Road Trip ? Combined, we fly to 30 to 60 new car introductions each year and frankly, airline travel is starting to get old. So, when the opportunity arises we love to take a road trip.
We?ve also found that driving is quite an efficient way to travel under 700 miles, because we can normally make the drive in one day. A good example is a trip we take once or twice a year is to visit Bill?s family in Western Montana. Flying one-way takes from 7 to 12 hours depending on the connections and including time on the way to and at the airport. We can easily make the 650-mile drive in 10 to 12 hours door-to-door, plus the drive gives us a chance to listen to two or three new audio books and we get to see some amazing scenery.
A big part of the making the road trip, for us, is finding an interesting car for the trip. For our most recent trip, a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI? SEL was available when we wanted to travel, and it turned out to be a perfect car ? comfortable and especially efficient. Barbara had driven the Jetta TDI with the DSG automatic transmission a couple weeks earlier while in California visiting friends and relatives. She liked it so much and was so impressed by the fuel economy and comfort; she thought it would be a perfect car for our road trip, too.
We make a good travel team because we both like to get an early start, which for this trip was 4:30 am. In early October, that meant the first few hours of the drive were in darkness so we couldn?t see the scenery along Highway 14 which runs on the north side of the Columbia River east of Portland, Ore., and through the famous Columbia River Gorge. However, it did give us a great chance to try out the new Bi-Xenon headlights and Adaptive Front-lighting System, which are part of Volkswagen?s new Driver Assistance Package (DAP).
On high beams, and traveling near the posted 55 mph speed limit in that area, the Bi-Xenon headlights, light up the road five to ten seconds ahead of the car on high beam. That?s especially important on the forested roads like this one where the deer don?t seem to want to use the assigned crossing areas. The headlights also turn in the direction of the Jetta?s steering wheel, up to 15 degree?s, to help ?see around the corners.? The Jetta is also equipped with driving lights that do an excellent job of lighting the area to the sides and about 75 feet in front of the car. Overall, the lighting system does an excellent job of making night time driving safer.
In addition, the DAP system includes blind spot monitoring, Rear Traffic Alert and Forward Collision Warning systems which are important new safety features. When the lights are off, there are cool looking LED daytime running lights in an ?L? pattern.
With about a third of our drive from the Portland area to Helena, Mont. being on two-lane highways, passing power was important so we didn?t get stuck behind slow moving traffic. The 2015 Jetta TDI is powered by Volkswagen?s all-new diesel engine platform, the EA288. The TDI Clean Diesel is the first application of the Modular Diesel Matrix engine platform which is the basis of all future U.S.-market four-cylinder diesel engines.
The Jetta application is a 150-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 236-lb.ft. of torque. The new TDI produces 10 more horsepower and the peak torque is generated at only 1,750 rpms, or half at half the engine speed as the previous diesel. Our car had the standard six-speed manual transmission but it?s also available with a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. The manual transmission is super smooth offering positive shifts through well-spaced gear ratios. The TDI accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, but we thought it best demonstrated its power when passing, where it could quickly accelerate to three digit speeds if needed.
The manual transmission version has an EPA fuel economy rating of 31 mpg city and 46 mpg highway (the DSG is rated 31/45 mpg). We averaged 46.7 mpg for the entire trip which included going from near sea level to as high as 6,500 feet crossing several mountain passes. We drove about five miles per hour over the posted speed limit, which in many areas was 75 mph. During Barbara?s trip to California she averaged 49.5 mpg in the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI with DSG automatic transmission, but Barbara usually gets better mileage with her more conservative driving habits.
Volkswagen did a total redesign of the Jetta for the 2011 model year making it significantly larger. For the 2015 model the design was enhanced to give it a modern upscale look using treatments like the lighting package. There was a strong emphasis on changes that improved the Jetta?s aerodynamics in the updated design including a new bumper and air intakes, updated rain gutters and sill covers with wheel spoilers. In addition to the more efficient engine, the radiator grille in the TDI has a closeable shutter that sends the airflow around the car when the engine doesn?t need as much airflow. The shutters also help warm the engine faster to get it to the desired operating temperature sooner.
The interior of the Jetta TDI SEL we drove is simple and user friendly but there is no bling. The leatherette seats, which are difficult to tell from real leather, are heated in the front. It?s very much a driver?s car; the seats are comfortable and supportive and were very capable of delivering us in good shape after nearly 12 hours in the car. A couple things we would change, if we were in charge, would be to use a larger navigation display screen placed higher on the center stack, this one is about the same size as a typical smartphone. We?d also use a sliding sun visor on both sides, not just the driver?s side.
A sightseeing excursion from Helena to Butte, Mont. gave us a chance to try the rear seat out on Bill?s mother for a few hours, and she had no complaints. The cargo space is a spacious 15.5 cubic feet which can be expanded by folding the 40/60 split rear seatbacks.
All models of the Jetta come with an extensive list of standard features including air conditioning, Bluetooth? connectivity, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, one-touch power windows and keyless entry.
We are far from audiophiles, but we did enjoy listening to our audio books on the Fender? Premium Audio System which is included at the SEL trim level of the TDI. Developed as a joint effort between guitar maker Fender and Panasonic?, the system delivers 400-watts of power through nine speakers and a trunk-mounted subwoofer.
Driving in Montana is especially fun because of the good road quality, higher speed limits and lack of traffic. The Jetta felt well-balanced and solid with no body sway on the tight or sweeping corners we experienced on the mountain passes. The strut-type front suspension uses coil springs, telescopic shocks and an anti-roll bar while the rear is a sophisticated multilink independent arrangement that features three transverse and one longitudinal link per wheel along with an anti-roll bar.
The 2015 Jetta, which is Volkswagen?s best-selling model, is offered 14 different trim levels based on the Jetta, GLI and Hybrid models. Jetta engine choices include a naturally aspirated four-cylinder, a turbocharged four-cylinder and the TDI diesel. There are also another six trim levels of the popular Jetta SportWagen.
All Jetta models have driver and front passenger front and side thorax airbags and Side Curtain Protection? airbags front and rear. There is also a standard suite of advanced electronic safety features, such as Anti-lock Braking, Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution, Electronic Stability Control and Hydraulic Brake Assist.
The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI S with 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel and six-speed manual transmission is priced at $22,640, including the destination charge. The Jetta TDI SEL with manual transmission we used on our road trip has a base price of $27,230 and included a much higher level of equipment. The Driver Assistance and Lighting Package added $1,680. The six-speed DSG automatic is a $1,100 option. Other gas-powered versions of the Jetta range in price from $18,145 for the S to $32,490 for the Hybrid SEL Premium.
One of the bonuses with driving is being able to change routes and explore new areas. On previous trips we had always gone the quickest route through Spokane and the Tri-Cities, Wash. On the return trip this time we went south from Coeur d?Alene through Moscow and Lewiston, Idaho and Walla Walla, Wash. The fall scenery of mowed fields, rolling hills, rows of grapes and spotless small towns was well worth the extra time and miles.
Previous models of the Jetta have received Consumer Reports ?Recommended? ratings, and we?re sure this new one will too. It?s a very good road car and is also a very economical way to travel. We calculated flying to Helena would have cost the two of us about $800 round trip and taken about the same time as driving, plus we would have had to rent a car once we arrived. Driving the Volkswagen TDI took 36 gallons of diesel fuel and cost $148.26 to drive the 1,700-mile round trip.
Of course, we did eat along the way including a very nice lunch at one of The Food Channel?s ?Dinners, Drive-Ins and Dives? show that was featured in Coeur d?Alene, Idaho ? Jimmy?s Down the Street. Now we can recommend both ?Jimmy?s? and the Jetta TDI with either transmission.