2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI: Guess What? Hybrids Aren't the Only Way to Drive Green.
Diesels stink. They’re noisy, slow, smelly, and dirty. Right? Um, wrong. At least, not anymore. Chances are, you’ve never driven a modern diesel because you live in America. That means you’ve been missing out on some incredibly clean, green, and powerful engines that until now were only available on the other side of the Atlantic.
I recently got some seat time in the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI and came away more than impressed. Here’s a really nice compact sedan that got me 40mpg during my drive (which consisted of a lot of urban and mountain driving) and none of the compromises you would normally expect from a car that gets that kind of fuel economy. What kinds of compromises, you ask? Oh, things like tepid acceleration, no off-the-line oomph, and lack of a fun-to-drive factor.
The Jetta TDI is among the first of the German manufacturers’ push to introduce Americans to the benefits of the contemporary diesel engine. Modern diesels utilize all manner of clever technology to ensure their emissions are comparable to that of a gasoline engine while providing at least 20-30% better fuel economy. In addition, diesels tend to make most of their power and torque at lower engine speeds, making them particularly gutsy off the line. I’ve long thought that because of this, diesels are particularly well suited to the way Americans drive.
This Jetta is truly a joy to drive. Like most German cars, it has a feeling of heft and solidity to it that is rare in Asian and American cars. It tracks down the road with great confidence, smothering road imperfections with uncanny control and winding through tight corners in a most surefooted manner. But what sets this particular Jetta from its siblings is its 2.0L turbodiesel engine. It may have only 140HP, but it also has 236 lb/ft of torque. Believe me, it feels plenty quick. Just as importantly, it’s extremely quiet and refined. You wouldn’t know it was a diesel, except for that great slug of torque when you hit the go pedal. And like I mentioned earlier, it got me 40mpg during my drive.
This is a green car for people who love to drive. A Prius may get all the attention these days, but it doesn’t drive like this Jetta does. By comparison, a Prius feels anesthetized, detached, even boring to drive. With the Jetta TDI, you’ll use less of our precious resources and enjoy the drive at the same time.
So why isn’t America flocking to diesels? For one, these new generation clean diesel engines haven’t been around very long. Hybrids, on the other hand, have been around in America for about 10 years (geez, has it been that long already?). In other words, they’ve got a big head start on diesels. More serious, though, is diesel fuel price instability. From 2007 until a few months ago, diesel has generally been much more expensive than gasoline. At such prices, going diesel just doesn’t pencil. Yes, you may be getting 20-30% better fuel economy, but if diesel’s price premium is more than that as it has been for much of the last couple of years, it’s hard to financially justify going this route. Right now, diesel costs less than gasoline and if prices stay that way, going diesel can save you some coin. Unfortunately, with oil price volatility being the way it is right now, it’s impossible to say whether diesel prices will hold relative to gasoline.
I wish we as a nation would consider lowering taxes on diesel relative to gasoline to encourage diesel use (just like the Europeans have done for years). I think of diesel as a good short-term solution to reducing our fossil fuel use and increasing our energy independence, especially since diesel infrastructure is already in place. Longer term, we can think about other technologies such as pure electrics or hydrogen fuel cells, but those will require years of infrastructure development. In the meantime, why not embrace diesel? It’s here, and it’s ready.
In any case, the Jetta TDI represents not only a pain-free way to drive greener, but a truly enjoyable and rewarding driving experience as well. Try it for yourself and see – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.