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2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sedan Test Drive

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First Impressions

Driven by a gas station lately? Of course you have, and of course you’ve gone home and assessed your budget to determine how you’re going to pay for all that pain you’re experiencing at the pump. Given the harsh economic lessons of the past decade, the current unrest in the Middle East, the continued industrialization of China and India, and the resulting spikes in fuel prices that always toss a wrench into the financial machinery of families, businesses, and the American way of life, the time has come to accept that we need fuel-efficient transportation as a permanent rather than temporary solution.

The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI (view photos) is a great path to acceptance. This clean-diesel sedan or wagon is sized between a compact and a mid-size, costs less than the average price of a new car, and effortlessly achieves fuel economy in the mid-30s.

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About Our Test Car

Volkswagen sells two versions of the Jetta. The Jetta Sedan is redesigned for 2013, while the Jetta SportWagen is slightly restyled. While the two share some powertrains, they are otherwise different vehicles, with the SportWagen boasting a much nicer interior and front styling that is based on the Golf hatchback rather than the Jetta Sedan. This review focuses on the Jetta Sedan.

Buyers can choose between four trim levels: S, SE, SEL, and TDI. The Jetta S is the least expensive, with a base price starting under $17,000, and it has a weak 115-horsepower engine under the hood that Volkswagen claims will require almost 10 seconds to get to 60 mph. Avoid this cruel joke of a powerplant by stepping up to the Jetta SE, which allows you to accelerate out of your own way with its larger, more powerful, 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine. Too bad you need to trade cloth seats for vinyl with this move. Other SE features include body-color exterior trim, cruise control, a front center armrest, a split-folding rear seatback, and other features. Or, you could get the even nicer SEL for its bigger alloy wheels, navigation, premium sound, Bluetooth, heated front seats, keyless access and push-button ignition, among additional niceties.

We drove a 2012 Jetta TDI with the optional Navigation Package, which mixes and matches features from the SE and SEL models. Heated seats, a trip computer, Bluetooth, power sunroof, and premium audio with a touchscreen display come standard, along with 16-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels. Our car had the 17-inch wheels from the Jetta SEL, painted black except for the machined-finish edges of the spokes. Volkswagen’s consumer website does not indicate that these wheels are offered on the Jetta TDI, so we don’t know how or why they ended up on this car.

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Safety Reliability and Value

Volkswagen equips the 2013 Jetta TDI (view photos) with standard front, side, and side curtain airbags. Traction and stability control are also included, as well as antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. The Jetta also has an Intelligent Crash Response System that automatically cuts fuel supply, activates the hazards, and unlocks the doors.

The Jetta proves itself quite safe in the new, more stringent crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), achieving 4-Star ratings in all parameters except rear passenger side impact protection and the side impact pole test, for which the car is assigned 5-Star ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is even more impressed with the Jetta’s crashworthiness, designating the car a Top Safety Pick thanks to Good ratings in the IIHS’s offset frontal, side impact, roof crush strength, and rear impact protection evaluations.

Many consumers think that Volkswagens are unreliable in the long run, and while older models did prove less than dependable, the most recent version of the Jetta is average or better in terms of reliability. Consumer Reports does not predict how the new 2013 Jetta will fare, but has determined that the previous edition of the car delivered better-than-average reliability. J.D. Power and Associates is not quite as enthusiastic, but thinks the newest Jetta will return average dependability over time.

Volkswagen helps bolster confidence in the Jetta by providing 24-hour roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance during the first three years or 36,000 miles of ownership. That’s how long the basic warranty is in effect, and VW covers the clean-burning turbo-diesel for five years or 60,000 miles. Corrosion protection is for 12 years with no mileage cap.

The Jetta is expected to hold its value over time, too. Both Consumer Reports and Automotive Lease Guide claim that the Jetta performs better than average in this regard.

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