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Aaron Gold

Volkswagen TDI: The only way to travel

By November 6, 2012

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2012 VW Passat in UtahGreetings from St. George, Utah! We're on the last leg of our week-long New Mexico road trip in our long-term 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI, which we decided to conclude with a drive through southern Utah. We've driven just over 2,200 miles, with about four hundred more to go (maybe more if we decided to meander) -- and I am now convinced that diesel cars are the only way to travel.

Our mileage has been pretty remarkable -- so far we're averaging just shy of 46 MPG, with a one-day high of 50.2 MPG (moderate speeds and only a few steep hills to climb) and a low of 42.6 MPG (low speeds, lots of hills). Based on what I've seen, I have no doubt that we could top 55 MPG on a long, level road with a 65 MPH speed limit... unfortunately, we haven't encountered anything like that!

But the real advantage, as I predicted, has been the range. With the Passat's 18.5 gallon tank, we have a range of around 800 miles -- and the most we've managed to drive in one day is 534 miles. I cannot begin to tell you the peace of mind this brings. We fill up when it's convenient and we don't have to worry about finding fuel for the rest of the day -- important when you're driving out West, where you can go hours without seeing much in the way of civilization. Better yet, we're not at the mercy of those "last chance" gas stations and their sky-high prices. And when we pass a sign that says "Next services 60 miles," it's not even a concern -- our Passat goes farther than that with the low fuel light on.

Diesel does have a few downsides, the main one being price. While diesel fuel is priced between regular and mid-grade in Los Angeles, we've found it to be quite a bit more expensive than gasoline in the surrounding states -- around 50 cents per gallon higher, give or take a dime. On this trip, we've paid between $4.09 and $4.29, but we've seen gasoline as low as $3.40. (Diesel prices are lowest at the truck stops, but since we've been sticking to the back roads, we can't take advantage.)

And then there's the fact that not all stations have diesel. Yesterday morning we were in a town with four gas stations. The first had a price for diesel but we couldn't find the pump. (Turns out it was in an open lot next door.) Station #2 had a diesel pump, but it also had a Ford Windstar that had leaked a small lake of gasoline as big as its own shadow. I decided not to stick around. Station #3 was out of business (which explains the cheap price on the sign). We had to backtrack to station #4, at which all went well -- but that was 20 minutes of wandering around we didn't need to do. (Of course, we still had 525 miles of fuel remaining, so we could have skipped refueling altogether and still done a full day's driving with nearly a hundred miles to spare.)

All in all, I'm more of a diesel fan than ever. Even with the higher per-gallon gas prices, we've saved money. If my math is correct, our Passat has consumed around 48 gallons of diesel fuel at a cost of about $200. A gasoline car averaging 28 MPG -- pretty optimistic considering the speeds and grades -- would have burned 30 more gallons and cost us around $90 more. And don't forget that we're not driving some tiny econobox -- we're in the roomy, smooth-riding Passat.

With an experience like this, can you argue that a diesel-powered Volkswagen is the only way to travel? -- Aaron Gold

P.S. After news of Hyundai's MPG debacle broke, some of my colleagues and I were discussing the fact that VW diesels typically outperform their EPA numbers -- obviously, our Passat routinely exceeds its EPA estimates of 30 MPG city and 40 MPG highway. I discussed this with some of the Volkswagen folks. The way the EPA tests are structured, diesels simply don't perform at their potential. This is ironic, since several automakers (and no, I'm not singling out Hyundai) seem to be tuning their engines and transmissions for high EPA numbers at the expense of throttle response and shift quality -- and in many cases, these numbers can't be achieved in real-world driving. With the Passat, it's the exact opposite, especially on the highway -- I can't imagine any circumstances where our Passat would get as little as 40 MPG.

Photo © Aaron Gold


November 6, 2012 at 2:17 am
(1) jeff says:

Wake up America! Diesels are the way to go. If they’d only produce a high performance diesel for use in this country I’d be at the dealership tomorrow with cash in hand.

November 6, 2012 at 3:12 am
(2) peter dejong says:

Thank you Aaron for proving my point for the past 3 years that I contribute by commenting. And high performance. By its nature the torque of a diesel engine is significantly higher then that of a petrol engine. And for jeff what about a W12 TDI (yes W) of Volkswagen. For sale in Europe. not sure if we have it over here.
Diesel the way to go!

November 6, 2012 at 9:18 am
(3) Michael Kuban says:

I picked up my 2009 Jetta Sportwagen TDI with DSG transmission on Dec 1, 2008. Zero problems, great mileage. The dealer told me it takes around 50,000 miles to break in the TDi engine. Right now I am approaching 42K and the mileage is still getting better. Recently returned from a 1200 mile trip and got 41.2 MPG with cruise set at 72-75.
I have no doubt that i would have gotten better mileage if I had been able to stay at the posted limit but I chose to stay with traffic instead of being a hindrance.
I’ve never had a car before that I could sit in for 9 hours of driving without feeling fatigued or being so stiff the next day I didn’t want to move.
Had the 40 K service completed before I left for my trip $450 for service and $250 to service DSG. Exactly what was quoted. The dealer even went above and beyond and took care of some things that I had mentioned without charging me.
Too bad VW of A hasn’t decided to sell a diesel Tiguan in the US. If they did there would be one in my driveway tomorrow replacing our other car.
Way to go VW too bad other manufacturers haven’t figured out that diesel is the way to go.

November 6, 2012 at 10:02 am
(4) Jeff C says:

I bought a 2013 manual Passat TDI about 6 weeks ago. So far I love it, I’m about 50% Rural/ 50% City and I’m averaging about 42 mpg.

I was driving a Corolla and was averaging 32 mpg. While the Corolla is a fine car and costs less, there is no comparison when you compare the size and comfort of the Passat. Add in the fact that I’m getting the 42 mpg and everyone says that number will improve with time, I couldn’t be happier.

November 6, 2012 at 11:21 am
(5) Fred geiger says:

I drove the passat and liked it a lot but a Jetta would be a more reasonable size for me. Too bad it is made in Mexico which makes me doubt the quality. Also I would like to burn biodiesel but VW only allows a 5% mix.

November 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm
(6) Scott says:

I’d love to get a VW diesel but the problem is, like all “special fuel-saving” cars like hybrids, diesels, etc. they don’t do well in Canadian winters. Last winter there were several times when my neighbour’s Golf wagon Diesel, despite being a year old wouldn’t start because the intercooling system kept freezing. If VW could somehow make them tougher for bad climates, and if I could afford one (university student who works part-time) I’d buy one in a heartbeat

November 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm
(7) Eric says:

I, also, have learned recently that diesel is the way to go. Having just spent two years living in Europe, Germany specifically, where the price of gasoline is about $7.50/gal after doing all the conversions, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of cars on European roads are diesel powered. Diesel is cheaper in Europe because it’s so widely used. That could well be the case here in the U.S. if it were the more prevalent fuel source for vehicles. The only disadvantages I see are the availability of fuel points, as not all stations carry diesel, and their performance in extreme cold weather climes such as Canada or even our northern States where winter temps can and often do drop well below zero.

November 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm
(8) Ross says:

I have a hard time figuring out why domestic manufacturers are so reluctant to invest in diesel technology. Especially when their diesel pickups sell like gangbusters. Where I live, every other truck is a powerstroke or duramax.

And Jeff, your high performance diesel already existed, it’s called the BMW 330d. Unfortunately for some reason they discontinued it in the US. But it’s not too hard to find a decent low mileage used.

November 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm
(9) Ross says:


And you can still buy the x5 35d if your interested in a crossover

November 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm
(10) LWATCDR says:

I have to admit that I am totally baffled by VW not selling a Tiguan TDI. It uses the same gas engines as the Golf and Jetta and a TDI SUV/Crossover makes too much sense to me.

November 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm
(11) danwat1234 says:

Keep in mind of the MPG vs a gasoline car. Diesel contains about ~11% more energy than gasoline, so, if a diesel car gets 11% better MPG than a comparable gas car, the diesel car is NOT more efficient, it just has more energy to work with.
Though VW TDIs tend to do a bit better than 11% better, but not a whole lot more. The average real world city/highway combined MPG for the TDI Passat on Fuelly is around 40.7MPG. If an equivalent gas car gets 36.6MPG (40.7/1.11), then it is just as efficent as a TDI on average, and even a 1st generation 2001 Prius gets 42.7MPG average on Fuelly and a big 2012 Prius V wagon gets 42.4MPG.


“However, due to the higher density, diesel offers a higher volumetric energy density at 35.86 MJ/L (128 700 BTU/US gal) vs. 32.18 MJ/L (115 500 BTU/US gal) for gasoline, some 11% higher, which should be considered when comparing the fuel efficiency by volume. ”
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_fuel#Fuel_value_and_pricehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_fuel#Fuel_value_and_price

November 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm
(12) Dave says:

Aaron, Great article, but I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t experience from driving VW diesels for 33 years. But glad you came around. It’s unbelievable that this country hasn’t captured the vision. My diesel New Beetle still gets 51 mpg, (when I drive moderately) even at 370,000 miles. What part of vehicle longevity, great fuel mileage, and stress reducing driving range does America not understand? Thanks for your confirmation, and welcome to world of diesel enlightenment…! It’s already underway… ha.

November 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm
(13) Hawaiian Don says:

Aaron came around to loving diesels long ago, as did I. In his article he is simply reinforcing that belief. We have two gasoline Golfs. I wanted to get a diesel, but there were no red Golf, auto, 2doors out there without waiting. The lady could not wait, but my replacemnt will be a 2014 Passat TDI next year.

November 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm
(14) Dave c says:

They do make a tiguan with 2.0 tdi

November 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm
(15) brian says:

We recently drove from Houston to Lake Charles Louisiana in our 2012 Jetta SPW TDI 6 speed manual and we averaged 56+mpg both ways.

November 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm
(16) jeff says:

When I say high performance I dont mean a car with the same performance capabilities as most cars. I mean like the tease I read about some time back, which I know will never happen, a twin turbo diesel Corvette.

November 6, 2012 at 9:52 pm
(17) Brian says:

@jeff and @Michael, I read that VW is bringing over the Tiguan TDI, and also the Golf GTD. I’m just trying to find the link.

If you can’t wait for the performance version, buy a used TDI and get the computer re-programmed. Easily adds 100hp and actually *improves* the MPG, but only if you stay off the fun pedal. Which kind of defeats the point.

November 6, 2012 at 11:38 pm
(18) Zdravko says:

Diesel VW’s, as wonderful as they are, as quite a bit more expensive in Canada. I wonder how long do you need to have the Passat for, before you start saving money.

November 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm
(19) lwatcdr says:

Dave c
Not in the US they don’t, which happens to be where Arron and most of the readers are located.

November 7, 2012 at 12:46 am
(20) Hawaiian Don says:

Zdravko, when we were selling the tdi, we qoted VW suggested break even numbers at 45,000 miles. When we calculared the numbers ourselves, it came to 55,000. Use 50,000 as a guideline. One added plus nobody mentions is the incredible longevity of diesel engines.

November 7, 2012 at 10:10 am
(21) SKR says:

You want to see something really scary take a look at the VW web site in the UK or Germany. When you look at the MPG the diesel cars get in Europe it will make you wonder why we don’t have access to them and it has nothing to do with the hydrocarbons being produced since they get better MPG, they actually put less in the air then the cars we have access to.

November 7, 2012 at 10:46 am
(22) Zdravko says:

This is true, but keep in mind the UK uses a different MPG formula than the US. Still, over there consumption over 6 l/100 km (roughly 35 MPG) is only reserved for sports cars and large SUV (street-utility vehicles ;)

November 7, 2012 at 11:27 am
(23) Montanero says:

I absolutely love my 2010 GOLF TDI with DSG. Most underrated car in America. Fun to drive, locomotive torque, great build quality. I have 40K on mine with perfect reliability. Would love to see the GTD GOLF imported into the US, I’d be at the dealer instantly for a new one.

November 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm
(24) Brian says:

Now all we have to do is hope that certain biodiesel producing states (Illinois, amongst other) change their legislation that requires all stations that sell diesel use B20. (20% biodiesel) Why? While large trucks and commercial equipment will run just fine on B20, VW and other passenger vehicles are restricted to B5, otherwise you risk voiding your warranty. This could help kill diesels altogether.

November 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm
(25) Phil says:

I had a 2002 Golf TDI and loved it. EPA rated it at 46 mpg but I easily got 52 mpg in the summer. I had it for 6 years and put over 200k miles on it. I finally traded it because my wife was having trouble starting it in the winter. We live in Alaska and 20 to 30 below zero is not uncommon. The Golf was parked outside in the cold and I could start it no problem but she would end up running the battery down. The thing I liked most about it was that once I shifted into 5th I almost never had to down-shift, even in town. We traded for a Prius and even though I don’t have to worry about starting the Prius in the cold the Golf was much easier to get high milage with and it was more fun to drive too! When it comes time to trade the Prius I will be looking at diesels first. I hope by then Ford and GM will have brought some of their diesels from Europe.

November 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm
(26) DieRosieDie says:

I can t think of a better diesel application than the good old American Jeep. My 02 Wrangler gets terrible mileage on highway-18 and even worse around town. I need it though to access our cabin in the mountains. How good are the VW s in the hills? How about mountains and snow? I know they are front wheel drive and that is good for those type of driving conditions. If anyone has real world driving experience, say, in the mountains of Western North Carolina or similar climate, please give account. I am also considering the Mercedes Glk that is due to come here soon. I believe it has a 2.1 liter diesel.

November 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm
(27) DieRosieDie says:

I ve also read that Mazda will be sending a 2.2 Diesel here in the CX-5 and BMW in the X1. Sounds like this would be good for consumer. Who doesn’t appreciate varied choice? I say keep em’ coming!

November 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm
(28) N4TECguy says:

SKR, Zdravko…the use of imperial gallons accounts for the majority of the “improved” fuel economy. When you convert it and take away 10% to account for the EPA’s test cycle, it’s a wash. I’m not going to drive a 100HP Passat for a 50MPG rating. In the real world, I would get worse mileage since my foot would be on the floorboard the entire time.

November 13, 2012 at 8:58 am
(29) sam says:

adding to the comments…I believe Chevy will put a diesel in the Cruze, Mazda in the CX-5, new 626 and Chrysler in their Ram and Jeep.

November 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm
(30) JaneinDenver says:

I have a Jetta TDI and I absolutely love it! It gets great mileage, not just on road trips, but in rush hour on the freeways in Denver. Yes, diesel costs more, but it’s still less than a non-diesel will get. And, its roomy interior with all the B&W make it even more fun as a road trip car!

This actually is my second Jetta; the first was a 2.0 liter, standard gasoline engine; it also got fabulous mileage, distinctly above the factory statement. Obviously, the TDI gets better mileage, and is much more powerful.

The VW name and quality holds their diesels above the other brands which attempt to produce great quality with style, power, and driveablilty, but just don’t hit the mark.

November 17, 2012 at 4:27 am
(31) Kevin says:

The way I’ve been able to drive my TDI’s MPG below 40 is to drive 75-80 mph into a 30+ mph headwind from SLC to Reno (around 500 miles) in August with the AC running all day. That drove the MPG in my 2003 Golf TDI (4 spped auto trans) down to 36.5 mpg, the same kind of driving drove my 2010 JSW TDI’s (6speed DSG) mpg down to 39.4 MPG.

I assume if I drove around in alot of bumper-to-bumper city driving it would also fall below 40mpg…

November 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm
(32) Victor says:

Now, if they’d just address the High Pressure Fuel Pump blow-ups they are having, which costs between 7000-9000 to replace the entire fuel system, they’d be just about perfect! I have a 2010 Jetta TDI with DSG transmission. I bought the 100K/7year extended warranty because of the DSG being relatively new, but, it turns out I may be glad I bought it due to the HPFP repair costs. Love the car, though….

November 18, 2012 at 10:49 am
(33) Gregorio says:

One person mentioned high performance diesel’s. Try driving a TDI compared to the gas model and use the sport-shift mode an drive it as fast as you can through any turn or up a hill. Then you realize the difference in driving a boring gas engine. If you looking for 0-60 I understand why you might like gas.

November 19, 2012 at 9:01 am
(34) ncskibum says:

First, the new common rail diesel engines from VW are all rated at 140 hp and 235 ft pounds of torque. If you think you have to keep your foot on the floor all day, go drive one and prove yourself wrong. I have two, a 2010 Sportswagen and a 2011 Golf. With both cars, I get upper 30s running around town and mid 40s on the highway. Due to the difference in emissions equipment and treatments, the larger Passat gets better mileage. For a clearer comparison, I get about 30% higher mileage in my diesels versus the similarly equipped gasoline car. So, as long as diesel is within 30% of the price of regular, my cars are still cheaper to run. Also, a lot of the newer high efficiancy gasoline cars require premium.

November 19, 2012 at 9:28 am
(35) TJ says:

Great article. I am so glad someone actually address the EPA estimates in an article. It seems most writers always leave out the fact that diesels almost always out perform the EPA estimate, while gassers struggle over and over to meet them.

November 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm
(36) amy says:

I agree with Victor, if they’d just address the High Pressure Fuel Pump failures they are having, which costs between $7000-9000 to replace the entire fuel system, they’d be just about perfect! I had to have my entire fuel system replaced because of the failed High Pressure Fuel Pump on 2010 Jetta TDI. Not a pleasant experience. I just got in under the 60k mile Power Train Warranty or else I would have been looking at a $$$ repair. It would be great to have the media interview volkswagen on this issue. 20/20 did a piece on the BMW HPFP issue and BMW issued a voluntary recall and offered extended warranty on thier cars, If course Chris Coumo’s 20/20 story could have possibly forced their hand. For those of you that are not aware, google Vw or bmw and high pressure fuel pump failure.And go to http://www.safecar.gov for the investigation to date.

November 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm
(37) amy1000 says:

I agree with Victor. Having gone through a terrible experience with VoA and a failed High Pressure Fuel Pump on my 2010 Jetta TDI, Luckily I just made the fix under the 60k mile power train warranty. Not everyone is aware of the HPFP blow-ups. While Victor is good to go with his extended warranty…I am not. VofA would only give me 36K on the new fuel system. I asked why won’t they give me a longer extended on the brand new fuel system like BMW 120k/10 year given to Beamer owners when their HPFP failed. Note to all, Chris Coumo of 20/20 did a story on the BMW pump failure and gave BMW a helping hand so they voluntarily recalled and gave extended warranty. VW is not recalling nor alerting their customer of the danger…instead waiting for the National Highway Safety Adminstration to make them recall. Come on VW…stand behind your product!!! Google HPFP failure and find out more.

November 19, 2012 at 11:04 pm
(38) Dezlboy says:

Warning. TDI fuel pumps are shedding metal flakes throughout the fuel system. $8K repair bill, with maybe a 36K extended guarantee. If VW would at a minimum come clean and discuss this issue, then I could give them two stars. As for now, with the latest CR rating of very poor service and reliability (for tens years on!), I’ve had enough of VW.

November 20, 2012 at 9:47 am
(39) TJ says:

I agree with everyone on the HPFP issue. It is something that VW needs to fix. If Bosch can’t make an HPFP that works with US D2, then they need to find someone who can.

However, let’s get all the facts on the table.

The failure rate is very low. Most likely under .5%.
VW has been covering these HPFP failures for virtually everyone if there wasn’t a misfuel. There are people who have been covered with over 120K on their odometer.

All that said. It is definitely a “scar” in VWs reputation when they are having issues like this. There needs to be some awareness made to folks before purchasing these cars. While the likely hood is very low that you will have to deal with an HPFP failure, it is catastrophic if it does happen to you.

I am hoping that VW doesn’t continue to ignore this issue, and hopefully someone in the media business will get a hold of the issue and make it known. This could put pressure on VW to do the right thing. Let’s face it, they won’t cover these things forever, and some of us expect our diesel cars to last over 200K or more. What happens when one blows up at 190K miles and VW won’t cover it? Total the car….

November 20, 2012 at 10:05 am
(40) amy1000 says:

i loved my TDI until the HPFP issue happened to me. I was very brand loyal owning 2 gasser jettas previous to my TDI, putting 150k on both. I planned on doing the same with my TDI…but they wouldn’t warranty their work on the replaced fuel system for more than36k. Very disappointed with VW and how they are handling this problem.

November 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm
(41) Bill says:

I got 54 mpg on a cross country trip in March of this year (2012). Mine is a 2011 Golf TDI, 6 speed manual.

November 21, 2012 at 10:43 am
(42) Tom says:

I own a 2010 Jetta TDi with over 67,000 miles. It’s a dream! Please VW . . . put the TDi in a Tiguan. What a combo! It’d be our next family buy.

November 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm
(43) Murray says:

Great article,
I can not believe how crazy these world manufactures are in not thinking owners in North American would not like buy smaller diesel vehicle’s other than those rediculous oversized pickups that are preduced here.
They clearly have a place; but not where you have to compete on regular roads and city streets like we all have too, most of the time.
The sheer number of these vehicles we see today can’t be all used as they were originally designed for.
Also not every one wants 400-600 volts under there seat or some other position in the vehicle, ie EV’s and hybrids.
So its kind of ironic that one of the largest auto markets on this planet has the least selection of anywhere in the world.
Well its about time these Companies start putting the pressure on where they can, to allow buyers more choices than we have now,as they are clearly missing the boat; so to speak.
Go German Auto Manufacture’s
As a Expat (Kiwi) New Zealander; living in Canada we can aleast import 15 yr old Japanese RHD vehicles, and guess what they are all DIESEL. Myself I have a fantatic 1994 Mitsubishi PAJERO / MONTERO 2.8 Turbo diesel Exceed / Limited model where along with all the other Japanese makes that have SUV’s
were and are still only sold as Gas or Hybrid in North America go figure!!!
Hyundai and Kia even have a fantastic 2.2 ltr Diesel that is Euro/World compliant and this dosen’t even look like it will make it here.
If you go to any German Auto makers Dealer Network through out North America I garrantee one of the first choice’s in people mind is Diesel!!
I rest case…

December 12, 2012 at 12:10 am
(44) Scout says:

Bought a ’12 Jetta TDI in July. Now with over 13K on it I can say I love it. In most vehicles you have the choice between power/performance and economy. With a TDI you can have most of the former and all of the later. Don’t let the power horsepower figures make you think you’re getting a gutless wonder econo car. This car generally performs like it has a 200HP V6 under the hood. Best mileage to date is 55.7mpg with over 800 miles on 14.5 gallons. These cars love to be driven, and people love to drive them.

February 8, 2013 at 2:39 am
(45) J.R. says:

Got a fully loaded 2013 Passat TDI at the end of December. It is a solid, comfortable, well made vehicle. And it has the roomiest back seat area I’ve ever seen in a sedan. These cars are being built in Chattanooga, TN.

But here’s where this diesel engine truly shines: consistent 35-38 mpg in the city (mostly San Fernando Valley in L.A.) and 48 to 54 mpg highway (higher mileage at 65 mph).

January 30, 2014 at 10:30 am
(46) Mike says:

My 2012 Golf’s HPFP exploded at 11,000 miles. VW of A was initially unaccomadating, taking several weeks for the repair, leaving me stranded on a road trip. The dealer’s mechanics told me they replace the HPFP and related parts during the warranty on around 10% of the TDIs they’ve sold since 2009,, sometimes more than once. The sales manager lied telling me he’d never heard of the issue. The car was great, but I felt like I was driving a time bomb. VW needs to find a fix.

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