Review originally published in Examiner.com May 2010
Race on Sunday, sell on Monday. That’s been the motto of many auto manufacturers since the dawn of the automotive age. In fact, the first car race in the United States, in 1895, was staged to encourage domestic manufacture of automobiles. It’s no surprise, then, that Volkswagen took the diesel-powered Jetta TDI racing, and from there made a streetable replica that VW calls the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition.
Volkswagen didn’t just take a single team or two to compete in an established class. Rather, Volkswagen of America has sponsored an entire race series called the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup, purportedly to encourage a fresh generation of up-and-coming drivers, all vetted and approved for the limited number of seats. As the name of the race series suggests, the cars are all VW Jettas powered by Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter turbocharged clean diesels but fitted with the suspension and brakes of the performance-oriented VW Jetta GLI. The cars are equally prepared by VW and shuffled by VW for each race, making for very close competition at each race, with the drivers beholden to their own skills rather than their mechanics’.
Of course, for Volkswagen, one of the specially-prepped VWs will win. Another p.r. plus, of course, is that the series suggests there’s some excitement to be had behind the wheel of a diesel-powered Volkswagen. Hence the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition.
As with the racer, the street version of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition is powered by the same Volkswagen 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel as the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI we used for a long-distance highway-speed fuel economy test and the Volkswagen Golf TDI we drove in Germany. In other words, it’s not fast but it is strong. VW rates the diesel at only 140 horsepower but a thumping 236 lb-ft of torque. The power peak comes at a diesel-typical low 4000 rpm and there’s not much sense revving it far beyond that as the engine comes up against an impenetrable wall of maximum rpm. It’s a natural rev limiter.
On the other hand, max torque forms a plateau from 1750 and 2500 rpm. For the most part, it’s better to short shift the Jetta TDI Cup Edition and let the torque talk. We found the keeping revs between 2500 and 4000 rpm gave the best results. Volkswagen doesn’t make any outlandish claims. Look for 0-60 mph with the manual transmission at about 7.8 seconds, the DSG automatic (with paddle shifting) in 8.1 seconds. Our test Jetta TDI Cup Edition had the six-speed manual transmission and we found it not only an excellent shifter but the gears spaced right for winding back roads.
Speaking of which, the suspension of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition digs into back roads with a confidence of a true sport sedan. The ride that will delight the enthusiast driver who’s used to such things, but it will jiggle the casual passenger into thinking rude thoughts about the owner. Bigger anti-roll bars and firmer springs are obviously under the Jetta TDI Cup Edition somewhere.
Eighteen-inch “Charleston” wheels with all-season tires are standard and Volkswagen substitutes larger brake discs with red calipers for the Jetta TDI Cup Edition.
Despite the respectively speaking mountain of torque, there’s no torque steer and except for the occasional slip on sandy or slippery pavement, the TDI Cup Edition is balanced so well it’s almost difficult to tell and it’s not important to know it’s a front drive vehicle.
Because of its less than neck-snapping acceleration, the Jetta TDI Cup Edition will be a boring drive out where roads were laid out using a straightedge and T-square. However, for the right driver, the sporty diesel Jetta will be entertaining on a winding country road. With all that torque, the TDI Cup Edition has a particular fondness for climbing hills, but oddly enough, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition shares a certain fun factor with the Mazda Miata. It’s not the Miata’s sporty exhaust note–the Jetta TDI Cup Edition has sounds like any other diesel Jetta– but both are exercises in momentum conservation. There’s no horsepower Band-Aid for a lack of driving skill. The Jetta TDI Cup addition rewards the smooth driver with competent cornering and a lack of intemperance. If frantic is favored, shop somewhere else.
The same goes for interior styling. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition comes with sport seats, with deep bolstering with firm sides and a patterned “Interlagos” cloth insert. A sport steering wheel is leather covered in what feels like a very smooth suede. The car grips you. You grip the car. Everyone is happy.
Not everyone is enthralled with the Thunderbunny body kit on the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition, however, some thinking the oversized air inlets at the front are a bit overwrought for a car with such a conservative power output. Others–including us–appreciate the impudent attitude the aggressive bodywork gives the TDI Cup Edition, a mobile chip on the shoulder from the smallest guy in the class.
The field for the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup is limited in drivers per year. Similarly, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition is a limited production model. VW of America promises no more than 2,500 examples will be made. It’s a question, however, whether Volkswagen will find enough mature drivers with a taste for an extravagant exterior, superb handling, modest acceleration but…if this were a road race…a lot less time in the pits for refueling. The EPA fuel economy estimates are 30 mpg city / 41 mpg highway. In a week of driving, mostly with the pedal screaming for mercy most of the time, we averaged about 35 mpg.
A quibble: We did not like how the average mpg reset itself every time the car was started. Let us make that decision, VW.
A not so quibble: Price. Our test 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition had a base price of $24,990, including the seats, steering wheel and so on…except for the body kit, which adds $2,300 to the bottom line. With other options, including a $1,000 sunroof, the sticker price for our Candy White 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition came to $30,013.
That price pushes the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition into rare air for a Jetta, even one with diesel thriftiness combined with authentic sports handling. It takes a special customer to appreciate the special properties of the TDI Cup Edition. Drivers, start your checkbooks.
Like any other special limited edition model—only 1,051 made in one model year—the Jetta TDI Cup Edition will come with a more common model, so while a mid-trim 2010 Jetta would , an original-owner 37,000 mile TDU Cup Jetta sold for $17,750 at auction at Bring a Trailer. In its one year on the market, Volkswagen sold 10, 051 of the diesel sport sedans. One won’t be too hard to find but there aren’t a lot, I’ve seen multiple dealer olistings on the interned for sub-50,000 mile, no damage TDI Cup Jettas all for over $20,000.
Want to join with likeminded VW Jetta TDI Cup Edition enthusiasts? Try the Facebook group dedicated to the model.