When I was a teenager, back in 1970, my Dad drove a big Cadillac. A friend in his office just bought a Mercedes diesel, and was so proud of that car. He boasted about the gas mileage, which probably was in the 22 miles per gallon range, while my Dad’s Caddie probably got about 12, plus there was the cheaper cost of diesel fuel, which was probably 30 cents per gallon instead of regular gas at 35 cents.
1. The Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition is inspired by the cars in the Jetta TDI Cup racing series, which is now in its third season.
2. Upgrades to the TDI Cup Street Edition include firmer springs, larger sway bars, bigger brakes and 18-inch wheels with low-profile tires.
3. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter diesel engine that makes 140-hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque for a 0-60 mph time of just under 8 seconds.
In those days, nobody in America viewed Mercedes as a luxury car. It had all the boxy styling of a Checker Cab, and my father’s friend’s Merc was painted in a sewage brown color to make it even uglier. And that diesel engine meant acceleration could be measured with an hourglass, it belched stinking black smoke, it clattered like a John Deere tractor, was hard to start in the cold Chicago winter, and finding gas stations that sold diesel fuel in the city limits wasn’t easy. Any self-respecting American teenager would have rather been seen riding the bus or a bicycle.
But in those days things were quite different in Europe, where gas was (and still is) very expensive in comparison to the U.S., and the overall cost of automobile ownership was much higher. So while diesel engines didn’t make sense here, in Europe, especially in Germany, they were constantly developing that engine to try to lessen its shortcomings. Fast-forward to today, and the diesel engine has progressed by huge leaps and bounds, and it’s the German makers who lead the pack in diesel engine technology. No more smoke, no more stench, no more clatter, and easy to start in the cold.
Volkswagen is so high on its clean diesel technology that they have created an entire racing series using specially prepared Jettas in the hopes that racing fans will come to accept diesel power as a sporting powerplant, and more than just economical transportation. Now for 2010, Volkswagen is selling a street version of those racing machines, called the TDI Cup Street Edition.
DIESEL 2.0-LITER MAKES PLENTY OF TORQUE
The TDI Cup Street Edition is powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged clean diesel engine that is used in the racecars and as an optional engine in the Golf and Jetta lines. Clean diesels run on ultra-low sulfur diesel that has 97 percent less sulfur content, radically reducing emissions. Diesel engines use a “common rail” direct injection system to decrease up to 95 percent of all sooty emissions. And Volkswagen wants us to remember that the engine has high-torque, if not high horsepower. Plus, it’s a high-mileage engines to boot
The TDI puts out a modest 140 horsepower, but a whopping 236 ft-lbs of torque. Peak power is reached at the 4000 rpm mark and trails off as you reach the 5000 rpm redline. So you’ll need to use the slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission with nicely spaced gears, to keep the car in the power band. The clutch effort is light, and the throws are short and sure. Aside from the initial torque thrust, acceleration is still rather leisurely, and you can look for zero to 60 times in just under 8 seconds. Passing on two-lane roads can be tricky unless you watch the tach closely for your upshift points.
STREET EDITION DELIVERS HANDLING WORTHY OF ITS CUP CAR NAME
The fun of this car is not in the power department, but rather in the handling department. The Jetta TDI Cup can attack twisting back roads will all the balance and sure-footedness of a true sports sedan. Firmer springs and larger anti-roll bars are fitted to the independent front and rear suspension, and they work to keep the front wheel drive Cup Edition firmly planted while thrashing it through corners with limited body lean. Standard on the car are VW’s Anti-Slip Regulation, Electronic Stabilization Program, and Electronic Differential Lock. Larger 18-inch alloy wheels shod with low profile 225/40/18 series tires provide excellent and predictable grip. Larger ABS brakes with red calipers are fitted (sorry, no R8 clampers here), and the brakes have a nice feel, as does the electro-mechanical power steering.
Despite the firmer suspension, the ride quality is surprisingly comfortable. This Cup Edition never feels harsh, even on bad pavement, and it’s only while going over sharp bumps do you really know that this suspension is anything different than the standard Jetta.
BOY RACER LOOKS WILL COST YOU
Apart from its handling dynamics, its the looks of the Cup Edition that separate it from the standard car, my tester sporting a new aero kit with a lower front fascia with blacked-out grill and lower air intake with honeycomb mesh, along with lowered side sill extensions and a rear valance plus a trunk spoiler to give it the boy racer look belying the modest power output. Unfortunately, the kit isn’t standard equipement and will cost you big bucks.
QUALITY INERIOR WITH A FEW QUIRKS
Inside, you’ll get the nicely bolstered GTI-styled Interlagos cloth sport seats. Interlagos must be German for ugly plaid inserts, but the seats are comfortable. Alloy pedals and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are also part of the package.
Inside, the cabin is no nonsense German austere. Its squarish dash, center stack and all around appearance goes with the boxy exterior look. And while it might look a bit dated, it works. All controls are where you’d expect them to be, and they’re easy to use, except for the cruise control on the left turn signal stalk. It’s hidden by the multifunction steering wheel, and awkward to use.
There is a large touch screen in the center stack that shows the radio and MP3 information, that will double for the navigation screen if one orders that option. Beneath that are the large HVAC controls. The driver sees two large round dials for the speedometer and tachometer, with a LCD information screen in between.
As for some quirks we came across, there’s the round knob to activate the moonroof, with its many preset opening points. It’s fussy and more complicated than a simple rocker switch like other cars use. Also, the lights for the vanity mirrors are placed on the roof instead of on each side of the sun shade mounted mirror. At night they’re worthless. And I find that using a round wheel to dial in the desired rake of the front seatbacks is much more difficult to use than a simple lever. Other than that, the cabin is comfortable, and quiet. The rear seat room is generous for two adults, and both seats fold down to make the huge trunk space even larger. With the seatback up, there is a lockable center pass-through for skis.
The Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition starts at $24,990. Add $2,350 for the body kit, $1,000 for the Sunroof, $499 for the spoiler, and $424 for the rubber floor mats and iPod integration, and your bottom line with Destination Charge is $30,013. Yikes!
The Jetta TDI Cup Edition has a split personality. It can be an economical family sedan that will get 41 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 in the city. It can transport four passengers and a lot of their gear in the trunk in quiet comfort, with enough luxury amenities to enjoy long stints or short commutes. Then it can instantly transform itself into a back road beast, ready to tackle the most challenging curves with poise and composure, all the while deliver big, big smiles.
But I suspect that the buyer of this car will get enjoyment based upon where they live. I loved the car while driving it around the rural twisting roads surrounding Road America Race Track in Wisconsin, because of the handling, but hated the sluggish performance when driving it for a week on the straight and flat roads surrounding my home in Chicago. And with a bottom line of just over $30,000, there are a lot of alternatives that might suit most people better.