2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDIEnlarge Photo
For the first time in 16 years, diesel vehicles have made the shortlist for the North American Car and Truck of The Year Awards.
Both diesel finalists meet emissions standards in all 50 U.S. states. All finalists were selected by a group of 50 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada.
The car in the running is the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which our editors drove and found remarkably torquey, efficient, and refined. The newly developed 2.0-liter TDI diesel unit is a significant upgrade from VW's legendary 1.9 TDI, yielding more horsepower, more torque, far less emissions, and much quieter operation thanks to the wizardry of piezoelectric control of the fuel injectors.
The diesel truck contender also hails from a German firm. Mercedes knows a thing or two about diesels, and its latest 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel is brimming with high-tech to deliver power, torque, and efficiency in a package befitting its pricy luxury ML-Class SUV. The 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML 320 BlueTEC boasts the same piezoelectric injection as the VW, but adds urea injection into the exhaust stream to neutralize NOx emissions, turning them into inert nitrogen gas and water vapor.
Diesel faces an uphill climb as a green technology, its past littered with noxious particulate matter and elevated levels of nitrogen oxide due to diesels' inherently higher combustion temperature. Add to that the higher premium demanded at the pump for diesel fuel, and it's a hard sell to the anti-diesel American public. It will be interesting to see if the new generation of clean diesels such as the VW Jetta TDI and Mercedes-Benz ML 320 BlueTEC, which often prove cleaner-burning than their gasoline-powered competitors, changes the tide of public opinion.
Stay tuned over at our flagship site TheCarConnection.com for wall-to-wall coverage of the Detroit auto show.--Colin Mathews