If fuel economy is a major priority with you when looking for a new car, don’t make the mistake of beginning your shopping with electric vehicles (a limited market, to be sure) and ending with gas-electric-hybrids.
There is another choice out there.
Just listen for a moment.
I’m sure there are those of you with memories of past diesel passenger vehicles that were dirty, noisy, and difficult to find fuel for outside of highway truck stops.
Well, new standards have cleaned up the fuel, the engines are not nearly as noisy as they once were (in fact, it’s difficult to tell you’re driving a diesel in some models), and more and more stations seem to have a diesel pump somewhere on their fueling islands these days.
I recently had the opportunity to drive the 2011 Jetta TDI put out by Volkswagen. It’s available with gasoline engines, of course, but the 2-0-liter four-cylinder turbo direct injection diesel (hence the TDI designation) is really what it’s all about when it comes to performance and saving fuel.
It delivers fuel economy rated at 30 mpg city, 42 highway, or a good 10-15 mpg over EPA figures for the 2.0- and 2.5-liter gas engines. That more than makes up for the extra few cents a gallon you often have to pay for diesel at the pump.
If I have done the math right, diesel currently is running about 6 percent (not six cents) more per gallon than gasoline, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, but you are getting about a 33 percent increase in fuel economy. That may be off a digit or two, but not enough to take away from the point.
With the TDI, you also get a great driving experience, thanks to the increased torque diesel delivers. Horsepower for the TDI is rated at only 140, which is less than the 170 that Jetta SE and SEL models equipped with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine are rated at.
But torque jumps to 236 pound-feet for the TDI compared to 177 for the 2.5 five-cylinder, giving it the capability of going from zero-to-60 in 8.7 seconds, according to company timers. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder sends out only 125 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels and zero-to-60 is clocked with an egg timer.
Especially with the standard six-speed manual transmission, the Jetta TDI offers a fun experience behind the wheel. But if you don’t have the strength or endurance to operate the clutch in rush hour conditions, a six-speed automatic manual gearbox also is offered in the TDI.
As for amenities, the Jetta is all-new for 2011 and nearly three inches longer than its predecessor, up 1o 182.2 inches. That results in a bit more room in the rear seat, and the trunk is quite roomy at 15.5 cubic feet. That’s extremely spacious for its class, bigger than VW’s outgoing Passat, for example.
The company did skimp on some of the materials used in the interior, especially when compared to previous Jetta models, a criticism duly noted by other reviewers.
But that also has allowed the company to keep the Jetta’s price in line with its competitors. To me, it’s not a deal breaker.
Though you can get a base Jetta for less than $16,000, you’re going to pay more for the TDI, which may be a bigger consideration than the cost of diesel fuel when it comes to your budget.
The 2011 TDI starts at just under $23,000 or just over $24,000 for models equipped with the touchscreen navigation system.
But that still keeps the Jetta TDI in line with most hybrid vehicles, and it’s a lot more fun to drive.