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Jetta Value is easy on wallet, fuel

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Diesel-powered cars save on fuel, but many won't save you any money.

That's because they cost thousands more to buy, compared with gas-powered models. Many automakers offer diesel only in combination with pricey standard features.

So it can take years ­— if ever — to make up for those upfront costs through savings at the pump.

That's what makes the latest addition to Volkswagen's growing diesel fleet, the Jetta TDI Value Edition, so intriguing. It offers the same diesel engine used across VW's lineup in a stripped-down package with an aggressive price: $22,115 with a manual transmission and $23,215 with a dual-clutch automated manual.

That cuts more than $2,300 from the price of the standard Jetta TDI and makes it by far the least expensive diesel car in America. It undercuts VW's other diesel models — including the Golf, Jetta Sportwagen and Passat — by an even wider margin. The Value Edition stands out for its rare mix of a premium drivetrain with basic standard features, a combination we'd like to see more of across the industry.

The pairing of the TDI engine with VW's standard-setting dual-clutch gearbox is among the best in the industry at blending fuel economy — 30 miles per gallon in the city and 42 mpg on the highway — with driving fun.

The engine is VW's 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel with a modest 140 horsepower but gobs of torque, at 236 pound-feet. The torque translates to impressive power at the lower end of the rev range, making it shine in city driving and freeway passing.

But what you give up for the sake of value is quality of interior materials. Every surface in the interior is a cheap slab of black plastic.

The cheapening extends to the steering wheel, which loses the leather wrapping and chrome accents on more upscale Jettas.

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