My wife's car is a bestselling, hybrid sedan. I often marvel at the technology as the whisper-quiet electric motor makes a smooth transfer of power to the four-cylinder gasoline engine. Then I drive a Volkswagen with a clean, turbo-diesel engine and I wonder why gas-electric hybrids have become the fuel-sippers of choice. This week's tester, a Jetta SportsWagen TDI from Village Volkswagen, showcases VW's turbo-diesel technology. The wagon gets 42 mpg highway and 30 mpg city. This is hybrid-like fuel economy packaged in a zippy little ride. Combine the fun-to-drive factor with a diesel engine designed to perhaps last 300,000 miles, and this becomes a screaming deal. "If maintained properly this (turbo-diesel) should have double the life of a conventional engine," said Dale Smith, general manager at Village Volkswagen.
DRIVING IMPRESSIONS: The Jetta SportsWagen is a pleasant runabout until you lean on your right foot a bit. Then: Oh my! The silky sixspeed transmission begins to work double-time as the turbo-diesel finds the sweet spot in its power curve. The tachometer sweeps right, then left, crazily to keep up with the quick-shifting tranny. I forget between test drives what a blast these diesel VWs can be to drive.
STYLING: Like all VWs the Jetta SportsWagen has a clean, elegant exterior design which should age gracefully. A new nose for 2010, makes the Jetta SportsWagen more-closely resemble the VW Golf than the ubiquitous chrome-accented Jetta sedans. Inside, our black-upholstered Jetta SportsWagen tester was typically austere, but completely functional. Seats were comfortable for my middle-age frame, and well bolstered for flinging the VW around area mountain roads. A spacious back seat and cargo area make the Jetta SportsWagen a good alternative for many small-SUV buyers.
BOTTOM LINE: Don't take my word for it, go drive one of these VW TDI pocket rockets and discover the goodness for yourself. Buy a Jetta SportsWagen TDI by June 30 and you can qualify for a $1,300 federal income tax credit.
TESTED MODEL: 2010 Jetta SportsWagen TDI.
ENGINE: 2.0 liter, 140 horsepower, turbo-diesel.
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic.
FUEL ECONOMY: 42 mpg highway, 30 mpg city.
BASE PRICE: $24,615.
AS TESTED: $29,214.