If you still believe that diesel-powered cars are slow, smokey, and noisy, it’s really time to let go of that notion.
I’ve recently spent some time and lots of miles at the wheels of two different Volkswagens running modern TDI “Clean Diesel” engines, and I promise you they are anything but slow, smokey or noisy. Actually, they are quick, meet all modern emissions standards, and other than the expected soft rattling sound at idle, are anything but noisy.
You may recall that VW has been selling diesel powered cars in America since the 1970s. And while those early 90 horsepower diesels got great gas mileage, they were slow, smokey and noisy. Well again, forget all that. VW’s new 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel Four is a modern, high tech, fabulous powerplant that’s got more low end torque than some sixes, and is a joy to drive, no matter the packaging: in my case, the packages I tested it in are the charmingly retromodern Beetle, and the crisply Teutonic Jetta.
A few words about the Beetle. My Toffee Brown Metallic tester screamed 70s from every pore, but only in terms of its wonderful buglike shape and colors, not at all in terms of its technology or equipment levels. In this car, the engine was backed by VW’s superb 6-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission; its technically a manual trans, but with some very bright mechanical robots managing the clutch and shifter.
You drive it just like an automatic, or when you feel racy or want more control, you can use the steering wheel mounted shifter paddles. And is a smooth operator too, with none of the herki-jerkiness of some early autoclutch manuals. In this application, the two-liter turbodiesel is rated at 140 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much but is really plenty, and a more meaningful 236 pounds-feet of torque, which is the “low end grunt” that actually moves the car. And its plenty quick, with lots of punch off the line and a fat mid-range powerband; you don’t need to throttle this car hard to make it move, just learn how to “surf the torque curve” and you’ll pass anyone easily on most any road.
And get great mileage doing so. The turbodiesel Bug’s EPA ratings are 32 Average with 29 City and 39 highway. Meaning on the highway, this thing’s got serious range. My combined city/highway tests averaged well into the mid 30s. Among the many things I love about VWs, and its particularly visible on the Beetle, is the way this company uses high quality plastics in its artfully designed interiors.
Everything about the Beetle’s cabin just smacks of quality, with attractive use of plastics, faux metal trim and tough yet supple vinyl upholstery that looks and feels expensive. And oh by the way, the rest of the car is a joy to drive too, with sharp, crisp handling and braking, and a very comfy ride. My biggest gripe with the whole car is that once you’ve “popped” the rear trunklid with the button on the keyfob, its a bit of a nailbreaker to stick your fingers underneath to lift it up. It either needs to pop up further, or have a little recess that you can more easily stick your hand under. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this car, and would buy one with my own money if its what I wanted and needed.
I also put nearly 1000 miles on the new-for-2015 Jetta with the same fabulous TDI engine as in the Beetle. About the only difference in this installation is that my Jetta tester came with a 6-speed manual transmission and an even higher set of EPA ratings; 36 average, 31 City, and 46 on the highway. I love the Jetta’s packaging; it’s a sharp looking mid-sized sedan, with plenty of room front or back, and a meaningful trunk area too. It was great fun to smoke another car away from the light, then shift into higher gears, and just ride the torque curve up to freeway speeds and beyond. There’s plenty of power to stay in 6th on the freeway even for modest hills and climbs; passing only asks a shift to 5th or maybe 4th, and some mid range throttle, and you’re gone.
Like the Beetle, the Jetta also boasts high quality materials in the cabin; maybe its not quite as “arty” as in the Bug, but sturdy handsome plastics and materials that are tough and look like they’ll last forever.
And this car really handles well too; that’s why every carmakers goal is to handle like a “German sport sedan.” This Jetta has quick sharp steering, flat cornering, a good ride and strong brakes. I honestly couldn’t find a thing about it I didn’t like.
Before you sign on for the newest hybrid (and don’t get me wrong; I like and even own a hybrid) check out these fabulous turbodiesel VeeDubs; they are long on power and even longer on a gallon of gas, while meeting modern day emission standards and no more bad habits. German carmakers are really supporting and pushing the diesel agenda in North America, with good reason. Now, if the American government would stop taxing diesel as a commercial fuel, and bring the price down to normal gasoline price levels, the bargain would be that much better, and the case for modern diesels that much stronger. Window stickers for my two testers just below…