Sunday, September 28, 2008

Diesel Has Arrived (Cars)

Remember when I was gushing over diesels? They're here. Or at least one of them if you don't include the very expensive and not very frugal Mercedes models. The car I would buy now, if I needed one and had money, is the new 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagon. It should average about 40 mpg (compared to 26 for my Mazda), it has tons of space, and a lot of low RPM torque for fun driving. Diesel mileage ratings are a little wonky. VW believes the government low-balls them, claiming the Jetta TDI gets 35MPG. VW says it's more like 45MPG and like Prius owners, some frugal VW diesel drivers claim you can get 50+MPG with vigilant driving.

The Jetta itself is a fine car, but given the choice, I would likely go with another marque. However, wagons are becoming harder to come by and VW makes some fun to drive cars that I've found to be pretty reliable. I've owned two Jettas in the past (a 1995 and 1997). I might consider a diesel Passat wagon if given the chance, and of course my dream car is a diesel Alfa Romeo 159 Sporwagon, but I'm just retarded like that. The key with the Jetta diesel wagon is it's here now.

I would probably take the Motortrend advice and upgrade it to 17" wheels and better anti-roll bars to improve handling. My only complaint is it doesn't come with leather as an option. Leather is not a luxury item, it's a childproofing item. I think VW's are a tad overpriced, with every bit of trim inflating the price tag. Also, the TDI Jettas are sold out around here and dealers are marking them up over MSRP (and apparently getting MSRP). I usually solve that with a one-way plane ticket to elsewhere (last time Cleveland). On the positive side, there's a $1300 clean diesel rebate from the government.

I think both clean diesel and hybrids are an intermediate technology before the industry goes entirely to electric cars with fuel cells. I think that's still about ten years away, meaning if you need a car between now and then, and you care about things like fuel prices or the environment, you'll want a hybrid, diesel or tiny petrol econobox. There seems to be an energy consensus that the long term goal for automotive power is electric, leaving the real debate on how to upgrade our creaky energy distribution system to homes and busineses, including better storage of excess capacity. Once you say cars are electric and you can shuttle excess energy around the national grid, you can build whatever power plants you want: renewable, nuclear, whatever. The government will need to nationalize the distribution system though. And why not? Nobody cares that the national highway system is government maintained.

2009 Jetta TDI Sportwagon (tricked out)
Available Now

Alfa Romeo 159 TL Sportwagon (tricked out)
Not Available in the US (yet)
Alfa returns to the US in late 2009


  1. Not sure if it's worth it on a car that is already listing over MSRP, but you can always talk to the dealer about getting custom leather upholstery. The 4Runner I drive did not come with leather seats as an option, you had to go up to the 'limited' edition to get that. The dealership had them put in to increase the saleability of the vehicle. At the very least they probably know someone who can reliably do the work.

  2. And if the dealer has the work done, even if it is an aftermarket product, it doesn't void the warranty.

  3. Luckily I'm not quite in the market for a new car yet, having just hit 60,000 miles on the Mazda. Last week you heard me grumbling, mostly from a $250 spark plug change and a dead battery a few days later (another $150). Ouch!

  4. Yes, I am still putting off the repair of power steering and a/c hoses lost to an overly deep and steep gutter in Concord.
    Who'd'a'thunk that 15mph would be too fast for the "speed dip"?