- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

Buying an “alternative fuel” car doesn’t mean it has to be a hybrid vehicle. New diesel fuel technology is becoming so clean that it meets stringent emissions requirements in all 50 states.

Clean diesel is an increasingly attractive alternative for buyers looking to achieve high mileage. In some cases, the fuel economy mileage of diesel looks more attractive than that of hybrids.

A case in point is the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. This compact sedan with turbo-diesel injection technology mated to a six-speed manual transmission is EPA-rated to achieve 41 miles per gallon on the highway. However, putting up Jetta’s highway numbers to the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid for example, which gets 36 mpg highway, is not an apples-to-apples comparison, because hybrids notably get their best numbers in city mileage. The 2010 Fusion Hybrid gets 41 mpg city.

Volkswagen’s clean diesel is an alternative fuel that will help drivers get better mileage based on their driving habits. Commuters who need to jump on the expressway and run the car at constant speeds will do well with the 41-mpg highway Jetta. The numbers aren’t too shabby for Jetta’s city performance. Jetta TDI’s city rating is 30 mpg. At the time of this article, the national average price for diesel fuel was $2.20, according to AAA.

There’s no smell in clean diesel. When I drove the tester there was no stink around the exhaust; however, there was the burbling murmur on startup at idle that is seemingly part of the ancestral genetic code of the diesel engine.

The 2009 Jetta TDI tester was muscled with testosterone-punching torque. Drivers who like to feel the engine’s torque when pressing on the throttle will be giddy with the 236 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,750 rpm. This high torque rating stays consistent all the way through 2,500 rpm. Weighing in with a base curb weight of 3,285 pounds, this front-wheel-drive, five-passenger compact sedan produced 140 horsepower at 4,000 rpm.

The six-speed manual transmission is coupled to the 16-valve, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged. The Jetta TDI is also offered with a six-speed automatic transmission that returns slightly lower EPA-rated fuel economy numbers: 29/40 mpg.

Jetta comes with ABS, vehicle stability control, head curtain airbags, dual front air bags, and front row side-impact airbags. Rear passenger side air bags are optional.

My tester had a base price of $22,270. Options on my Volkswagen tester included the optional $1,100 six-speed automatic transmission; a $1,990, 30-gigabyte hard drive DVD satellite navigation audio system; $1,000 power tilt/slide sunroof; $450 alloy 17-inch wheels; lip spoiler for $329; and the $199 rubber mats and trunk liner. Volkswagen’s destination charge is $700. The final out-the-door price on the 2009 tester rang in at $28,038.

As an example when looking at the bottom line on alternative fuel vehicles, consider that the base price, including destination, on the 2010 Fusion Hybrid will run $27,995, not including optional features. With a price difference of $43 on a high fuel-mileage hybrid over a high fuel-mileage clean diesel, the decision comes down to where you want to get those 41 miles per gallon. In the city, you might go for a hybrid such as the midsize Ford, or on the highway, you would consider the compact Volkswagen.

Volkswagen reports that buyers of the 2009 Jetta TDI can get a $1,300 federal tax credit because its clean diesel turbo Jetta qualifies for an Advanced Lean Burn Technology Motor Vehicle Federal Tax Credit.

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