Christopher Little

Review: 2015 VW Jetta TDI SEL

Months ago, we decided that we would, once again, make the pilgrimage to the Motor City to cover the North American International Auto Show. It would be our third year returning to the floor of the Cobo Center, to walk amongst the thousands of international media, and to be some of the first to glimpse the best of what the industry had to offer. And, like last year, we decided that the best way to reach Detroit was by car. Not only does it keep our costs down and provide the Limited Slip Blog team some extended quality time together, it offers us the unique opportunity to get an honest sense of what is is like to live with a car. With over 1,400 miles and 20+ hours of drive time, there’s an opportunity to test every feature, use every option, and get an innate sense of what it is like to live with a car. This year, we reached out to our friends at Volkswagen, who provided a 2015 Jetta TDI SEL for our trip.

2015 VW Jetta TDI 3

The Jetta itself might not be new. In fact, we drove the substantially revised 2014 Jetta 1.8T SE last year. With a new rear suspension and several other tweaks, it brought a more mature demeanor to the car. For 2015 however, VW have provided a number of cosmetic and aerodynamic updates. On top of that, the 2.0L TDI engine we first sampled in the 2013 Passat TDI SE has been replaced with more powerful and more efficient variant. What better opportunity to test VWs new features and put the efficiency of the new powerplant to the test? Unfortunately, all was not meant to be.

Under hood, a new 2.0L diesel engine gets 10 more horsepower than the previous model for a total of 150. Peak torque remains unchanged: 236 lb-ft at 1,750 rpm. Fundamentally, the biggest change is the integration of the intercooler directly into the intake manifold. This helped with responsiveness and efficiency. However, internal friction has also been reduced by 15%, giving the 2015 Jetta TDI a net 4 mpg boost over previous years.

2015 VW Jetta TDI 4

A new grille, front bumper, and headlights are at the forefront of the updates for 2015. But while the new three-slat grille and LED DRLs give the Jetta a fresh look, there’s more going on than just a visual refresh. The new bumper and rain gutters at the base of the windshield reduce drag. Further, on the 1.8T and 2.0 TDI models, the radiator grille now incorporates a closable shutter. On cold start-ups, like most we experienced, the shutter stays closed to help the engine warm up more quickly. While underway, the shutter can close again to provide extra aero gains. Around back, a new trunk lid, tail lights, and rear bumper finish the look. Inside, a new multi-function steering wheel and updated instrument cluster provide the driver with a slightly different feel.

Our tester, the top-trim SEL model, included all the available options. Power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, navigation, keyless entry, and a Fender Premium Audio System provide an upscale feel in a delightfully minimalistic package. The Driver Assistance and Lighting Package adds blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, forward collision warning, and adaptive front lighting to add several active safety features.

2015 VW Jetta TDI 10

10 hours, 700 miles – the trip from LSB HQ to our hotel in Detroit spanned just beyond the range of a single tank of diesel. At our fuel stop, we calculated that the Jetta had averaged just under 40 mpg at 73 mph. We were impressed both with the efficiency and the Jetta’s refinement and ergonomics. The cabin was quiet, the seats were firm and supportive, and the suspension softened the brittle roads of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. We were also glad for the TDI SEL’s extra features. Navigation was keeping us on track; the combination of satellite radio and the Fender audio system kept us entertained. All the while, the suite of driver assistance features remained vigilant for those times when long stretches of open road could have easily lead to driver distraction.

2015 VW Jetta TDI 5

Despite best efforts, sometimes things don’t go quite according to plan. Such was the case with our Jetta TDI. But in the interest of journalistic integrity and a real-world ownership experience, we feel it is our duty to share it with you. As it turns out, the Jetta didn’t get the opportunity to make the return trip with us. It also explains why we only have “before” trip photos. On Monday night, after a long day covering the auto show, the Jetta suffered an electrical fault. As I made a u-turn, I misjudged the radius and jumped the curb with the left rear wheel. The car stalled, but I was able to shift the DSG gearbox to neutral and restart the engine while we coasted out of the corner. Back into drive, I thought all was well. Seconds later, the car died again. This time, there would be no restarting.

2015 VW Jetta TDI 1

I managed to get the car back into neutral, but pressing the start/stop button yielded no result. Now coasting in traffic, I noticed the entire dashboard was dark. No, scratch that…everything was dark. No engine, no lights, no power steering, no ABS. I guided the car onto the unplowed shoulder and brought the lifeless Jetta to a stop. One very cold hour, a brief stop at Chili’s, and a ruined pair of shoes later, the Jetta was hauled onto a flatbed and towed to the local dealership. That skips over the time we spent in the back of a police cruiser – it turns out that cars don’t stay warm very long in 18F weather without any power –, the help of Volkswagen Roadside Assistance, and the folks over at LaFontaine VW. Needless to say, we’re very thankful to everyone that helped resolve the ordeal.

2015 VW Jetta TDI 9

The diagnosis from the dealership was that the under-hood fuse box had melted. They admitted they hadn’t seen anything like it before. Thankfully, they also determined that my striking the curb was just a coincidence and no damage had been done to the suspension or wheel. While my innocence was slightly relieving, the replacement part couldn’t be sourced and installed until two days after we were scheduled to leave. That…was a problem. Unfortunately, the next morning we squeezed ourselves into our rental car, a 2012 Toyota Yaris, and uncomfortably buzzed our way back to New York. It turns out that the Jetta had one last thing going for it. It bested the Yaris’ average mileage by 10 mpg.

-Christopher Little

2015 VW Jetta TDI SEL
Driver Assistance Package & Lighting Package $1,690
Destination Charges $820
As Tested MSRP $30,020

Too Grown Up: 2014 VW Jetta SE
All Grown Up, Still a Bit Short: 2012 VW Beetle
The Euro Option: 2013 VW Passat TDI

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