Saturday, November 22, 2008

2009 Volkswagen Jetta Tdi: A High-Mileage Masterpiece

Among a wave of diesel cars and trucks — whose advanced emissions systems let them meet pollution rules in all 50 states -- the Jetta is the people’s choice, costing half as much as diesels from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The VW is also the current champion of diesel economy.

The Jetta is frugal in the middle years, with a rating of 30 miles a gallon in town and 41 on the highway. The tiny two-seat Smart is the only nonhybrid car that can match the 41 m.p.g. rating.

Since hybrids are the golden child in the public’s mind, talking about diesels necessitates a head-to-head comparison. But I’ve always argued that diesels and hybrids aren’t a zero-sum game. It’s possible to extol diesel’s virtues without dismissing hybrid technology, and vice-versa.

In that vein, if your commute involves tearing your hair out in freeway gridlock, a Prius or Civic Hybrid will still beat the mileage of a comparable diesel car. Diesel fans, no matter what you say on your blog, your old soot-spewing Rabbit will not touch those hybrids’ 40-50 m.p.g. in low-speed traffic. The same goes if you live in an urban paradise and spend 20 minutes driving 20 blocks.

But if you cruise relatively unhindered through suburban hill and exurban dale, the modern diesel has the clear edge in both economy and entertainment value. Even in the city, the Jetta’s 30-plus m.p.g. is a quantum leap over a conventional gasoline car.

That makes the VW a real solution to real problems. The TDI is easy on money, fuel and the planet. It just needs Americans to give it a spin and a fair shake.

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