied away from diesels in favor of hybrid-electric vehicles and tiny, turbocharged gas-drinkers. Only one domestic automaker builds a diesel passenger car - Chevrolet.

Thankfully, European automakers have always had a sweet spot for compression-ignition motors. Granted, most diesels built before the turn of the century were quite crude - loud, smoky, generally unrefined. Now, though, we're very close to the point where efficient diesel motors don't act too differently from their petrol brethren.

One automaker with decades of diesel experience is Volkswagen - their TDI lineup practically defines diesel cars in this country, and the Jetta is one of the most ubiquitous diesels on the road. It's always been a (mostly) rock-solid car that returned great gas mileage, and that tradition continues with the 2014 Jetta TDI.

  • Interior

    No-frills is the name of the game. In the base model TDI we tested, devoid of all options, the interior was a mostly plastic affair. The radio and HVAC controls haven't changed very much since 1999, not that there's much switchgear to look at in the first place. The gauges give you revs, road speed, and that's it - the gas level is displayed on the small screen between the two gauges, and you don't even get a range estimate. It doesn't pretend to be ultra-plush or anything else that it's not - it's simple, straightforward driving. Old-school German sensibility exemplified.

  • Exterior

    If there's a more milquetoast exterior on the planet, we'd be hard-pressed to find it. It looks like surfaces of every other car on the market were added together and averaged out. That said, the current-gen Jetta TDI is still way prettier than its forebear, and its blandness can be a boon to those that prefer to drive in an extralegal manner. Aside from the TDI badge, there's no distinction that would let you know it's a diesel. A proper wolf in sheep's clothing.

  • On the Road

    The Jetta TDI surprisingly fun for being a bit on the slow side - it takes about eight seconds to hit 60 mph. The gas and clutch actually have feeling, although the clutch pedal's throw is a bit on the long side, and it's easy to get rolling from a stop with all that torque on tap. Once you're rolling, it's almost like you're not even driving a diesel; the interior is isolated from the engine just enough to provide slight aural feedback without the stereotypical diesel clunking noises. It's not a noisy car at all, which is great for new buyers. New for 2014 is a European-derived multilink suspension that provides better handling without sacrificing comfort, as well. Overall, the Jetta TDI has done wonders bridging the gap between diesel and gasoline cars.

    If you're lucky enough to find yourself in an empty, snow-covered parking lot, you'll find that the Jetta TDI does some amazing drifts and donuts. Thank goodness there's no electronic parking brake.

  • Final Thoughts

    Forget the diesels of yesteryear - the new TDIs are ready to capture an even larger market share than before. Not that it was an issue in the first place, as nearly three-fourths of diesels on American roads have a VW badge out back. While the Cruze CTD is a viable competitor, GM hasn't built a diesel passenger car for the U.S. in more than 20 years, and its rough edges are still quite evident. Volkswagen, on the other hand, has been doing this for so long that they could fire the entire R&D department for five years and still be at or near the top. It's a basic car that provides everything you need with literally nothing else - unless you opt for the Premium package, because you miss your backup camera.

  • Specs & Price

    Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged I-4 diesel

    Transmission: Six-speed manual, six-speed dual-clutch automatic

    Power Output: 140 hp / 236 lb-ft

    Fuel Economy: 30 city / 42 highway

    Base Price: $23,195

    As Tested: $24,015 (incl. $820 destination)

    Optional Features: Premium Package (Fender audio system, touchscreen infotainment with HD Radio, backup camera, power tilt/slide sunroof), navigation

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