by Dan Carney
While hybrids have garnered all the headlines and hype, diesel engines have maintained their traditional position, toiling away in anonymity while providing similar fuel economy to their shiny new hybrid brethren.
The availability of sleek-looking, fun-to-drive diesels like the Jetta TDI, along with the influence of VW’s sister company Audi’s recently announced diesel-powered Le Mans sports racer, should begin to boost the diesel from that anonymity.
The Jetta TDI isn’t just “fun for a diesel.” It is a genuinely entertaining ride, even for enthusiast drivers. The engine pulls strongly when it is on the turbo boost and the slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission slips easily into the intended gear every time, with the revs seemingly perfectly matched. The combination is an involving, amusing powertrain that conspires to keep the driver engaged even during the dullest commute, all while sipping its fuel oil at a miserly 40-ish miles per gallon.
Diesels past and present
While hybrids are the new kids on the block, Volkswagen has been here all along, selling its diesels to a group that dwindled dangerously close to cult status (see www.tdiclub.com).
Today’s VW diesel can barely be compared to the wheezing, smoking, gutless 48-horsepower oil burner that timidly urged the Rabbit and Dasher forward during the '70s oil crunch. Modern turbodiesels make so much power, so seamlessly and quietly that they can barely be discerned from gas-powered cars at highway speeds.