Guide to Green Cars > The Ultimate Green Car Buyer’s Guide > Volkswagen

2012 Green Car Buyer’s Guide, Volkswagen

2012 model year highlights from Volkswagen: the Golf TDI, Jetta TDI, Jetta SportWagen TDI and Passat TDI. 


Compiled by Megan E. Phelps, John Rockhold,
Hannah Kincaid, Emily Glover,
Bradley Berman and Zach McDonald

See “What the Numbers Mean” in The Ultimate Green Car Buyer’s Guide, 2012 for a full description of the metrics we collected for each model.

Volkswagen Golf TDI

Deisel, Compact Hatchback 

Volkswagen-GolfPrice Range: $25,000 – $29,100
City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 30/42/34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,800
Air Pollution Score: 5
Greenhouse Gas Score: 7
ACEEE Green Score and Class Ranking: 48/Above Average
Safety Ratings: IIHS Top Safety Pick (4-door models); N/A
Space: 93 cu. ft. p.v./seats 5
Drive Score: 4.5
Similar Used: 2010, 2011

Good to Know: 

  • Nearly four decades after its debut, the Golf is the most successful model in Volkswagen’s history. The most recent Golf model is Europe’s most popular vehicle.
  • The Golf is one of the most powerful, fun-to-drive and upscale vehicles in its class, but it lags behind most competing models in fuel economy.
  • Base pricing for the Golf TDI is higher than other small cars, but the extra money is reflected in the superior look and quality of its interior and the durable diesel engine.

What the Press Says: 

  • “The current Volkswagen Golf stands apart in the compact class with an overall level of refinement that simply can’t be matched. ... Regarding the Golf’s current lineup, we strongly recommend the TDI model because of its higher level of equipment, strong engine and superior fuel economy.” — 
  • “The Golf is an excellent all-around car. ... The diesel version got an impressive 38 mpg overall in our tests with a manual transmission.” — Consumer Reports 
  • “If you don’t choke on the price, the new Golf has plenty to offer, especially when it comes to vehicle dynamics and utility. ... And for our money, we’d choose the excellent efficiency, increased amenities and superior suspension dynamics of the TDI.” — Autoblog 
  • “For budget-conscious buyers who want the Germanic, solid feel of a Mercedes-Benz, there’s the Golf.” — Car and Driver 

Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Diesel, Compact 

Volkswagen-JettaPrice Range: $23,500 – $26,100
City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 30/42/34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,800
Air Pollution Score: 5
Greenhouse Gas Score: 7
ACEEE Green Score and Class Ranking: 48/Above Average
Safety Ratings: IIHS Top Safety Pick (4 door versions); 4-star NHTSA rating
Space: 92.4 cu. ft. p.v./seats 5
Drive Score: 4
Similar Used: 2011 

Good to Know: 

  • The Volkswagen Jetta TDI was the first clean diesel to pass California’s tough emissions standards. In its debut year, 2009, it won Green Car of the Year.
  • Volkswagen’s 4-cylinder, turbocharged direct-injection diesel engine provides 140 horsepower, ample torque and the best fuel economy you’ll find in a non-hybrid of its size.
  • The TDI costs almost $6,000 more than the base-level gas Jetta. It’s also 30 percent more powerful and 25 percent more fuel efficient.

What the Press Says: 

  • “The Jetta sedan has a spacious rear seat and trunk, but the good news mostly ends there. ... The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder TDI diesel gets an impressive 34 mpg overall, but the automated manual transmission transmits vibrations at very low speeds.” — Consumer Reports 
  • “The car was, as expected, comfortable, stylish, and well-mannered on the road ... providing the performance required for a fun driving experience plus over 40 mpg fuel efficiency. It’s hard to beat that combination.” — Green Car Journal 
  • “The new Volkswagen Jetta is attractive, but the interior reflects some of the cost cutting that allowed the price to go down.” — Motor Trend 

What Drivers Say: 

  • Jetta TDI drivers love their fuel economy. Alan Moede reports getting 45 mpg in Wisconsin in the middle of winter and more than 50 in the summer.
  • “Even though I am a lead foot, I still get 40 mpg,” says Mike Calcutt of Reston, Va. “If I drive smoothly and slower, it reaches 50 mpg.”

Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

Diesel, Wagon 

Volkswagen-SportwagenPrice Range: $26,300 – $28,900
City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 29/39/33
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,800
Air Pollution Score: 5
Greenhouse Gas Score: 7
ACEEE Green Score and Class Ranking: 47/Above Average
Safety Ratings: IIHS Top Safety Pick (4-door models); N/A
91.7 cu. ft. p.v./seats 5
Drive Score: 4
Similar Used: 2010, 2011

Good to Know: 

  • The Jetta SportWagen TDI starts about $2,800 higher than the Jetta TDI sedan but has cargo space comparable to some crossover SUVs — without sacrificing any of the sedan’s power or fuel economy.
  • The SportWagen TDI costs about $5,000 more than its gas-powered equivalent but gets 8 mpg more in combined mpg.
  • More than 80 percent of buyers opt for the TDI engine over the standard gas-powered SportWagen.
  • Between its hatch door and the rear seat, the SportWagen provides nearly 33 cubic feet of cargo room. That jumps to nearly 67 cubic feet with the rear seat down.

What the Press Says:  

  • “In many ways, the Jetta SportWagen is a smart alternative to heavier and less efficient compact crossovers. Not only does the Jetta provide better handling, but its cargo space is generally on par or better. ” — 
  • “The Jetta SportWagen is a great car. It’s reasonably compact but roomy, and exceptionally popular with the diesel crowd. In fact, VW says that more than 80 percent of the Jetta SportWagens sold in the U.S. are TDI models, and those who have them love them.” — Road & Track 

What Drivers Say: 

  • For a wagon, there’s not as much space as she might like, says Susan Kenned of Louisville, Ky., who finds the car a tight squeeze for family camping trips. However, other drivers say it’s sturdy, good in snow and gets great mileage. Real-world mpg is better than the EPA estimates, with many drivers reporting mpg in the 40s.

Volkswagen Passat TDI

Diesel, Sedan 

Volkswagen-Passat-TDIPrice Range: $26,800 – $33,000
City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 30/40/34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,800
Air Pollution Score: 5
Greenhouse Gas Score: 7
ACEEE Green Score and Class Ranking: 48/Above Average
Safety Ratings: IIHS Top Safety Pick (4-door models); 5-star NHTSA rating
Space: 102 cu. ft. p.v./seats 5
Drive Score: 5
Similar Used: Redesigned for 2012

Good to Know: 

  • The newly redesigned Volkswagen Passat was named the 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
  • The TDI is the only clean diesel mid-size sedan in the United States — with the highest fuel economy of any non-hybrid or non-electric vehicle in its class.
  • Pricing for the diesel starts $6,000 higher than the standard gas model, but it gets 30 percent better fuel economy.
  • The Passat got bigger for 2012, resulting in back seat legroom comparable to some full-size sedans.
  • Since the TDI’s release, Volkswagen says it has struggled to keep up with demand for the hot-selling clean diesel variant.
  • Volkswagen manufactures the Passat at its Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant in the United States, a LEED Platinum certified building.

What the Press Says: 

  • “Designed and engineered in Germany but made in America for Americans, the redesigned 2012 Volkswagen Passat deserves serious consideration from mid-size family sedan shoppers.” — 
  • “The TDI-equipped Passat feels and drives like a sedan you want to spend time in. We encountered just over 40 mpg combined during our time behind the wheel of the Passat TDI.” — Autoblog 
  • “For those seeking a high-performance family sedan — in terms of mpg and lateral g — the Passat TDI is unbeatable.” — Motor Trend 
  • “If you’re looking for a practical family sedan that is also fun to drive, the new VW Passat is a worthy contender for your hard-earned dollar.” — Kelley Blue Book 

More 2012 green cars: Find details about many more green cars from other automakers in The Ultimate Green Car Buyer’s Guide, 2012.

Photos from Volkswagen 

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