“Clean Diesel.” That’s the line Volkswagen used to market its diesel cars in the U.S. VW promised to let owners have their cake and eat it too, attracting a bit of a cult following in doing so.

In its February 2010 review of the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI — the first model year for the new four-cylinder diesel in the U.S. — Car and Driver summed up this rather miraculous car well.

“VW spent ’07 and ’08 with a diesel hole in its U.S. lineup while engineers worked to meet the new rules with a heavily revised 16-valve, 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder that came with a particulate trap and a catalyst to kill off oxides of nitrogen (NOx ). The Jetta TDI that emerged is clean enough to satisfy the emissions laws of all 50 states without resorting to urea injection, plus, it is powerful (140 horses) and quick enough (0 to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds) to satisfy us. In fact, our TDI proved to be as quick to 60 as a manual five-cylinder gas Jetta.”

But the real draw of the diesel Jetta has always been, and remains, its fuel economy. Over our 39,678-mile test (VW snatched back its car just before we could hit the 40,000-mile mark), our Jetta TDI consumed diesel at a rate of 38 mpg. That number has only been bettered twice by C/D long-termers: A 2000 Honda Insight returned 48 mpg over 40,000 miles, and a 1992 Honda Civic VX got 41 mpg over 35,000 miles. Read more…

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Eco-conscious car buyers aren’t ready to forgive Volkswagen