I never thought my husband's 15-year-old Saturn would survive the winter, but it has. Although he's in no rush to replace his "perfectly good" beater, I'd like to get him into a more modern, efficient vehicle.
For months, we've been testing different cars, hoping to find something efficient that's practical for a family of four, with a price tag that suits our budget.
We tried electric vehicles, but the range limitations didn't meet my husband's driving needs. We tested plug-in hybrids and liked them, but with battery technology improving so rapidly, we feared we'd be paying a premium for a car that would soon feel obsolete.
Someone asked why I hadn't considered diesel cars. I'd never thought of them as being particularly clean, so I consulted Ming Zheng, director of the Clean Combustion Engine Laboratory at the University of Windsor. He assured me that diesel-engine technology has come a long way, and burns cleaner than typical gas engines, leaving less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon in the exhaust.
"If you want to reduce carbon dioxide, there's not many better ways to do it than diesel engines and still have good car performance," Zheng said.
Diesel engines are often 40 per cent more efficient than gasoline engines, he added. "The best diesel car fuel efficiency is comparable to hybrid gasoline cars or fuel cell cars."
The last time we shopped for a family car, my husband had wanted a diesel station wagon, but I balked at the cost, which was about $15,000 more than the $25,000 we had planned to spend. This time, however, we're looking for a smaller car, and I discovered some affordable diesel options. I decided to test the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI and Chevrolet Cruze.
After months of grudgingly tolerating the plug-in vehicles I foisted on him, my husband finally seemed excited. Two of his friends owned Jettas (though not the diesel version), so it already had the bro seal of approval.
While the Jetta has been criticized for being not much to look at inside, my husband liked its simplicity. Locating basic functions was easy compared to some of the high-tech hybrids we'd tried.
Some of the tech options were perplexing, however, such as the tiny dash-mounted DVD screen that blacks out the visuals (but not the audio) when the car moves, so the kids could only watch movies at red lights. Also, the touchscreen was a bit touchy, and the voice control only controlled the phone.
The Cruze was more tech savvy, with a more responsive screen, voice controls for most basic functions and OnStar 4G LTE, which creates a Wi-Fi hot spot for up to seven devices.
The Cruze and Jetta come with most of the same standard safety features. While the Cruze has more air bags, the Jetta was chosen as a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In the end, my husband and I were split: He liked the Jetta and I preferred the Cruze.
I thought the Cruze offered more for the money. Our fully loaded testers were $4,000 apart, and I preferred the tech upgrades on the Cruze over the Jetta.
However, we both liked that the Jetta comes with an extra year of warranty protection and, with a 12-year corrosion warranty, you get the feeling the Jetta won't be a rust bucket. Also, the Jetta's combined fuel economy slightly beats out the Cruze, and efficiency was one of our most important considerations.
Now if I can just persuade my husband to retire his old ride, we may have found a contender for our next car purchase.
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