Not satisfied with this number, and wishing to see how I could do on relatively flat ground, I drove from my family's home in Conyers, Ga. to midtown Atlanta. Across the gently undulating surfaces of Interstate 20, I-285, and 85 South, I managed 52.4 mpg on the 40 mile journey. And that included some stop and go city driving on the way to I-20, as well as some highway transfer ramps and a particularly steep overpass transitioning from 285 to 85 South. This time, wishing for mileage as high as possible, I followed the same guidelines used on the mountain trip, but this time I added my own engine stop/start at red lights (perhaps four or five total and adding probably 0.5 or o.6 mpg to my overall mileage).
Diesel Fuel Price Atlanta 2/09Enlarge Photo
With the exception of my father and Jimmy Carter, precious few Americans drive 55. And that was my average freeway speed in the Conyers-Atlanta run. As well, shifting between 1,250 and 1,500 rpm isn't what your average driver is going to do. But amazingly, the torquey little four protested not, with nary a shudder or shake at those impossibly low engine speeds. So in the hands of the average driver shooting down the expressway at 70 or 80 mph, I estimate the Jetta would get anywhere between 40 and 50 mpg.
All in all, I found the Jetta TDI Sportwagen the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. Want to get 50-plus mpg, outshining your smug friends' hybrids while basking in a bigger, better handling, and more comfortable ride? Get a Jetta TDI. Want to blow past said hybrids with fun stoplight smoky burnouts and a 0-60 mph run of 8.4 seconds (by MotorTrend's stopwatch)? Jetta TDI again.
They say diesel is dead in America, and hybrids are really the only way forward. After my experience with the Jetta TDI Sportwagen, I'm not so convinced. Oh, and before you haters start screaming that diesel is waaaaaaaay more expensive than gasoline, check the prices I paid at the Atlanta-area Shell pump in the pic.