Toyota Prius vs. Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Yep, you read that right. We’re doing a green car comparison between a hybrid and a diesel. But why you might ask? Aren’t diesels supposed to be noisy soot factories? And doesn’t Mother Nature drive a Prius?

Well here’s the deal; Modern technology can clean up anything. Just look at Britney Spears career. Lock enough nerds in a lab, and you’re going to get a whiz-bang solution…that you probably won’t understand, even if they explained it. And that’s just what Volkswagen did.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

The Volkswagen Group’s 2.0 TDI engine uses technology like a scrub brush. The diesel is direct-injected into each cylinder, at an incredibly high pressure. This virtually eliminates unburned fuel escaping the combustion process, and becoming emissions. There’s also a storage container in the exhaust system, which collects NOx gasses, then vaporizes them with engine heat. All of this wizardry helps the oil-burning 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI to meet California’s insanely strict emissions standards.

2013 Toyota Prius C Hybrid

Granted, the 2013 Toyota Prius emits even less bad stuff out the tailpipe. Mostly because the gas engine gets to stay in the ‘off’ position for a majority of urban travel. But this new generation of diesel engines shows a lot of promise. Thanks to their intelligent emissions systems, these reformed environmental hooligans can now play in the daffodils, without covering them in soot.

So lets examine these two vastly different cars in our little uber-green auto comparison, and see if we can figure out which one is best for you.


When comparing how much stuff you can cram into these two cars, the 2013 Toyota Prius easily wins this part of our car comparison. There’s a generous 21 cu-ft expanse beneath the hatchback, and folding the rear seats yields an equally impressive 39 cu-ft. The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI on the other hand, has to make due with just 15.5 of stuff-room in the trunk (although that is pretty good for the compact class). You can fold the rear seats down, but they won’t stay flat, which limits the number of frozen turkeys that you cram into the backseat.

As far as interior room, both cars are pretty evenly matched. You can ferry 5 souls in a pinch, but that poor soul in the middle-rear seat (on both cars) is going to be the one actually getting pinched. If you don’t need to haul IKEA furniture kits once a week, the 2013 VW Jetta TDI is actually quite accommodating. But the hatchback 2013 Toyota Prius is definitely the more practical car for day-to-day shenanigans.


Alright, both green-mobiles in this car comparison are thrifty. But there’s actually two different types of thrifty going on here. The gas-electric 2013 Toyota Prius conserves the most fuel while crawling around city traffic. Its electric motor is able to power the car at slower speeds, allowing the gas engine to remain offline. And there’s even a dedicated EV Mode, to help you get a high ‘Eco Score’ on the way to work (this is Toyota’s version of the dash display eco-prod). What this boils down to is 51 city / 48 hwy / 50 combined. So as you can see, the 2013 Toyota Prius is the most efficient when it’s snaking around an urban environment.

The more conventional 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI stomps around town with its engine firmly in the ‘on’ position. There isnt 29-miles of wiring, a huge battery pack, or 6 NASA supercomputers under the floor. All you get in the Jetta TDI is a gutsy turbo-diesel, connected to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual, or a double-clutch 6-speed auto. In this car, your fuel economy depends on the actions of your right foot. The EPA pegs the 2013 VW Jetta TDI at 30 city / 42 hwy / 34 comb, but many hypermiling Jetta owners report 50+ mpg on the highway. So clearly, this car is more efficient on the open road.


The 2013 Toyota Prius still looks like a giant computer mouse. Jetta wins.


Now here’s where this eco car comparison finally gets interesting. The 2013 Toyota Prius, like all hybrids, is unbelievably complex. It has more onboard computing power than a lunar rover. The sensors have sensors, and each of these components are ridiculously expensive to replace. Plus, you can’t just pop down to the corner garage to have it worked on. Oh no, that high-voltage electric system might fry poor Gomer Pyle. You’re going to need a specially-equipped hybrid shop, or Toyota dealer to do most of the work. And that ain’t’ gonna be cheap either.

The diesel-powered 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is much less complicated. Granted, the radio, electric windows, and gauge cluster will probably short out (it is a Volkswagen afterall). But, that diesel engine can last 300,000+ miles. And you won’t have to spend $6-Grand to redo your electrical system. Ten years from now, when your Prius inevitably dies halfway through your ghetto shortcut (it’ll probably be raining, and your cell phone will be dead too).

So there you have it. Two similarly sized cars, with similarly cheap interiors, and a $25k sticker price. The 2013 Toyota Prius emits less pollutants, and it will almost certainly save you the most gas money if you live in an urban environment. But you’ll probably want to ditch it before the battery / hybrid system warranty runs out at 100,000 miles.

The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a little thirstier in the city, but it’ll pass the battery-powered Yoda’s economy numbers on the highway. The Jetta will also last longer, cost less to maintain over time, and that torquey turbo-diesel is entertainingly spunky. Plus, it looks way better than the Prius too…