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  • November 20, 2014

Test Drive: Green Cars - Ladue News: Special Features

Test Drive: Green Cars

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Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:00 pm

As Earth Day approaches, we’re all hopefully thinking of ways we can decrease our carbon footprint. Two effective ways to reduce the amount of fossil fuel we use in our cars are to drive less and to increase the fuel economy of the vehicles we drive.

One great way to increase gas mileage is to switch to a diesel engine, which generally gets better mileage than a similar petrol engine. Outdated biases have prevented the proliferation of diesels in America, where people remember slow, smoky, noisy diesels of years past. Europeans have figured out; however, that modern diesels are none of these things—plus, they provide an appealing high-mileage alternative.

European automaker Audi has been selling diesels in Europe for a long time, and in America for several years now. If you blindfolded someone, put him in a diesel Audi, removed the blindfold and then had him drive it, he’d have a hard time telling whether he was driving a diesel or a gas engine. What they lack in horsepower, diesels more than make up for in torque, which is the rotation force of the drive wheels. At a track last fall, I drove a couple of Audi diesels and found their performance as good as any gas engine, thanks, in part, to turbocharging.

The Audi A6 diesel sedan is a good example of an excellent luxury car made better by improved mileage. Like its gas-powered counterpart, the A6 offers all the bells and whistles of a modern luxury sedan, including four-zone automatic climate control, heated and cooled leather seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, sunroof, blind-spot monitoring system, and a 7-inch video display for navigation, audio and other driver interfaces. Unfortunately, the screen is manipulated by a remote rotary knob located between the front seats that makes using the video screen a bit of an acquired skill. The rear seat is roomy; and rear seat passengers get three sets of air vents, along with their own climate controls and heated seats. The rear seats can be folded 60/40 to expand the already very generously sized trunk.

The A6 quattro sports a 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder turbo diesel engine good for 240 horsepower and 428 lb/ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Gas mileage is 24 city, 38 highway. With a full tank of diesel, the A6 can go about 550 miles, which will get you to Kansas City and back on one tank of fuel. Acceleration is brisk, with the turbo charger and all that torque. Brakes are good and the ride is smooth; yet handling is sporty and fun, thanks to an athletic suspension. It’s what you expect a premium German sedan to feel like, though power steering is slightly over-boosted.

According to Joe Wolk, sales manager at Audi West County, “The A6 gets its responsiveness, thanks to the prodigious torque of its diesel engine, which also delivers gas mileage in the high 30s. It’s comfortable, sporty, reliable and socially responsible.”

Base price for the A6 diesel is about $58,500.

Another green alternative is the Volkswagen Golf TDI diesel. Available only as a 4-door hatchback now, the Golf started the front-drive hatchback craze in America almost 40 years ago.

Cloth front seats are heated and nicely bolstered, and the steering wheel manually tilts and telescopes. The glove box can even be cooled so your Hershey bar doesn’t melt on the way home. Ventilation controls are three-rotary-knob simple, and the audio is controlled via the dash-mounted touch video screen that’s pretty easy to use, or by steering wheel-mounted controls. The rear seat offers good room for a small car, especially head room, and cheap-seat occupants get their own air vents. There’s a decent amount of cargo space beneath the wide-opening rear hatch, and with the 60/40 rear seats folded you can transport really large objects or a lot of cargo.

The diesel Golf is powered by a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbo clean diesel with 236 lb/ft. of torque good for 30 city and 42 highway mpg. Power goes to the front wheels via a 6-speed DSG dual clutch automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or a 6-speed manual transmission. Prodigious torque creates rapid acceleration, with just a hint of turbo lag. A sport suspension, good brakes and good steering response make this a fun little car to toss around.

Dave Schultz, assistant sales manager at Dean Team VW in Kirkwood says, “The VW Golf is one of the bestselling cars in the world; here in the U.S. with the diesel engine, it has ultra-clean emissions, 40-plus mpg and it’s actually fun to drive.”

Prices for the VW Golf diesel start at approximately $26,000.

Meet me at the Horseless Carriage Club’s Easter Concourse on April 20 in the Muny upper parking lot. It’s the best antique car show in St. Louis. I’ll be with a red Austin-Healey.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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