Mountain Wheels: VW’s diesel offerings expand — depending on your budget |

Mountain Wheels: VW’s diesel offerings expand — depending on your budget

Andy Stonehouse
Special to the Daily

2015 VW Jetta TDI SE

with Connectivity package

MSRP: $25,175; as tested, $25,995

Powertrain: 150-HP 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 36 combined mpg (31 city, 45 highway)

2015 VW Touareg TDI Lux

MSRP: $56,670; as tested, $60,080

Powertrain: 240-HP 3.0-liter turbo V6, eight-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 23 combined mpg (20 city, 29 highway)

While I am really kicking myself for not attending the New York International Auto Show and hanging out with Christina Hendricks at the Jaguar events, as a VW fan I did get a little titillation this week with word from that show that a very fancy Golf SportWagen will be making its way to the U.S. — at some point.

And, like so many other members of Volkswagen’s U.S. family, it will be offered with a diesel engine … so you can probably guess what I’m going to be discussing here. Diesel-haters, maybe thumb a few pages ahead for a pot brownies recipe for the holiday.

I’ve had two recent opportunities to see the promise (and the reality) of Volkswagen’s diesel options in action, including the Jetta TDI and a top-of-the-line Touareg TDI — technically three, if you count another test drive in a non-diesel Jetta, just a few weeks earlier.

The upside, for those who understand that diesel pays off, in the end? In the Jetta, long the company’s best-selling vehicle, a workaday outing with that 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel — not 80 mph, not hauling up to the tunnel, not running in -30 degrees F weather — can very easily get you 50 mpg.

Like, with no effort at all. No recharging necessary, no fancy apps, no solar panels, no $20,000 batteries, no hypermiling, no coasting. You get in the car and you drive, and 50 mpg can happen very, very easily. You suddenly understand why everyone in Europe drives a diesel. One of a dozen variations of the Jetta, the SE-level model I drove was just under $26,000.

The Touareg — well, the diesel option is a little more of a stretch. But given that the large and luxurious SUV is $20,000 to $30,000 more than the frugal Jetta, it’s not a fair comparison.

Nonetheless, operating under the same non-Autobahn circumstances, Touareg TDI can creep near to 29 mpg on the highway — with full-time AWD, and nearly 5,000 pounds of metal underfoot. Non-diesel, you’ll get about 24 mpg at most. There’s a $3,000 or so premium for that 240-horse, 406 foot-pounds-of-torque monster; as things go when you make the decision to buy a vehicle that was just over $60,000 in the Lux package I got to sample, fuel efficiency is just one of a range of mitigating factors.

In the Jetta, though, it’s certainly a pretty good deal, and certainly a lot more fun to drive than the base 2.0-liter model, which is only 115 horsepower and only about 34 mpg. The extra kick in the pants from that direct-injected diesel engine is good for confident starts and somewhat well-timed passes, and there is absolutely no 1970s-diesel-engine odor to be found. You will notice that the 2.0-liter is not what I would call whisper-quiet, but it’s not exactly as noisy as a UPS truck, either. Inside the cabin, you’ll hardly notice any extra noise at all.

Jetta’s deliciously charming and benign character is probably the secret to its huge international sales numbers. Jetta drivers do not play Guns N’ Roses on their stereos, I believe; they relish the smooth, upright surfaces and generally larger-than-previous-generations spaces afforded by the car, and they toodle about in the very model of efficient living. Their achingly low-revving diesel engines probably ought to be kept in the six-speed transmission’s Sport mode, which keeps things at a higher boil and allows one to more easily achieve bursts of tire-melting power. Again, not going to happen, but … it could.

There’s definitely more real estate here than in a Golf, with good rear seat space and 15.7 cubic feet of room in the trunk — rear seats can also be flattened to offer a bigger space with a somewhat awkward connection to the trunk (or, a simple pass-through gate for skis and such).

From the front, the horizontal lines on the grille and the lower splitter lip are as sharp and shiny as a Schick razor; inside, a bit of aluminum-look plastic trim, some sporty seats, a flat-bottomed Audi racing wheel and an engine start-stop button add sex appeal, of a kind.

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