Sipping diesel, spitting torque

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Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the Volkswagen Beetle TDi project car
Mar 8, 2013

You may already know that we’ve added a controversial Chevy Volt to our long-term fleet to explore what alternative drivetrains mean to the future of enthusiast cars. Well, Volkswagen challenged our assumptions and let us know that they were already building the ultimate combination of fun and frugality: The diesel-powered TDi drivetrain.

So VW loaned us a 2013 Beetle TDi to challenge our Volt for alt-power supremacy. Really, it’s a good comparison. While the Volt is all high-tech and revolutionary, the Beetle TDi takes a modern approach to a time-honored tradition in fuel savings: the diesel engine.

But this is no throwback blue-smoker. The modern 2.0-liter direct-injected diesel engine in the VW TDi is as smooth and quiet as any modern combustion engine. Okay, it’s not quite as smooth as the electric drive in our Volt, but we’ll keep our apples and oranges in separate bags for now. But, truthfully, for 95% of the motoring public, they’d be hard-pressed to discern that this is a diesel powertrain in a blind taste-test.

And, really, that has more to do with preconceived notions about diesel power than anything. One of the reasons diesel hasn’t caught on in the states is the horrible PR it received from the first wave of noise, clattery, smoky and smelly diesel cars back in the 1970s and ‘80s. So while modern diesels share little outside of the basic operating principles with those rattly dinosaurs of the past, for the discerning driver, however, there are some noticeable differences in the output characteristics.

Diesels are typically known for their torque, and the current TDi is no exception. While the turbocharged 2.0-liter cranks out a seemingly modest (by current standards) 140hp, it puts down a whopping 236 ft.-lbs. of torque. That number puts it in some rare company—rarer still when you remember that this is a car that lives in an ultra-economy segment, not a segment of zippy sports sedans and hatchbacks.

It’s a combination that takes some getting used to, though—all that torque and so much less horsepower. The combination motivates the car away from a stop with brutal authority, but the long stroke engine is not happiest at high revs like the engines we’ve become accustomed to. Shift the six-speed box a bit early, though, and you’re rewarded with pretty peppy acceleration.

And, of course, the whole time you’re being treated to VW’s legendary chassis dynamics. The same feel that made us feel in love with the original Rabbit GTI is still present in today’s Beetle TDi, and that’s one area where the Volt will absolutely not be able to compete. In fact, we’re so confident in our Beetles chassis manners that we’ll be prepping our TDi Beetle to take a run at Virginia International Raceway in our 2013 edition of the Ultimate Track Car Challenge.

So far our time with the TDi has been eye-opening. It averages in the mid-to-high 30s for around town mileage, and on the freeway it easily tops 40mpg. There’s a catch, though (there’s always a catch): Currently diesel fuel in Florida is about $.15 more per gallon than premium gasoline. It will be interesting to see how the math works out over the long term when it comes to the ultimate costs involved with both of our alternative-fuel vehicles.

Project proudly supported by:
VW of America
TSW Wheels
Revo/Stasis Group

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View comments on the GRM forums
AttoirRE New Reader
3/8/13 12:16 p.m.

You guys are going to need to pull down better than 40mpg to justify the cost and maintenance of a diesel. I'm a huge diesel fan, but the mileage isn't far off from a lot of new gasoline cars with a much lower price tag.

Jaynen Dork
4/11/13 5:15 p.m.

For where I am diesel is about a 10% premium which still bests most gasser vehicles. Also Diesel tends to retain its high mpg at higher than legal cruising speeds while gassers tend to fall off a lot more. My Jetta TDI does 43mpg all day at 80mph and 39 city with the AC on. No modern non hybrid car will come close to the city mileage of the diesel.

And you are only a chip and some injectors away from so much more power without impacting the fuel economy, show me a gasser that can do that

Jaynen Dork
4/11/13 5:16 p.m.

Also pay attention to the overall weight of the wheels and tires you add to the car, keep it light and even stickier tires will help a lot. For a good compromise tire for performance and rolling resistance the TDI club guys like the contintental DWS

ronbros Reader
4/18/13 12:17 p.m.

i like diesel cars or trucks, even buses, have owned a bunch.

fastest cars at Sebring ,duh, AUDI diesels, 1&2, closest gasser, 5LAPS behind!, they must be good they wont let them run in a lot of races,banned in most races.

and Diesels are finally comin on strong, many brands showing up, only a matter of time when they get sorted out!!

Horsepower sells cars; Torque wins races!

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