The 2012 Jetta TDI by Blue Mesa Resevoir. Photo by Don Bain

Across the Great Divide in the surprising Jetta TDI

The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI was among the cars driven throughout Colorado as part of the Green Car Convoy this week, a prelude to the Denver Auto Show, revealing many of the reasons the small VW is a favorite of some automotive pundits.
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It was my initial job to drive the clean diesel vehicle from the Colorado Auto Dealers Association Headquarters on Speer Blvd. to the beautiful Western Slope metropolis of Montrose. In doing so, the Great Divide was crossed, requiring the navigation of the 11,312 ft. Monarch Pass in the Sawatch Mountains.

The first significant indicator of the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI’s much ballyhooed diesel fuel efficiency came as the horizontal bar graph of the fuel supply failed to alter until we had reached the Headwaters of the Arkansas River. We estimate we traveled over 100 miles from Denver on 1.8125 gallons of diesel or one eighth of a tank. That much fuel took us up over Crow Hill and beyond to Kenosha Pass, then across South Park. A little south of there is where the river rafting guides have their facilities.

Interestingly, diesel fuel, which was once cheaper than gasoline, is now 60 to 80¢ more per gallon than regular gasoline. Traditionally this tends to be the case, though the forces that combine to define the price of diesel are different than the ones affecting gasoline.

Beyond that, the 2012 VW Jetta TDI is a sheer joy to drive – it climbs with the sure-footed acumen of a Rocky Mountain goat and descends like a blue-ribbon Soapbox Derby racer – except with a lot more precise handling.

The car seemed to delight in the winding turns that snake up and down both sides of Monarch Pass, providing sweeping vistas and breathtaking scenery along the way. Needless to say, negotiating the pass was a most diverting way to spend a glorious late winter’s day in Colorado.

Such performance is aided by Anti-Slip Regulation, Electronic Stability Control and Differential Lock systems in the Jetta TDI. The 236 ft.-lbs of torque conceal the presence of only 140 horses in the 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder TDI clean diesel engine.

Diesel engines tend to perform better than EPA estimates, due to the nature of the testing method, according to a post titled Clean Diesel Cars: 9 Facts And Myths attributed to Hearst Communications on the Huffington Post. This explains the mileage we were getting through the mountains which the EPA rates at 42-mpg.

On the other hand, they go on to state: “Because many of them are made by high-end German car manufacturers, service costs can be astronomical - with price tags several thousands of dollars higher than their gas-powered counterparts.”

Clean diesel is something of a misnomer in that the 2012 VW Jetta TDI gets an 8 of 10 score on CO2 emissions, but only an average 5 of 10 score on smog producing particulates. It could more accurately be referred to as cleaner diesel.

They are likely to need frequent maintenance and the tax credit for clean diesel cars has expired or rather run out, since it was limited to the first 60,000 units from each manufacturer.

Consequently, the argument that clean diesel cars are cheaper to operate than a Prius is arbitrary, based on projections of cost/price data that’s at best sheer guesswork, and any suggestion it is cleaner burning is just plain false.

It is still a viable way to get better fuel efficiency and improved emissions from a car that has more performance cachet than the venerable hybrid. The Jetta IS rated as a SmartWay vehicle by the EPA.

To return to the subject of our story, we were also happy to find a direct iPhone connection in the glove box of the 2012 VW Jetta TDI, that recharged the device while rocking out the tracks in the iTunes app.

Though just the standard 6-speaker stereo, nuances unnoticed in music heard dozens of time before were revealed – presumably from a pair of high-range radiators positioned near the windscreen.

The delicate interplay of accordion and piano on Celos by the Gotan Project came through with an unprecedented clarity and definition. Carlos Santana’s soaring guitar work on Corazon Espinado gave me goose bumps it was so authentically reproduced.

The white Jetta TDI was outfitted with a Titan black leatherette interior and frankly the only thing we found lacking was a lumbar support mechanism.

All in all, the 2012 VW Jetta TDI was my favorite of the four vehicles making the rounds in the Green Car Convoy. The others were a 2012 VW Touareg TDI, 2012 Ford Focus SEL and a Honda Odyssey.


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