2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: What Is It
I know what you’re thinking. Diesels are slow, stinky, and bad for the environment. Not so fast, my friends. The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is equipped with a Clean Diesel engine, one that operates on widely available low-sulfur diesel fuel, a power plant that passes Tier 2, Bin 5/ULEV II emissions regulations in all 50 states. According to Volkswagen, because this turbo-diesel is 30% more fuel efficient than a comparable gasoline engine, it ultimately reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 25% compared to a gasoline engine simply because it consumes less fuel. Not only that, Volkswagen’s modern Clean Diesel engine is 90% cleaner than diesel engines of two decades ago.
Seriously, you could stick your face right up close to the Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model’s exhaust outlet and take a deep breath – but I certainly don’t recommend that.
Plus, I was able to spin the front tires with no trouble. No trouble at all. So much for that slow, stinky, bad for the environment business.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Now that I’ve dispelled your negative preconceptions of turbo-diesel engines, you must be ready to buy one. First, it is helpful to understand the Jetta universe, and where the TDI model fits in.
Volkswagen sells the 2013 Jetta, its best-selling model, in S, SE, SEL, TDI, and GLI trim levels, each available with option packages that are treated as sub-models within each trim. Within the Jetta TDI Clean Diesel lineup, there is the TDI ($23,785), the Jetta TDI with Premium ($25,225), and the Jetta TDI with Premium and Navigation ($26,685). Fully equipped with every option, this model rolls out of a VW showroom for $29,355. All prices include the $795 destination charge.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, leatherette upholstery, 6-way manually adjustable heated front seats, power heated mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Bluetooth connectivity is standard, as well as a trip computer and a 6-speaker stereo with a CD player, an iPod connection, and an auxiliary audio input jack. The Jetta TDI is also equipped with a front center console storage box with an armrest, a rear armrest with a trunk pass-through, and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The Jetta TDI with Premium adds a touchscreen audio system with HD Radio and a Fender premium sound system, plus a power sunroof. The Jetta TDI with Premium and Navigation includes a touchscreen navigation system, a 6-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, Keyless Access with push-button ignition, fog lights, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
All Jetta TDI models can be equipped with a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automated sequential manual gearbox ($1,100). Additionally, a handful of dealer-installed accessories are available, including a cargo net, upgraded floor mats, a first-aid kit, a rear lip spoiler, splashguards, and an alarm system.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: What It's Up Against
There’s nothing quite like the VW Jetta TDI Clean Diesel, so this car’s mission is to appeal to people seeking a less expensive alternative to hybrids, a roomier alternative to fuel-efficient economy cars, and a better-equipped alternative to mainstream family sedans.
From the mainstream family sedan potpourri pot there’s the Chevrolet Malibu Eco, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Accord 4-cylinder, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, Nissan Altima 2.5, and Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Finally, there’s a list of the Jetta TDI’s most direct competitors, including the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, Dodge Dart Aero, Ford Focus SFE, Honda Civic and Civic Hybrid, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3 SkyActiv, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Corolla.
If you decide that you want a Volkswagen with a turbo-diesel but you don’t want a Jetta Sedan, you can get this same TDI Clean Diesel powertrain in the Beetle Coupe, the Beetle Convertible, the Golf hatchback, the Jetta SportWagen, and the Passat. They’re all rated to get between 28 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway, depending on model and transmission.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- Additional chrome trim
- New 17-inch wheel option
How It Looks:
Bread, meet butter. The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta is blandly appealing, like middle American comfort food. Exhibiting nary an offensive line, this is the kind of design that ages gracefully, if innocuously, and is perfectly matched to the practicality-minded buyer likely to choose the TDI Clean Diesel model.
My test car is painted a trendy Toffee Brown Metallic, which glows like caramel in sunlight. Unfortunately, I shot photography on a cloudy morning, and the light doesn’t come close to revealing the paint’s brilliance on a sunny day.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- Metallic interior trim
- Standard leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Optional power reclining front seats
- Optional power driver’s seat
How It Looks and Feels:
At first glance, the Volkswagen Jetta’s interior looks upscale and rich, but closer inspection reveals the importance of consistent tone and texture when executing a cabin with inexpensive materials. Volkswagen employs lots of hard plastic in the Jetta’s interior, but it looks good because there are few variations in terms of grain and gloss levels. Where different materials are joined together, the juxtaposition is logical and pleasing rather than arbitrary and jarring.
For example, the Jetta has a woven cloth headliner, and the plastic upper dashboard and door panels exhibit a subtle leather-pattern grain. In many cars, a third texture and gloss level would be used for the roof pillar covers, but the Jetta’s pillars match the headliner all the way to the base of the rear window. Plus, the windshield pillar covers, the ones the driver always sees, are cloth wrapped for a more upscale look and feel.
Many of Jetta cabin’s touch points, including the leatherette seat upholstery, the new leather wrapped steering wheel, the softly padded center console cover, and many of the controls, also convey a feeling of upscale quality. Still, there is room for improvement. The hard plastic upper door panels are murder on elbows during longer trips. The center console cover armrest neither slides nor rises to supply an extra modicum of driver comfort. The tan carpets and floor mats are a terrible idea for people with children, or people who live where the weather is moody. And the rearview mirror is lubricated to the point where it feels like it might fall off of the windshield.
Where the Jetta shines is with regard to interior comfort and packaging. Both front seats in our test car offered height adjustment and, in combination with the tilt/telescopic steering wheel, the driver’s seat provided a commanding view of the road ahead. Slim pillars, large side mirrors, and a clear view to the back combine to deliver excellent outward visibility, making the Jetta easy to maneuver.
The Jetta’s rear seat proved perfect for two children in child safety seats, offering the kids plenty of leg room to reduce backrest kicking and affording the little ones a clear view of the world around them. For adults, space for heads, legs, and feet is in plentiful supply, but the bottom seat cushion is disappointingly flat and lacking in thigh support.
Pop the Jetta’s deck lid, and you’ll discover a cavernous 15.5 cu.-ft. trunk, positively huge for a smaller car. Better yet, the trunk is cube shaped and nicely finished. Really, given the Jetta’s roomy interior and this generous cargo area, the vast majority of the time a family of four doesn’t need a car larger than a Jetta.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Matters of Safety
What’s New for 2013:
- No changes for 2013
Details and Ratings:
Volkswagen recently began touting its Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS) as a key safety feature. If the Jetta’s airbags deploy, the ICRS automatically unlocks the doors, disconnects the fuel supply to engine, and activates the flashers. That sounds great, but the truth is that many cars offer this kind of technology.
That leaves Volkswagen to brag about, well, nothing. The Jetta has 6 airbags just like every other car, and traction and stability control system just like every other car, and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist just like every other car. Note that rear disc brakes are not standard equipment. Rather, they’re offered only on the 2.5 SEL, the 2.0 TDI Clean Diesel, and the GLI models.
If you think you can load up on safety-related options, think again. There aren’t any.
But maybe there doesn’t need to be. The 2013 VW Jetta gets a 4-star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA, with the car earning 4-stars or 5-stars in every test. The Jetta is also a “Top Safety Pick” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In other words, it is a safe car, even if it doesn’t offer anything in the way of modern safety technologies.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2013:
- No changes
How Does It Go:
The 2013 VW Jetta TDI Clean Diesel model is equipped with a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine making 140 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. I know. That doesn’t sound terribly exciting. What’s important to remember is that this engine whips up 236 lb.-ft. of torque way down low in the rev range between 1,750 rpm and 2,500 rpm, right where you want it for lively acceleration from almost any speed.
A 6-speed manual transmission is standard. For an extra $1,100, an optional Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) fully automated sequential manual gearbox is optional. Regardless of transmission choice, the EPA says the Jetta TDI will return 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. We spent much of our testing time on the highway, and averaged 41.3 mpg with the manual transmission.
One reason people don’t want a diesel engine is because they think it will be hard to find fuel. When my Jetta TDI test car’s 14.5-gallon tank ran low, the first gas station I tried had no diesel but the one across the street did. To get there, I needed to pull out of the first station, go down to the intersection, make a U-turn, and enter the station with diesel, which had a single diesel pump that did not accept credit cards. It also had a big puddle of diesel fuel on the ground right by the pump, but the pump handle itself wasn’t dirtier than a standard gasoline pump handle. I know from experience, however, that this isn’t always the case.
Was it a hassle to fuel the Jetta TDI? Yes, it was, but only because I was in a part of town that’s unfamiliar, driving a car that wasn’t mine. Jetta TDI owners will know where to get diesel in daily driving scenarios, and most stations on major roadways offer it, so my experience is not representative of what its like to live with a turbo-diesel model on a daily basis.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: How It Drives
If any lesson in the importance of torque exists, it resides within the Jetta TDI Clean Diesel’s power plant. The 140-horsepower power rating is unimpressive, measuring only two ponies more than a Kia Rio, fer cryin’ out loud. You can go ahead and forget that number, though, because what matters here is the torque, as in 236 lb.-ft. of the stuff available between 1,750 rpm and 2,500 rpm. That’s enough to thrust you back into your seat when accelerating from almost any speed, and it makes the Jetta TDI feel much livelier and more entertaining to drive than you might expect.
Since you can wring every ounce of motive force from the engine by the time the tachometer needs swings toward 4,500 rpm, the Jetta TDI is not a car that benefits from high-rpm revving. You’ll want to upshift soon after those 140 horses storm to the front wheels in order to get right back into the thick part of the power band. Cruise with the engine turning at 2,000 rpm or slightly less, and the Jetta TDI gathers velocity with surprising verve even when the car is already traveling 75 mph.
My test car had a 6-speed manual transmission, and it proved difficult to launch. I’m no stranger to a clutch pedal – every car I’ve owned since 1990 has had a manual transmission – yet I stalled the car numerous times in first gear, and also when trying to accelerate from low speed in second gear. A hill-hold feature is helpful, but unless you’re really adept with a clutch pedal, we strongly advise selecting the optional DSG transmission.
My family put nearly 600 miles on this Jetta TDI, traveling primarily on the highway with the kids in the back seat. Aside from the lack of comfortable places to rest arms, everyone was perfectly happy and the Jetta proved to be a quiet and composed family road tripper. That is, until we drove on sectioned concrete freeways that are popular in L.A., where the Jetta did the jitterbug on its solid rear axle suspension, and until we traversed the rough aggregate coating the 101 freeway north of Santa Barbara, where the road noise was deafening.
Before returning the car, I pushed the Jetta hard on twisty two-lane roads in the mountains near Malibu, and came away genuinely astonished at the TDI’s ability to charge hard up mountain sides, and the 205/55 Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires’ ability to grip and corner without squealing in pain. Frankly, it is amazing that such humble components can be tuned to deliver such competent handling.
Nevertheless, I think the Jetta rolls too much in harder turns, and the all-season rubber gives up early in downhill hairpin corners, but thanks to the perfectly weighted and utterly accurate steering, the turbo-diesel’s torque, the effective 4-wheel-disc brakes that evidenced zero fade on a hot day, excellent sightlines, and a perfect driving position, the Jetta TDI is truly capable of surprising speed on a favorite back road.
If I have any suggestion for improvement, it is this: Please, Volkswagen, install the independent rear suspension from the Jetta SEL and GLI into the TDI model. I’ll pay extra for it, just so that I won’t need to live with the jiggling econocar ride quality on rough pavement.
Better yet, give me a TDI powertrain in a GLI package.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Final Thoughts
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI is an astonishingly good car, falling just short of great car status. It needs an independent rear suspension. It needs soft-touch materials on the upper door panels. It needs a ratcheting center armrest with thicker padding. It needs better rear seat thigh support. Once those items are addressed, it will be close to perfect.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Review: Pros and Cons
- Fuel economy
- Torquey turbo-diesel engine
- Entertaining driving dynamics
- Interior volume and trunk size
- Front seat comfort
- Appealing price
- Easy to stall engine with manual transmission
- Jittery ride due to simplistic suspension
- Too much hard plastic inside cabin
- Rear seat lacks thigh support
- Useless center armrest
- Tan carpet and floor mats soil easily
Volkswagen provided the vehicle for this review
2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Clean Diesel Photos by Christian Wardlaw