Driving in the Mountains

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 29 May 2011 - 8:22am

We're spending the weekend at our trailer in Buena Vista. It was too windy yesterday to ride our bikes that we brought up, so we decided to drive down Highway 50 over Monarch Pass down to Gunnison. This weekend has been my first chance to drive my new VW Jetta SportWagen TDI in the mountains, so I was interested to see how it handled the higher altitude and steeper grades. The 2.0L TDI makes plenty of power to ascend even a 7% grade at 11,000 feet.

What I was even more impressed with, though, was how well the DSG transmission worked on the descent. I'd already noticed that when braking, the DSG will downshift to help slow down using engine braking. What I had not thought about was how nicely that would work when descending a 7% grade. When coming down from the pass, holding the brake for a moment would cause the DSG to downshift one or two gears. It would hold that gear until I touched the throttle again. It worked perfectly to control the speed coming down a steep grade. I know that I can use the Tiptronic mode to do this manually, and that it will even automatically match the engine speed, but I was impressed that in automatic mode it did this so well on its own.

My previous vehicle, a GMC Sierra K-2500 truck with the Duramax Diesel and Allison transmission would do downhill engine braking, but I think only when it was in Tow/Haul mode. It also worked quite well to control the speed, especially when we were pulling the trailer.

I was also quite pleased to see that for the trip to and from Gunnison, including going over Monarch Pass twice, we still averaged 36 MPG!