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Auto Corner: 2013 Jetta TDI Review - Suave, Sophisticated, Scintillating

01 September 2013  

Hybrid-like mileage without cumbersome batteries.

Sometimes classics are best. In an effort to be healthier, more of us are returning to more organic foods. In a similar way, the rush to increase gas mileage has led some automakers back to their roots—the diesel engine. Diesel engines have long produced better gas mileage than gasoline engine, but they were long frowned on in the United States. Older diesel engines were loud, clunky and dirty.

For 2013, Volkswagen and a few other automakers are offering new and clean diesel engines that deliver hybrid-like gas mileage without all the hybrid technology. We recently spent a week in the Volkswagen Jetta TDI (diesel) and found it to be a nice alternative to hybrids. The Jetta was sporty, quick around town, and extremely comfortable.

In the Jetta TDI we measured 42 miles for every gallon on the highway, and about 30 mpg in the city. When driving aggressively, we still managed to log 609 miles on a single tank. More conservative drivers could surely add a couple hundred miles to that.

With fuel prices stabilized but high (at least compared to 10 years ago), we all want better gas mileage. We often hear about or think "hybrid" when shopping high mileage vehicles. In the last 10 years gas-electric hybrids have come a long ways. Today consumers can find comfortable and competent hybrids in every vehicle segment—large luxury sedans, SUVs, mid-size and compact sedans.

While I have become a big fan of hybrids, there are two considerations for long-term buyers. First, even the best of hybrids must hide their large batteries somewhere in the vehicle's trunk or floorboards. This results in lost storage space on all hybrid vehicles. Secondly, if you plan to own a hybrid beyond about 8 years from its manufacture date, you may face replacing the vehicle's batteries, at a cost of thousands of dollars. (As with cell phones and laptops, each battery has its own lifespan, but 8-10 years or about 140,000 miles seems to be normal for hybrid auto batteries. On most hybrids, once the battery dies, the car is incapacitated until it is replaced.)

Volkswagen's Jetta TDI offers a nice alternative to this. It delivers hybrid-like mileage, combined with European style and handling. Jetta TDI buyers won't have to worry about spending thousands of dollars to replace those hybrid batteries. While slightly pricier than its hybrid counterparts, this turbo 4 cylinder packs enough torque to peg the fun meter for years.

Volkswagen's Jetta is a comfortable four-door sedan. It's also available as a wagon. In either variant, many Jetta TDI buyers become lifelong loyal fans of the Volkswagen diesel powertrain.

Under the hood Volkswagen's four-cylinder, 2.0 liter diesel cranks out 140 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. No, that isn't a typo, this is a torque-making machine packed into the front of a light 4-door. A manual transmission makes for especially exciting driving. Add about $1,100 for an automatic transmission if you prefer.

Inside, the Jetta shows its German engineering. The interior is simple and purposeful. While the sedan hugs turns, its seats remain comfortable even after longer drives. The space for four adults is surprisingly adequate—especially compared to a Toyota Pruis or other high-mileage hybrids. Interior safety includes six airbags.

If you hunger for both great gas mileage and fun drivability in your next vehicle, then a spin around the block in a Jetta TDI may help you determine if you want to own a hybrid or a high-mileage diesel.

© 2013 John Dickerson and John Kehlenbeck, Horsepower Auto Reviews

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John Dickerson, Auto Reviews

Each month John Dickerson tests a worthy car. From smoking teenagers at stoplights to cramming groceries and small appliances into the trunk, Dickerson examines the features you actually care about, like how well a spilled mocha cleans off the upholstery. Dickerson was raised on industrial pollution, deer venison and American steel in Detroit, Michigan. His co-workers often find him in a trance, slumped over his keyboard, uttering words like “torque steer, horsepower-to-displacement ratio” and “nav system.”