Conservation-minded driving enthusiasts have few choices — fewer still if they lack the hefty paycheck necessary to buy a loaded BMW 335d turbodiesel for $48,000.
That leaves one vehicle that delivers gargantuan torque, fuel economy and driving pleasure, all for about half the money: Volkswagen AG's 2.0L DOHC TDI turbodiesel, which earns its second consecutive placement on the Ward's 10 Best Engines list.
Under the hood of the VW Jetta SportWagen TDI, this pint-sized stump puller vaults the Jetta to the head of its segment with the ability to average nearly 44 mpg (5.3 L/100 km) by Ward's editors who weren't afraid to explore the space of the TDI's powerband.
Its cast-iron block might seem old-school, but the 2.0L TDI is thoroughly up-to-date, with an aluminum cylinder head, four valves per cylinder and high-pressure common-rail direct injection. Advanced electronic controls allow multiple fuel injections per combustion event, which help cut emissions and quell the diesel clatter most U.S. consumers despise.
The real story with the Jetta TDI begins in the exhaust stream, which requires no urea-injection, using only oxidation catalysts and regenerating particulate filters to meet emissions standards. It can be sold in all 50 states.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency rated the TDI at 29/40 mpg (8.1-5.8 L/100 km) city/highway, but VW's third-party testers found a 38/44 mpg (6.2-5.3 L/100 km) figure to be more accurate.
The EPA must have retested the vehicle because it now rates at 30/42 mpg (7.8-5.6 L/100 km) with an excellent 6-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission that perfectly complements the TDI's prodigious output, channeling it to the front wheels with amazing speed and efficiency.
Believe the folks in Wolfsburg when they say the Jetta TDI is the most powerful car in the U.S. capable of getting 40 mpg. A number of Ward's editors exceeded that mark.
Both the Jetta TDI sedan and SportWagen are competitively priced, starting at $22,660 and $24,310, respectively. A $1,300 federal tax credit eases the bite of a $2,000 premium attached to the diesel. It's a small price to pay for a fabulous motoring experience.
The case for the Jetta TDI is even more compelling this year than last year.
VOLKSWAGEN AG: 2.0L TDI DOHC I-4 TURBODIESEL
Engine type: 2.0L TDI DOHC DI I-4 turbodiesel
Displacement (cc): 1,968
Block/head material: cast iron/aluminum
Bore × stroke (mm): 81 × 95.5
Horsepower (SAE net): 140 @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb.-ft. (320 Nm) @ 1,700 - 2,500 rpm
Specific output: 70 hp/L
Compression ratio: 16.5:1
Assembly site: Salzgitter, Germany
Application tested: '10 VW Jetta TDI SportWagen
EPA city/highway (mpg): 30/42