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TDI for me

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Justin Pritchard
I like hybrids. Hybrids work. They’re good on gas and satisfy my occasional urges to reduce the atmospheric contamination caused by my driving.

But I wouldn’t buy one.

I don’t really know how they work. I don’t like the idea of sitting on a giant battery. I like the sound of a normal starter. I have no idea what an induction motor is.

For me, there’s a more appealing alternative. Volkswagen calls it TDI. I call it my new favourite way to save fuel.

As I type this, I’m halfway through a week-long test of one 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. There are over 400 kilometres on my current tank of fuel, and it’s still more than half full. That tank includes some hilly highway driving, and plenty of city driving. And I don’t have the lightest foot.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Highline front 3/4 view
2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Highline (Photo: Charles Renny/Auto123.com)

I haven’t visited the gas station in 5 days, and I’m ok with that.

I can’t report on the ‘actual’ mileage just yet (stay tuned for the full review), since I want to run this tank into ‘empty light’ territory and see what she’ll do. But so far, I’ve never so extensively enjoyed a car designed to save fuel.

I like horsepower, doing burnouts and cars with the catalytic converters ripped out that spit fire during gear changes. I own a car like this, actually. I drive it a few times a year.

Reality check.

Really, like really, who doesn’t want a car that’s nice to drive, powerful and excellent on fuel? Nobody, that’s who. And the Jetta TDI delivers this without the battery packs, electric motors and additional wiring complication of a hybrid.

Hybrids use that extra electrical stuff to get, perhaps, 30 percent more range out of a tank of gas. Incidentally, diesel contains about 30 percent more energy per unit than gas does. So, with a diesel car, that extra driving range is built right into the fuel itself – rather than built into the drivetrain with electronic wizardry.

Diesel engines are normal. Volkswagen was building them decades before anyone coined the term ‘hybrid.’ They’re familiar to people. They’re pretty simple. My dad understands how they work. Hybrids? Not so much.

Besides, what happens if my hybrid drive motor craps out, outside of warranty? What if the extra wiring corrodes as the car ages? How’s the resale value? Long-term maintenance? Will the drive battery work after sitting for two weeks at 30 below in the Park n Fly, when I return with a suitcase full of Dominican Rhum? Not things I want to worry about, thanks.

And finally, diesel engines have lots of a great thing called torque. Torque is good for moving stuff. That’s why transports and trains have diesel engines. So the Jetta, within the bounds of its 5,000 RPM redline, hauls ass something fierce for a “fuel mileage” car when you jam on it. And I wish more gas-powered cars were as smooth and refined as the TDI & DSG engine/transmission combo in my tester, too.

I’m Canadian. So I’m not one of the world’s most screwed-over users of vehicular fuel products. But, if I found occasion to battle high fuel costs, TDI would be my powertrain of choice.
Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard
Automotive expert
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