There is a car - a family-sized sedan (and wagon!) that's capable of going 600-plus miles on a topped-off tank - more than a Toyota Prius hybrid - and without the complexity (and therefore, additional cost potential) of multiple drivetrains packaged in the same vehicle. It's also a more enjoyable car to drive - no small thing for most people. And it's affordable relative to a Prius - only $22,775 to start. That's about $1,200 less than the base price ($24,000) of Toyota's big-selling hybrid.
What is this car? It's the 2012 VW Jetta TDI. Of course, there's a catch. Isn't there always? I'll tell you about that in a minute.
WHAT IT IS
The Jetta TDI is one of a very small handful of diesel-powered passenger cars available in the U.S. And it's the only one in its class - the bread and butter family-car class - available with a diesel engine.
On the left, there's the soon-to-be-here 2013 SkyActivD Mazda3 diesel - but it's a more sport-oriented (and physically smaller) car. On the right... well, there's nothing, really. You have to move up the price chain to an entry-luxury level ride such as the Audi A3 - which starts at just over $30k.
The Jetta TDI's most direct challenger as efficient family transpo is probably the Prius hybrid. It's also family-minded in layout - and touts its high efficiency. But it's also very different type of car in several keys respects - functionally and otherwise.
The 2012 TDI Jetta sedan's base price is $22,775 with the standard-issue six-speed manual transmission. With the optional DSG automated manual, the price is $23,875. A top-of-the-line TDI with the Premium package, the DSG transmission and GPS navigation lists for $26,445.
A Sportwagen version of the TDI-equipped Jetta is also available. It starts at $25,540.
Since the Jetta was all-new last year, the '12 is mostly a carryover. But there are some new features, including a high-end Fender audio system. My test car had this - and it's top drawer.