The original premise of this review was to see who did the VW family 2.0 diesel better, the Jetta or the A3. Fail. This engine, in either application, is a thing of beauty. It can also be a terrible piece of junk. Let me explain.
This 2.0 liter diesel engine is great. It is utterly clear why the TDI Jetta is cleaning up the sales charts and moving diesels engines back into the mainstream of the American car buying consciousness. The engine is smooth, dynamic, fast, full of effortless torque, and quiet – although it is quieter in the VW for some reason. It pulls really well at freeway speed – where horsepower is more important than a diesel’s tsunami of torque – and is punchy whenever you need it to be.
Like I said, the engine itself is great, but as I learned over the week with both of these cars, it’s the transmission that makes all difference. You see, turbo lag is still a very real and unshakeable part of this modern TDI engine. In the automatic A3, it feels like 1975 all over again when turbochargers just began to hit the market in the form of the 930 Porsche 911. Until that snail-shell breathed its fire on the engine it felt like the accelerator pedal wasn’t connected to anything. You’d mash your right foot into the shag carpet and have enough time to think that maybe a linkage was broken or maybe you’re out of gas or BAAAAMM an explosion of thrust and wheel spin and oh god why am I pointed that direction now? Those bad old days are back with this engine when paired with Audi’s S-Tronic automatic gear box.
Now given modern technologies and the fact that both cars are front wheel drive means only slight wheel spin (chirps if you will) and some mild torque steer instead of face and roadside hedge rearranging amount of chaos. No, the danger lies when you want to merge with oncoming traffic. I repeatedly punished the accelerator only to creep into some barn-storming Merc’s path rather than charging ahead of it. The moment always passed and torque pulled me out of danger, but I never quite got used to the change of timing this engine requires of the driver.
That said, If you drive like less of a maniac than an auto journalist does you’d probably never even notice. When I stopped trying to go 0-60 in 3.0 from every stop sign or set of lights the A3 was extremely capable. Calmly merge into traffic, gently accelerate like a well-adjusted human, always pay our taxes, and you wouldn’t want for more than the A3 TDI. Great looks – the Monza Silver is understated and classy, great gas mileage – 30/42, plenty of cargo room – 38.85 cu ft, and more luxury than you can shake a peeled mink at.
If for some reason you wanted to actively choose to drive like a sociopath, then you need the manual transmission only offered in the far cheaper Jetta TDI to do away with the lag-monster’s effects. In truth, the Jetta is far better a car than it has any right to be given its price range. Stacked up against the A3, it comes out the clear winner. The VW is roomier, just as luxurious feeling, smooth, and fast – more Autobahn cruiser to the A3′s athletic canyon carver.
Yet for all the greatness of the VW, when I had keys to both I consistently kept choosing to drive the A3. It’s the badge snob in me. Blame my weak self-esteem, the fact that I’m a young aspiring yuppie, or my upscale Santa Monica neighborhood. I wanted to be behind the wheel of the Audi more than I wanted to have a faultless driving experience. You are now thinking what every girlfriend I’ve ever had thinks – I am sufficiently and completely broken. I know.
The Jetta is objectively the better car when judged on interior space, comfort, drive train, and especially price. When the VW arrived at my doorstep, I thought it was sexy and especially catching in its Toffee Brown candy coating. The yuppie in me was very happy, excited even. But then the Audi arrived the next day. That deep grey little hatch with two-toned alloy rims had me hook-line-sinker. Once I had the option of which one to drive every day, I didn’t really have an option anymore.
But that’s me. You’re more mature and intelligent than me, right? Of course you are. If you are in the market for a Teutonic diesel sled you’ll choose the logical option and go with the Jetta. And you’ll be very pleased.
Either way you’re going to get excellent gas mileage, be coddled in leather and serenaded by great stereos. Either way you’ll be able to smugly look down on Prius and Volt owners for choosing such compromised rides when they should have gotten a diesel instead. Either way you’ll be quite happy.
The question you have to ask yourself is: Would you rather drive like a maniac and wring pleasure out of every last mile in the Jetta, or would you prefer to lord above the peasant folk and drive in a mobile announcement that you’ve arrived into the upper class. Choose wisely.
- Adam Kaslikowski