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Volkswagen TDI: Clean, Quiet and Fuel-Efficient

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author photo by Autotrader April 2011

Given the rising costs of fuel and the diesel engine’s reputation for durability, it’s no wonder that diesels are making a dramatic comeback in the United States. Led by a cadre of German carmakers, these new clean diesels are high-mileage champs with low emissions that share little in common with the foul smelling, smoke cloud-ridden diesels of old.

As the biggest embracer of modern clean diesels in the US, Volkswagen has established itself as the leader of the diesel pack. With relatively affordable diesel versions of the Golf, Jetta, Jetta SportWagen, and Touareg already on tap, VW is now expanding its stateside diesel offerings with the all-new 2012 Passat and Beetle, as well.

This newfound confidence in its diesel lineup is driven by a staggering increase in VW’s diesel sales in the US since 2008. Part of what’s led to this trend revolves around VW’s clean diesel technology itself.

All diesels work in a very different way than gasoline engines. Instead of using spark plugs to ignite the fuel, in a diesel engine fuel is mixed with highly compressed hot air to cause it to ignite. The high compression gives diesels their characteristic knocking noises (which is significantly reduced in modern diesels), but also results in about a 20-40% improvement in fuel economy over a similarly sized and powered gas engine.

Volkswagen diesels use the same compression ignition as other diesels, but in a VW engine diesel fuel is turned into a very fine mist as it is sprayed directly into the combustion chamber. To encourage better combustion, more air is also forced into the mix with a turbocharger system – hence the VW moniker “Turbocharged Direct Injection,” or TDI. Altogether, the TDI system results in more fuel being burned instead of wasted, which leads to incredibly high fuel economy and lower emissions.

Although clean diesels tend to have inherently lower emissions due to their high efficiency, they still suffer from releasing higher amounts of nitrogen-based pollutants and other smog-forming particulates than gasoline-fueled vehicles if additional scrubbing steps are left out. To deal with this, Volkswagen has included a self-cleaning filter on most of its TDIs that traps the pollutants and particulates and then occasionally burns them off in the engine using what’s called exhaust gas recirculation.

The only TDI in VW’s lineup that doesn’t use a filter to trap these pollutants and particulates is the Touareg TDI. Instead, that vehicle uses a urea-injection system to reduce pollutants by turning them into harmless water and nitrogen gas.

The end result of all this high technology is emissions that meet and exceed the most stringent standards in the world and fuel economy that rivals many hybrids. For instance, the VW Jetta, SportWagen and Golf TDI all return an EPA estimated 42 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in the city, while the Touareg TDI hangs with the best mid-size SUVs out there at 28 highway/19 city mpg. Volkswagen also estimates that the upcoming 2012 Passat and Beetle TDI will each achieve at least 40 mpg on the highway.

With all this fuel economy talk you might expect anemic performance, but all modern diesels have gobs of torque – which translates into great acceleration characteristics. Add in the turbocharging and ultra high compression ratios of the TDI, as well as VW’s Autobahn-tuned suspension, and you’re talking one sporty ride.

As much as fuel prices have risen recently, many consumers have their eyes on fuel economy as a big part of their new car consideration these days. While hybrids and electric cars tend to get most of the hype, modern clean diesels are certainly worth consideration as well – and given that VW has the largest selection of diesels on the US market, its worth checking out.

RELATED INVENTORY
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Used 2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI 4-Door
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Used 2011 Volkswagen Touareg VR6 Lux
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Volkswagen TDI: Clean, Quiet and Fuel-Efficient - Autotrader