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August 11, 2013

Diesel VW Beetle is fun for many miles

Last week I experienced two extremes in driving pleasure from a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle.

One was the satisfaction of ultra-high fuel economy. After a week of ordinary driving, mixing some freeway runs and around-town shuffles, I averaged 47.7 miles per gallon of fuel. Let’s round that up to 48 mpg because I could have made that easily if I had exercised just a bit more moderation.

The fact that I didn’t apply a tad more moderation points to the second big delight the VW bug delivered. The car was the thrill, with the quick-flinging, dart-around movements that agile and rapid small cars attain. Plunging the accelerator pedal, pushing the car around tight-arcing turns, I had so much fun that often it was impossible to drive the Beetle conservatively.

The model I drove for the seven-day evaluation was a Beetle TDI, with a turbo-charged, four-cylinder diesel engine. It carried a list price of right around $25,000.

Diesel engines are prized for their fuel efficiency, which can top that of a gasoline-fueled engine by an alluring margin. A standard VW Beetle with a gas engine and automatic transmission earns a government fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon in city driving, and 29 mpg on the highway. The feds rate the diesel version of the same model at 29 mpg city, 39 mpg highway. My average of 48 mpg in mixed driving – without even trying – may sound surprising when compared to the government estimate. But you hear similar accounts from diesel owners who top government fuel-use expectations by such large margins.

Diesel engines do not use spark plugs, which in gasoline engines are necessary to ignite the fuel – the gasoline – that powers the engine. Diesel fuel ignites automatically when compression inside the engine heats it to a combustible temperature. Diesels burn a particular fuel – called diesel fuel, of course – that enables its compression ignition.

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