It's common knowledge around the office that AutoTrader's long-term Jetta has a name, Olga. At first I thought it silly and I just didn't get it, but after an extended weekend with the diesel powered Jetta, I began to realize the sheer genius of this car. It doesn't matter what you call it, because what really matters is that Volkswagen has built an affordable, fuel-sipping car that many people care about enough to give it a name. It's an affordable car that stirs actual feelings.
I've never developed real feelings for any economy car. My head gets the value of a low price and 40+ MPG, but my heart always remains unmoved. What VW has accomplished with the Jetta TDI is actually quite brilliant. They've built a car that's reasonably priced (around $24,000) that sips fuel to the tune of 42 mpg on the highway, and it's actually rewarding to drive. The balance between a comfortable ride and responsive handling is just about perfect.
The Jetta's new, more spacious interior is a huge bonus in my book. This new Jetta is just big enough to be comfortable and just compact enough to be manageable in tight parking lots. Even though I spent most of my time driving Olga alone, there's something comforting about the extra width in the cabin that makes me feel relaxed. For my money, I'd opt for the 2011 VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen. The Sportwagen's extra bit of cargo space and slick design would seal the deal for me.
The one thing I don't like about this car is the manually adjusting driver's seat - I expected power seats in the TDI, especially since many the diesel's efficient engine and nearly 650-mile range lend themselves well to long road trips. In a perfect world, the interior would be a little quieter on the highway, too.
As my time with Olga came to an end, I realized that it's really the diesel engine that gives this car such an unusual and quirky character; the high fuel economy is just the icing on the cake. I also really enjoyed how the car's comfortable highway-cruising demeanor, that felt equally happy bolting from one stop light to another.
An economy car you can actually learn to love? It's not an easy feat, but Volkswagen seems to have accomplished it in Olga, our spunky little Jetta TDI.