I've just left the snowy confines of Montana where, in the first week of June mind you, the temperature has barely crept above 45 degrees. After a four-hour flight I land in Atlanta where the temperature is in the mid 90s and I, wearing black jeans and a black leather jacket, feel completely out of place. I'm not worried, though, because I know the black on black VW Jetta TDI looks just like me, and it seems to have no problems making friends. I name him Johnny Cash. I name all my test cars. After a brief visit with my AutoTrader brethren, I'm handed JC's key fob and told to get lost.

Actually, I'm driving to visit my mom in Lady Lake, Florida, some 400 miles to the south. I have a full tank of diesel fuel, it's humid, and I have the A/C on full. In the back of my mind I think, "Fat chance this car is going to get 40 mpg, not with my lead foot and the A/C cranked." I push the console mounted starter button, program the navigation to find my mother's house, sync my Bluetooth phone, plug in my iPod, and adjust all the mirrors (I got an 'A' in Driver's Ed for adjusting my mirrors when no one else remembered). At 9:03 a.m. I depart Atlanta and head down Interstate 75 towards Florida, where it promises to be even hotter. Did I mention the Jetta was black on black?

As I drive, I begin making mental notes of the things I like and dislike about the Jetta. Like: the iPod integration is seamless and easy to navigate, and the stock audio sounds really good. Dislike: I can't see the writing on the cruise control stalk (it's blocked by the steering wheel, as is the writing on the adjacent wiper control stalk). I'm sorry, but if someone went to the trouble of putting those cool little white graphics on those big, bulky stalks, I should be able to read them without having to lean forward and peer around the steering wheel. I find another like: the A/C in the Jetta gets chilly cold and can be directed equally to blow on my feet and head. Then, just as quickly, I find another dislike: the nag-i-gation keeps interrupting my music every five seconds to tell me to remain on the 75 south? for the next 371 miles. At mile 17, I turn off the voice guidance. At 52 miles into the trip I notice there is far too much wind noise for a car this new. At 102 miles I stop at McDonalds where I notice the valet from the night before has vented my sunroof. Oops, now the Jetta is whisper quiet. I find the plastics too hard and rather un-Volkswagen like (I'm used to the higher-end feel of the GTI), but then I remember the Jetta's impressively low price point and I can forgive the cheaper interior. The seats are comfy, but V-Tex faux leather in the south? No, VW. Cloth is still a prerequisite for such climates.

Around the 200 mile point a tire on the 18-wheeler traveling next to me blows out. It sounds as if cannon has just exploded next to the car, and I do a quick emergency maneuver to avoid the flying rubber shrapnel headed my way. To my surprise, the electric-assisted power steering responds quickly to my panic-induced inputs, and the 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel engine rockets me away from the big rig post haste. This diesel engine is full of surprises; it's quiet, quick and clean. But, I'm worried. I've now traveled 300 miles and my fuel gauge tells me I've consumed only half a tank of diesel. Certain that my poor Johnny Cash is in need of sustenance, I pull over and try to feed it a bit of my McDonalds Honey Mustard Snack Wrap. No dice. Maybe if I put some mustard on it? German's love mustard, after all. No?

Hmmm, this isn't good. Then I remember that my German Jetta is actually built in Mexico. I stop at Taco Bell and pick up a Crunch Wrap Supreme, but the Jetta wants no part of it. At this point, I stop looking for fast food outlets and begin looking for a hospital, because I'm sure the my Jetta TDI has the automotive equivalent of an eating disorder. How can one car go so far in such horrible heat consuming so little fuel? I ponder this mystery for the next 105 miles, until I arrive at my mother's home with a quarter of a tank still left in reserve. And, since the main mode of transportation in the Villages retirement community where mom lives is the electric golf cart, I doubt I'll need to refill my tank until my trip back to Atlanta, which suits me and my wallet just fine. Johnny Cash, you're my kind of car.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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