Eight Ward’s editors collectively logged more than 400 miles (644 km) in the all-new ’11 Volkswagen Jetta TDI for 10 days in early November as part of this year’s 10 Best Engines competition.

Always eager to explore an engine’s broadest capabilities, the judges experienced the upper and lower limits of the tachometer while commuting to and from the office, driving to work assignments, stopping for groceries and hitting the highway for short jaunts.

With each successive driver, the reported fuel economy on the car’s log sheet actually improved. By the time we were done with the Jetta’s 2.0L turbodiesel – and its excellent 6-speed dual-clutch transmission – the bottom line was a remarkable 35.3 mpg (6.7 L/100 km).

That number easily trumped some of the hybrid-electric vehicles we evaluated this year, and it did so without much time on the highway, the Jetta TDI’s favorite place. Get the sedan (or Sportwagen) on the open road, and the car runs like the pony express.

The 2.0L TDI earns its third straight Ward’s 10 Best Engines award for being so efficient, quiet, powerful and an utter joy to drive.

Not only does the engine sell the new Jetta, it’s the car’s best attribute.

The TDI is a simple yet elegant solution that gives VW a head start in reaching the 35.5-mpg federal fuel-economy mandate by 2016. Already, the Environmental Protection Agency rates the car at 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km) on the highway and 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) in the city.

VW’s DOHC 4-cyl. TDI, with its cast-iron block and aluminum head with four valves per cylinder, employs a single variable geometry turbocharger and high-pressure common-rail direct injection.

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Most compelling is the TDI’s ability to meet 50-state U.S. and European emissions regulations without urea-injection aftertreatment necessary with larger diesel engines. Instead, the Jetta uses only oxidation catalysts and regenerating particulate filters to meet federal Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions standards.

Even after three years in the market, VW’s TDI remains an outstanding value, with a starting price of $22,995 for the new Jetta. Yes, the TDI carries a premium of about $2,000, but most of it can be offset by a $1,300 income-tax credit.

With diesel fuel competitively priced against regular unleaded gasoline, the case for the 2.0L turbodiesel becomes even stronger.

“For the money, it’s the best diesel out there,” Ward’s Dealer Business Editor Steve Finlay writes on his TDI score sheet.

“It’s quieter than some of the gasoline direct-injection engines we’ve driven,” writes WardsAuto.com Associate Editor James Amend. “This engine is hugely relevant given fuel-economy standards, but for how long?”

True, diesels could be legislated to the curb in the next round of emissions regulations.

Years ago, California opposition spelled doom for oil burners, but VW and fellow German auto makers BMW AG and Daimler AG responded with modern solutions that breathed new life into the market for light-vehicle diesels.

Another game changer is necessary, and hopefully it will come from the test labs in Wolfsburg.

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.