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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition Review – V-dub’s cup runneth over

Props to Volkswagen for trying to inject some fun into a family sedan that would otherwise be more associated with the sober, button-down demeanor of a desk-jockey commuter locked into a 9 -5 job with no hope for advancement beyond his cubicle walls with the neutral tone fabric. Take one tidy sedan powered by a very frugal turbo-diesel and DSG gearbox, dial-in the suspension from the more sporty GLI, dress it up with an aero kit and a shiny set of 18 inch alloy wheels, and the excitement dial gets turned up a couple of notches. Just how exciting is the Jetta TDI Cup Edition? I take the working man’s coach to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey and push it through the turns to find out if getting 40 mpg and having fun at the same time is possible.
The engine remains standard: It’s VW’s 140-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel four, mated to either a six-speed manual or the undeniably high-tech six-speed direct-shift gearbox automatic. No powertrain changes between the standard Jetta TDI and the Jetta TDI Cup Edition, but it does get a bigger set of binders in addition to the performance mods mentioned above.

Turning Laps at Laguna Seca
Sadly, the TDI has only 140 hp to its name, and worse, it’s reluctant to rev, making top speed and fast exits out of the corners a little difficult. Racing any diesel — whether it’s a family sedan or a semi-tractor — strikes me as the height of silliness. This tiny turbo-diesel engine doesn’t rev up and the usual mountain of torque doesn’t fully compensate for the stunted power curve. That’s not to say this Jetta TDI is without virtue. Its ability to haul five comfortably while delivering 40 mpg qualifies it as the family sedan of the future.
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a very good car in base trim, so I was surprised at just how much better the TDI Cup Edition is. The sport suspension and sway bars taken from the GLI transforms this Jetta from a doldrum commuter to an engaging companion. Turn-in response is excellent with a good amount of feedback. Even better, the improved handling comes at virtually no cost to the ride quality. This is still a very comfortable car for daily driving.
The Pirelli PZero Nero all-season tires are a great choice for daily street use, but a huge weakness when trying to turn some fast laps at the track. In addition to announcing myself at every corner from the tires squealing louder than a 10 year-old school girl, braking had to be initiated a little earlier and I had to be mindful of my speed carrying through the turns.

More Than Just a Pretty Face
Inside, sports seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel set this Jetta TDI apart from its lesser counterparts. A little flair was added with the brushed aluminum door sills.
The other significant change is plaid, bolstered seats that are much more embracing than the flat, leatherette chairs in our 2009 Jetta TDI tested last year. However, the $2160 premium over a base TDI is money well spent, as the suspension creates a wholesale change in how the Jetta drives. I was pleasantly surprised by the Jetta TDI Cup Edition’s sportier-yet-just-as-comfortable chassis.
Decals aside, the differences between the standard Jetta TDI and this Cup Edition aren’t all that dramatic — and that’s a good thing. In daily driving I thought the Jetta TDI Cup Edition was comfortable, wonderfully efficient, and even rather entertaining to drive. The Cup Edition amps up the fun-to-drive quotient just a bit without detracting from all those other benefits. On the open road, the turbo has time to spool up into is power band and it is actually fun squirting in/around traffic. “Shoot the hole! Shoot the hole!”
Even with the firmer damping and larger, low-profile tires, it does a great job absorbing road imperfections. The reduction in sidewalls has also improved the precision of the steering, which was quite good to begin with.
If you’re in the market for a Jetta TDI sedan and like to drive, this is your car. The firmer GLI suspension, larger brakes, and upgraded antiroll bars go a long way towards making the Jetta sedan exciting to drive. Of course those upgrades do nothing to address the modest horsepower of a TDI engine, but we’re especially sensitive to the TDI’s horsepower output because we flogged the TDI Cup Edition harder than an old horse headed to the glue factory around Mazda Raceway and could only muster 82 mph on the front straight. For spirited driving on the roadways near your hood, the suspension upgrades do the job of making you seek the long route home after a hard day at the office.

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