By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

An expectation met is rare enough. An expectation surpassed is a culturally appropriate winter solstice celebration miracle.

So imagine my surprise and delight when reading the miles per gallon readout on the trip computer of the 2009 Jetta TDI during a recent holiday drive over the river and through the woods. The display reads: 43.7 mpg. That’s significantly above the Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 40 mpg in highway driving.

And we weren’t doing any of that 55 mph, coast-down-hills, hyper-miler sort of driving. We were zipping along at 70 mph or so, singing loudly along with the Christmas tunes provided by the satellite radio.

That sort of fuel economy apparently isn’t a fluke. Volkswagen hired a third party, automotive evaluation company AMCI, to test the real-world fuel economy of the Jetta TDI and found it performed 24 percent better than EPA estimates, getting 38 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway.

Such miserly fuel use is one reason the Jetta TDI earlier this year was named the 2009 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal.

“The Volkswagen Jetta TDI rose to the top as Green Car Journal’s 2009 Green Car of the Year® for some very important reasons,” said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and editor of

“Hybrids have dominated the discussion of environmentally positive vehicles in recent years.” Awarding the title to the VW, Cogan said, “shows that advanced clean diesel has arrived and is poised to change this dynamic. With its affordable price point, refined ride and handling, and high fuel economy, the Jetta TDI shows that hybrids now have a strong competitor in the marketplace.”

The diesel cars of today aren’t the clattering, smoky, smelly diesels of 20 years ago. The new vehicles meet even strict California emissions standards, in part because of regulations requiring the development of ultra-low sulfur fuel. Refiners reduced the sulfur content in diesel fuel by 97 percent, making exhaust control systems more effective.

The new, clean-burning diesel cars such as the Jetta are a better alternative to conventional automobiles than even gasoline-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, according to a RAND study.

The study, presented in November 2007 at the annual meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management in Washington, D.C., examined the benefits and costs of three alternatives to the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine for the 2010-2020 period. The alternatives were advanced diesel technology (the kind making its way to dealer showrooms), gas-electric hybrids and duel-fuel vehicles burning E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.