Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

The last time an affordable diesel landed on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list, in 1997, a gallon of regular unleaded cost less than $1.25 and Americans were discovering the functionality of gas-guzzling SUVs and personal-use pickups.

At the time, diesels were as relevant as hybrids, which hadn’t even arrived yet in the U.S. True, VW diesels of the day were capable of 45 mpg (5.2 L/100 km) when the Toyota Prius was just starting production in Japan.

But consumers cared little about fuel economy, and that VW turbodiesel belched smoke during startup, although it was deliciously torquey.

Today, a modern, high-pressure common-rail European turbodiesel from VW sets a new standard with the all-new 2.0L SOHC I-4 that wins a 10 Best Engines award in its first year of eligibility.

Plus, the spunky-yet-quiet I-4 breaks new ground by meeting the strict Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions standard without expensive (and inconvenient) urea-injection aftertreatment, which is necessary for larger diesels. Instead, oxidation catalysts and regenerating particulate filters do the job, allowing the all-new Jetta TDI to be sold in all 50 states.

Ward’s judges gushed about the new TDI.

“Any engine that delivers 36 mpg (6.5 L/100 km) with such great drivability and affordability deserves to be 10 Best,” Editor Drew Winter writes on his TDI scoresheet.

Steve Finlay, editor of Ward’s Dealer Business magazine, calls the TDI one of the best diesels he’s ever driven. “When word gets out about this one, it may make diesels mainstream in America,” he says.

Other judges noted the TDI felt punchier than its 236 lb.-ft. (320 Nm) torque rating, and the only smoke comes not from the tailpipe but from occasionally spinning tires. Plus, the stench and clatter of old-fashioned diesels are eliminated, distant relatives from generations long gone.

Diesels already have proven to last longer than gasoline engines, including hybrids, have higher resale values and are capable of 30% better fuel economy than conventional gasoline engines.

The only drawback to some is the premium for the diesel engine, which adds about $2,000 to the Jetta’s sticker.

But, starting under $22,000, it’s less expensive than a Honda Civic Hybrid and enormously more enjoyable to drive. Add in the snappy dual-clutch DSG transmission for an extra $1,100, and the Jetta TDI still is a bargain, especially after a $1,300 income-tax credit.

Expensive diesel fuel also is bound to scare off some buyers. But a few taps on the calculator should ease those fears. Take, for instance, a typical 2.4L 4-cyl. with a combined fuel-economy rating of 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km). With regular unleaded averaging $1.64 a gallon in the U.S., that comes to $.07 per mile traveled.

Run the same calculation for the Jetta TDI, with its combined rating of 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km). Diesel fuel averages $2.42 a gallon in the U.S., so the cost per mile is identical. And on roadtrips, the Jetta TDI will be king of the highway.

What more could anyone want? The new Jetta TDI clears all the environmental hurdles, is tremendously rewarding to drive, reduces carbon-dioxide emissions and lessens America’s need for foreign oil.

An affordable diesel is exactly what America needs now, along with more diesel pumps.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com

Ward’s 10 Best Engines is a copyright of Penton Media Inc. Commercial references to the program and/or awards are prohibited without prior permission of Ward’s Automotive Group.