The cars we loved.
For the longest time, diesel cars were associated with dirty smelly fumes. Usually an old Mercedes or Volvo was the culprit. They had great gas mileage, but no one ever mistaken them for performance cars as they chugged down the street sounding like trucks.
That’s changed now, mostly due to efforts from Volkswagen. It pioneered a small number of innovations that eventually lead to the first “clean diesel” being sold in the US, often in the form of Jetta sedans. Besides redefining the image of a diesel car in America, Jettas have a reputation with tuner boys as being an affordable German sports sedan, a kind of step up from the Honda’s and Toyota’s of the world. Having German origins certainly means the opportunity exists for flaunting a level of performance (or the perception of it). For Volkswagen, that usually meant cars with a GTI badge were usually the only performance game in town. The TDI (Turbo Direct Injection) provided modest turbo boost while using a highly efficient direct injection system for fuel delivery. As efficent was it was (is), it was far from being the basis of a performance model. Until now.
In an attempt to raise the performance profile of its TDI cars, Volkswagen launched a race series called the TDI Cup in 2008. The cars (almost always Jettas) in this series were very close to stock run of the mill Jettas but with beefed up suspensions and ground effects. They created a lot of interest amongst the target audience of younger drivers but were never available as a direct factory model option.
That changed when Volkswagen announced plans to sell a Cup inspired version of the Jetta simply called “TDI Cup Jetta”. With less power than a VR6 GLI equipped car, the Cup uses the workhorse 2.0 litre TDI engine. It only makes 140 hp, but the torque is significant at 236 lb-ft (European cars have 170hp). With so much low end oomph, the Cup is faster to 60 than the heavier VR6 equipped GLI. A six-speed DSG makes the most of the low end power band. While the actual race car’s interior was gutted, the street version comes loaded with a comfortable business-like interior, bolstered with sport seats and full instrumentation. Other luxuries like heated seats and brush aluminum like accents add a touch of luxury and flair to an otherwise stark cabin.
Outside the Cup refrains from the boy racer instincts that seem to afflict sport versions of many of today’s compact cars. Subtle ground effects and a lowered suspension riding on 18 in wheels announces performance and style without being too loud about it. Other than the wheels, a larger front air intake and rear door panel decals are the only real clue that this is something more than a regular TDI. At $25k, the Cup package is less than a loaded GLI and offers something close to 41 miles per gallon on the highway. It also qualifies for the $1,300 federal tax credit usually associated with tree hugger rides like Toyota’s Prius or the Honda Insight. A 0 to 60 time of 8.4 seconds isn’t the best in its class, but the Cup promises handling and road holding abilities beyond any car than can get 40+ miles per gallon. Now people who enjoy driving and saving the environment really do have an alternative to the Prius. For those who want to spend more money on a similar car while keeping itin the family (sorta) Volkswagen’s corporate sibling Audi builds an A3 TDI with similar specs, but at thousands more and a bit more polish.