Jetta goes the extra mile in fuel challenge

Matthew Welch, the general manager of Auburn Volkswagen, practices what he preaches. He believes the new Jetta Turbo Diesel can match or beat the leading hybrid for fuel economy supremacy.

On Wednesday, it did.

Welch and his zippy Jetta TDI left early Tuesday morning from the Auburn dealership for San Francisco to prove a point – reach the “City by the Bay” on one tank of fuel.

After nearly 750 miles, interrupted by a good night’s sleep along the way, Welch did just that. He arrived in the Bay Area on Wednesday afternoon, averaging what the car factory claimed the Jetta would do – purr at 47 miles per gallon. In fact, Welch and machine averaged 50.5 mph, following the speed limit. The Jetta carries a 14.9-gallon tank. And yes, the cost of a gallon of diesel right now is running about 13 percent higher than regular fuel.

“We wanted to back up what Volkswagen said these cars could do,” Welch said. “We had fun doing it. We’re thrilled with the findings.”

By comparison, the Toyota Prius, driven by a colleague over the same stretch of Interstate 5, ran out of regular fuel between Shasta and Redding, Calif., roughly 200 miles shy of the Bay Area. The Toyota, juiced by a 11.9-gallon tank, still averaged a whopping 48.2 mph over 597 miles.

Welch acknowledged it was by no means a fair comparison, but a chance to show how fuel-efficient cars can perform.

The Prius hybrid is best suited for stop-and-go city driving, with regenerative braking, which converts heat energy into electricity and recycles that back to the battery pack. The Jetta, meanwhile, is a more fuel-conscious vehicle, utilizing a diesel engine to achieve high mileage, like the trucks on the freeway.

“We’re not trying to beat up the hybrids,” Welch said. “We want everybody to get fuel economy. But the Jetta is a fun, comfortable car to drive that performs and gets great mileage.”

As Welch pointed out, Volkswagen’s new generation of turbo diesels are poised to invade the market that hybrids currently dominate.

The Jetta TDI, priced anywhere between $25,000 to $30,000, represents new clean-burning technology approved in all 50 states. It even can run on biofuel, where the Prius uses outdated battery pack technology, Welch pointed out.

With soaring gas prices, any efforts to effectively boost fuel mileage is welcomed.

Good news indeed.

Welch’s drive was under the watchful eye of a film crew and assisted by Fueled Creative Digital Strategies. The Auburn VW webisodes will first be released on popular video share sites such as Youtube and Daily Break, as well as social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook. Shorter versions then will be released on TV.

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