Green Racer for the Street

2010, Volkswagen, Jetta TDI Cup Edition

If ever there was a car that epitomizes "having your cake and eating it too," it's the Jetta TDI Cup Edition. Modeled after cars from an actual race series, this limited edition Jetta sedan delivers driving pleasure with near hybrid fuel economy, and remarkably high environmental sensitivity too.

According to the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the Pro Racing Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup, launched in 2008, was designed to help introduce clean diesel technology to the U.S. market and develop the best of motorsport's up-and-coming drivers. During the season, participants between the ages of 16 and 26 compete on road courses around North America in identical factory-prepared clean diesel Jetta TDI's.

Drivers earn a Pro Racing license from SCCA at the end of the season and there are cash prizes. The champion receives significant career advancement support from Volkswagen.

The TDI Cup Edition Jetta for us non-racers is a replica, but a pretty good one. It offers the body kit, which includes the low front bumper, wide open grille, side skirts and rear valance that are found on the TDI Cup race cars. The gleaming 18-inch Charleston alloy wheels with performance all-season tires add further distinction from standard TDIs.

Inside, the special edition provides sport seats with Interlagos cloth and a leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters when equipped with the DSG automatic transmission. The seat cloth reminded me of early VW GTIs, which featured red plaid fabric inserts.

It's not just for show, though. You also get larger brakes with red calipers, sway bars and the European sport tuned suspension from the performance-oriented GLI model.

The real racers enjoy 170 horsepower from their engine, while the street edition has "only" 140, but with Diesel, it's not just horsepower that makes a difference, it's torque. And the TDI Cup Edition's 2.0-liter four puts out a prodigious 236 lb.-ft. With the excellent DSG automatic, my tester felt fast and lively in daily street driving and hummed along contentedly on the freeway. A manual six-speed is also offered and I would love to have one in my car.

I consistently earned about 42 mpg on it. That's the same figure I averaged with my last Toyota Prius hybrid. The TDI engine receives a 7 for Air Pollution and 8 for Greenhouse Gas scores from the EPA, so it may be behind the hybrids (slightly), but it's way ahead in the fun-to-drive area.

Thanks to previous journalist testers who didn't reset the car's information computer, I know that my Candy White test car averaged 36.4 mpg over 2,821 miles and nearly 85 hours of driving. That's excellent.

Volkswagen gives folks who aren't well-to-do a chance to enjoy the European driving experience. The TDI Cup Jetta feels compact, but still holds five people nicely inside. Its angular, yet rounded-at-the-edges dash, with matte black surfaces and minimal distractions, is part of a perfect driver's environment. A black headliner, which I noticed on the sixth day of my test week, subtly creates a sense of seriousness and intimacy.

The paddle shift buttons on the fat leather wheel work well, if you bother to use them. The steering wheel, with built in audio controls, is manually adjustable for height and telescopes so you can set it just the way you want it.

My tester's base price was $24,990 (plus $750 destination), but the car itself benefited from several upgrades, including the handsome body kit ($2,350). The automatic transmission added $1,100 and the power sunroof another $1,000. The snazzy spoiler on the tail cost $499. With a mat kit and iPod integration, my ride came to $31,113. Hmmm. You don't need to be a millionaire to buy one, but you better have a good job!

I like the way VW sunroofs work. They use a dial, so instead of holding a toggle switch and waiting for the sunroof to open, you dial in the amount of openness you want and it goes there automatically.

VW Jettas have been built in Mexico for years and that is looking like a good thing. Consumer Reports, an organization not known for emotional evaluations, has the Jetta on its Recommended list.

The paint application on my tester was exceptionally good, with the white looking thick as frosting on a cupcake. The solid feel of the handles, quality door slam sounds and overall pleasure of starting it up and heading out make the Jetta, especially in TDI Cup Edition garb, a very satisfying experience. And with high fuel economy and clean emissions, it's a guilt-free one, too.

By Steve Schaefer

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Images of the 2010, Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Edition

Sporty doesn't do this car justice
Sporty doesn't do this car justice
Sleek TDI branding
Sleek TDI branding
Even the footsteps are marked
Even the footsteps are marked