Thursday, September 25, 2008

PROOF: VW's Newer, Cheaper Diesel Beats Prius MPGs

It's this year's ultimate MPG comparison test: the just-released 2009 Volskwagen Jetta TDi diesel against the uber-popular 2008 Toyota Prius hybrid. And has it first, with nearly 500 miles of city and highway driving—and some very surprising results.

The Bottom Line
"It appears clear, no matter what the driving conditions, that the Toyota Prius will return around 44 mpg—if driven with a sane right foot. That's impressive, and that means the Prius remains the most fuel-efficient car on the market. The Jetta falls short in pure city driving, but it does meet (and barely beats) the Prius when it comes to highway fuel economy in our testing.

The price of fuel, of course, remains a big factor. On our test days, regular unleaded was $3.79 a gallon and diesel was $4.09. So on the city drive, which approximated a week's worth of stop-and-go commuting, the Jetta required about $10 more fuel to do the same job. Over a year, that would equate to about $500 if fuel prices stabilize. Granted, that's a big "if," and 500 bucks ain't nothing with an economy like ours. But the Jetta is eligible for a $1300 "Advanced Lean Burn Technology Motor Vehicle federal income tax credit," and $1300 buys a lot of diesel. Looked at another way, $1300 reduces the Jetta TDi's $22,640 base price to $21,340 if you include the destination charge. The base price of the 2008 Toyota Prius, by comparison, is $22,660. So on those terms, the Prius becomes $1320 more expensive than the new Jetta. Surprisingly enough, the Prius is not eligible for this tax credit, although Toyota may be gearing up for that fight.

But tax credits aside, when it comes down to which of these two popular efficient cars is more fun and more comfortable to drive everyday, it's an easy pick: We like the Jetta TDi, and the fuel-economy numbers in the real world for VW's new player make it—gasp!—a legit Prius fighter. "

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