America finally seems ready to "get it" when it comes to fuel consumption, having learned that guzzling endless quantities of low-priced fossil fuels is not a reality.
So, if you're ready to turn
in your clunker, get some cash, and drive something that's sporty and takes you pretty much around the globe on a single tank, check out the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI.
CHECK OUT THE TDI ON VIDEO:
This diesel-powered car, available as a sedan or wagon, is nicely priced, carrying a sticker price of $23,169 for our tester, which had a six-speed manual transmission.
But you'll also appreciate how thrifty the Jetta allows you to be at the pump, with its EPA rating of 30 mpg city, 41 highway. That puts the diesel Jetta at the top of the class for highway mileage by a nonhybrid car.
But don't be surprised if, in real world driving, you surpass those numbers.
In a mix of city and highway driving during my weeklong test drive, I average nearly 43 mpg. So maybe you couldn't really get around the globe on a single tank, but it's still pretty amazing.
Plus, this thing didn't just putt along. Once you get it out on the highway, this four-cylinder engine powered Jetta can jet with some of the best of them, enhancing its "fun-to-drive" factor.
If you're concerned about resale value, fear not. Diesel VWs have retained more value than gas-powered models, thanks in part to their very durable engines.
The Jetta has some competition in the diesel market from German rivals such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even its sister brand, Audi.
But those models are all priced substantially higher.
Like most new diesels, the Jetta has a turbocharger and ultra-high-pressure fuel injectors to raise power and appropriately plot its combustion.
And today's diesels don't have the smell, smoke and loud sound of those of the past.
With 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 pounds-feet of torque, the TDI is barely louder at idle than a gasoline Jetta; it actually seems quieter on the road.
While the Jetta is officially a compact, in practical terms it bridges the gap between small and midsize models. The enormous trunk has more usable space than those of many bigger sedans. The back seat is spacious enough to handle three adults in a pinch, with a relatively broad and comfortable center perch.
The interior is straightforward, rather than gimmicky.
The gauges are appropriately marked and logically placed, and the seating is comfortable.
In fact, among the really high-achievers in fuel economy, this might be the most comfortable car.
On the road, the Jetta TDI cranks up more than adequate power, and steering is sporty and precise. The suspension is stiff, and the tires grip nicely.
Braking is solid also.
The manual transmission might stall a bit too easily in first gear, but you can crawl in second with no need to hold the accelerator, making for less clutching and rowing in traffic. VW’s terrific dual-clutch automated manual transmission — which has been mimicked by Porsche, BMW and others — costs $1,100 extra and brings a 29/40 mileage rating.