Sunday, July 26, 2009

VW Jetta Diesel

Driving Impressions: 2009 Jetta Diesel

Diesel: what’s old is new, only better
I’ve been unintentionally green for a few weeks now; my beloved 2000 Audi A6 is in the shop getting major surgery including a transmission rebuild, new power steering rack, and catalytic converters. So I’ve been cycling and train-riding to work for the past few weeks. Unfortunately, the train station is quite a ways from work, so I’ve been riding a minimum of 9 miles, and sometimes 40 miles a day depending so I’m pretty tired.

Luckily, my backside got a welcome break with the chance to test the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta. But the “green” didn’t take a break with this frugal VW. It’s a fantastic car that offers plenty of room front and rear, fold down seats to easily put the bike into, excellent handling, and a thoroughly entertaining diesel engine. Entertaining? Diesel? Yep-this sucker features a turbocharger that kicks in for some prodigious torque. While the 2.0 liter 4 cylinder has only 140 horsepower, it packs a whopping 236 foot pounds of torque. While it lags a bit off the line, at highway speeds, the torque makes passing a joy. It is an ideal highway cruiser. Even more impressive, despite my notorious lead-footedness (I infamously logged just 22mpg in the ’08 Honda Fit), I averaged a stunning 37.5 mpg!

Then and now
In 1990, the president of the company I worked for swore by two things—PC’s instead of Macs and diesel instead of regular fuel. He drove a gargantuan Mercedes diesel 300 SEL and kept it for 15+ years. And he forbade Macs in the workplace. Years later, PCs have definitely dominated while diesels are just now coming back in to vogue. Back then, diesels were stinky, slow, and pumped out a lot of pollution. However, as my favorite mechanic points out, because of the trucking industry, getting diesel gas is relatively easy because the network of stations exists throughout the nation.

With the advent of the recent energy crisis and heightened awareness of conservation, European car companies, such as VW, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz, are now re-testing the waters here with diesel offerings. Reportedly, over 50% of cars in Europe run on diesel, so the technology has already been widely deployed. Better still, diesel is now much cleaner; ultra-low sulfur diesel now burns 97% less sulfur and is widely available. And the CO2 emissions of this Jetta, while not the lowest, compare favorably to the miserly and clean burning Honda Civic, as seen in the chart below (statistics courtesy of :

The only real concern with newer “clean diesel” is the addition of ammonia (urea). Clean diesel engines require a separate source of ammonia which breaks down Nitric Oxide, a common air pollutant, into harmless nitrogen and oxygen. There concern is with maintenance issues and car owners making sure the ammonia is refilled.

What about alternative fuels?
Here in the U.S., though ethanol was broadly marketed, it’s nearly impossible to find a station that provides it. Elsewhere in the world, ethanol is popular and common-place in Brazil, and propane is used widely in India. But here in the US, we don’t really have another choice except electric or diesel. The vaunted hybrids such as the Prius and pure electrics like the Tesla, while very economical, pose a new question. What do we do with the batteries once they are “used up”? How long will they last? And how much will they cost to maintain? More importantly, how do we dispose of them? Suddenly, once stinky diesel seems appealing. With the pre-existing fuel network, lower emissions, excellent fuel economy, and the prospect of bio-diesel, diesel does have a lot working for it as a new standard of economy and efficiency. Perhaps there really is something here.

Life with a diesel.
So what’s it like to live with a diesel? This VW is impressive. While there is a slight “dieseling sound” at start up, it is not much louder than a standard engine. No smoke an no smell. Once underway, the diesel “clatter” is mostly muted and hardly noticeable. When I did have to find a station that offered diesel, it was slightly problematic. I visited three stations before I found one that carried diesel. If you are planning a trip in a diesel vehicle, it might be a good idea to look up to find stations along the route. Regardless, once at the station, I found the price to be $2.75/gallon, the same price as regular unleaded. Mid grade was $.10 more and Super was $.20 more per gallon. Only at the station did I detect the faint smell of petroleum jelly that is characteristic of diesel.. In any case, the price of diesel has come down, which is yet another reason to consider it. Additionally, with the VW’s 14.5 gallon gas tank and 30+mpg, you won’t need a fill up for close to 500 miles—that’s impressive!

So would I buy it? The Jetta was a very impressive car. It has great handling, plenty of space for four, and is a great freeway commuter. If I had to do long commute miles and used this car primarily for commuting, it would be extremely tough to beat.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2009 Tour de France predictions

What are your predictions for the TDF? Here's our little contest:
- 1 point each for naming the top 3 riders
- 1 point for each position
- 1 point each for green and polka dot.
Max of 8.

Steve LeFevre:
1. Sastre
2. Evans
3. Armstrong
Points: Devolder
Green: Cavendish

Conrad Essen:
1. Contador
2. Evans
3. Sastre
Points: Moncoutie
Green: Cavendish

Michael McHenry:
1. Armstrong
2. A. Schelck
3. Contador
Points: Moncoutie
Green: Freire

1. Contador
2. Menchov
3. A. Schleck
Points: A. Schleck
Green: Cavendish

Gary Chan
1. Sastre
2. Contador
3. Amrstrong

Jimmy Dworkin
1. Amrstrong
2. Contador
3. Kloden

Derrill Stepp
1. Contador
2. Armstrong
3. Evans
Points: Gesink
Green: Tyler Farrar

Eliott Jones
1. Contador
2. Evans
3. Armstrong
"Menchov gets nailed for doping"