Shopping for a new Volkswagen Jetta Sedan?
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Volkswagen says they know. VW has staged a competitive drive-off between the Jetta TDI, its first U.S.-market "clean diesel" vehicle, and the Prius in a contest called the Portland 2 Portland Green Test Drive.
You heard me right: I just used "clean" and "diesel" in the same phrase. Get used to it: diesels aren't nearly what you remember them to be. In fact, I'd suspect that many of the cars around you are diesel, and you don't even know it. That's because they're much quieter and not nearly as smelly. In fact, the Jetta's emissions more than adequately meet emissions standards in all 50 states. Popular Mechanics even goes into detail on the nits and nats of how the diesel system cleans up, but in a few words, VW treats the diesel's exhaust with a mist of urea before it leaves the tailpipe, thereby cutting down on nitrogen oxide emissions.
So the Jetta has a fairly conventional path to great fuel economy. On the Prius, I'm concerned about battery life, replacement costs, and disposal of the key to the gas savings on a Prius. No, wait... assuming all those things would be as bad as assuming today's diesel engines are smelly and noisy. Check out this bit of conversation from my unusual sanity-checker, SlashDot.com. One response sums it up nicely: batteries are designed to last the same 150k - 200k miles as the car; batteries are made of much less disasterous nickel metal hydride; Toyota has a bounty on the batteries to ensure they'll be properly recycled. Better yet, Toyota addresses the "battery issue" on its own blog. Of course, our resident Prius expert at AllAboutPrius.com covers all this, and also notes that repairs are a bit more expensive, but many people are willing to take that in order to drive a cool bit of new technology, and reduce carbon emissions to boot.
Flickr user Geognerd took this lovely photo of his Prius in the snow in December 2007.Enlarge Photo