Cactus League MPG Run - 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI: Cactus League MPG Run

March 07, 2012


After Takahashi went to Phoenix and back with the Jetta TDI, I took it right back again for the opening day of the Cactus League, baseball’s spring training in Arizona.

With the annual winter increase in gas prices, it was a good time to be driving the TDI, since diesel fuel was usefully cheaper than premium gasoline at most of the fuel stations I saw. It gave me a glimpse of a world where diesel might be a rational exercise in technology instead of a dumb strategy to buy a really expensive engine and really expensive pollution control equipment while paying more money for fuel than gas cars.

Takahashi recorded 41 mpg on his way there and then a remarkable 44 mpg on his way back, so I was interested to see the way my fairly careless driving on cruise control would compare to his hypermiling effort.


I had the Jetta on cruise control at 75 mph practically the whole way there after leaving at dawn and got 41 mpg. On the way back I stopped at the Colorado River at Blythe (where the alfalfa fields were just being cut), to see if I’d get any downhill factor from Phoenix, but it turned out that I got just 38 mpg. Over the rest of the way to L.A., the traffic speed went down to 70 mph on a crowded evening, then I added another 120 miles during commute hour over the next two days at speeds between 30 mph and 60 mph, and the fuel economy went to 44 mpg.

Now that 40 mpg is achievable in a selection of gas-powered cars like the Ford Focus SFE, I’m still asking myself if diesel is worth the trouble. Then again, the torque output of this turbodiesel delivers a little better drivability around town than the relatively low-powered gas engines that are required to make the 40 mpg number. I wonder if we’ll soon start seeing diesel cars tuned for extreme mpg numbers so they can compete with the eco-calibrated gas cars.

Aside from this, the Jetta proved a great highway car. Plenty quiet, with a poised suspension calibration that’s typical of VW. A soundly ergonomic driving position with an excellent steering wheel. Surprisingly good seat driver seat that’s supportive despite flat cushions designed for full-size Americans and yet comfortable enough for all-day travel thanks to nicely resilient cushions and adjustable lumbar support.

Though the interior has been de-contented in this latest-generation VW (a consequence of the same difficulty with the currency exchange rate that faces Japanese carmakers), the Jetta looks and feels far better than the Mazda 3 that we have in our test fleet. At the same time, the low-tech, cell-phone-style navigation system has me wondering about the future of carmaker-installed navis in cars


Not a lot to report from Phoenix Muncipal Stadium, where I saw the Angels play the A’s, though the nice thing about the beginning of the Cactus League season is the relative lack of crowds at mid-week games, so you can see more than just the back of the head of some guy sitting in front of you and there’s no line for a bratwurst or foot-long dog in the beer garden.

Teams have been coming to Phoenix for spring games ever since the Tigers played the Pirates in 1929, although it was the wildly innovative Bill Veeck who really formalized Cactus League baseball when he brought out his newly acquired Cleveland Indians in 1947 to train near his winter home in Tuscon and convinced Harold Stoneman to bring the Giants along and train in Phoenix. Apparently there’s a little display at the Phoenix airport right now that tells the story and naturally you can read about it at the Cactus League site on the Web.

The big thing is just to feel the thrill of the grass after the winter.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 19,843 miles

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