Project Hyper-Miler Part 1: Introduction
By Steve Rockwood


Let's face it: the days of cheap fuel are over.  Whether you want to blame Wall Street, the government, democratic demonstrations in the Middle East, OPEC, hippies, China, or the soccer mom next door; the fact remains that if your buddy tosses you a five spot for gas money, you're more likely to punch him in the face than thank him.  And everyone understands a punch in the face.

To compound the problem, those of us in the automotive enthusiast's world seem to be driving farther and farther to work.  The average automotive enthusiast's habits generally don't agree with city condo living on a number of levels.  Living in the suburbs or the sticks, especially HOA-free suburbs or sticks, gets the enthusiast more parking room, bigger garages, larger lots to reduce noise complaints, and more understanding redneck neighbors; all for less or similar money than the city folk pay for their yardless and garageless condos.  Your distance from population centers also has a positive effect on your all-important zombie survivability index.

So, what's the automotive enthusiast to drive to work?  Your soul-crushing commute and ding-inducing-microscopic parking spots at work make driving your overpowered garage queen – all of us have them, otherwise please return to your cake decorating site – painful.  Driving a pickup to work, while giving your Home Depot/Tow Vehicle something to do during the week, will not only alarmingly reduce your car budget at the pump, but the frustration of parking a 20' vehicle will accelerate your hairline's already hasty retreat.  Plus, the only joy to be had during your commute – onramps – is pointless in a long bed, crew cab, diesel 1-ton Dodge (your humble author's Tow Vehicle of choice).

So, that leaves us with getting a commuter.  You see them on the way to work every day, and we can split them into three categories: hybrids, econoboxes, and diesels.  Smart cars might be included in the list, but the irony of them elicits a chuckle every time one is seen on the road.  Writing a whole paragraph on them would cause an aneurism. 

Hybrids give us something we can appreciate: more power.  Unfortunately, every hybrid that at least makes marginal fiscal sense (who cares about fuel prices if you're shopping for a new Porsche 918?) is usually atrocious to drive.  Higher curb weights, fun-killing CVT transmissions, gutless gasoline engines, overburdened pizza cutter tires, and wonky brake feel all conspire to constantly ask you WTF you were thinking when you bought this thing.  The only reasonably fun hybrid, the first-gen Honda Civic Hybrid, has had enough battery problems (type "HCH battery problems" into a search engine) to make it pointless.  A Civic Hybrid without a battery charge is just a slower and heavier Civic DX.  No thanks.


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Thursday, April 07, 2011 1:36 AM
The door was open with the rocker panel was dented >>
Thursday, April 07, 2011 3:51 AM
I'm very interested to see where this project goes. I fully agree that, to date, a diesel powered car is a better choice for fuel economy than a hybrid. At least for anyone who actually enjoys driving. I would love to have a BMW 335d, in spite of the sad fact that they are available only with an automatic transmission.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:06 AM
Well, this is a pretty neat project, but that $3,500 sure puts a lot of gasoline in my tank. My problem with buying a car specifically for commuting is that the break-even point for the amount of money you spend on the car versus the actual savings in gas mileage is pretty far out there. Plus I enjoy driving my project car every day.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:07 AM
@ Talkurt: Good try, however, if you look close, there's a corresponding scratch on the door as well. There's also a scratch on the bottom of the door (obviously not visible in the picture) that matches the dent. It's a mystery.

@sethulrich: You and me both! Coming from the import world, diesels are about as far away as you can get, but they fascinate me with their combination of power and fuel efficiency. Even this Jetta, with all of 90HP on tap, feels quick for everyday driving. It's just when you go to pass someone on an onramp do you realize it's a dog (but not for long).
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:16 AM
@Dusty Duster: You're absolutely correct. Buying a diesel commuter to replace a reasonably fuel efficient vehicle makes sense. However, I'm replacing an 04.5 Cummins Dodge (19-23mpg tank averages), and the distance I commute means this vehicle will pay itself off in fuel savings in less than a year and a half, and will be considerably more fun to drive in the meantime. Add up the more expensive maintenance that goes with a 7000lb truck, and my break-even point is even sooner.

Now, if I drove my SE-R every day, it would take considerably longer from a fuel standpoint (~6 years, probably ~4 years if you factor in tickets, etc :D), but I don't want to dodge CARB enforcement on a daily basis, nor do I want to subject myself and that car to commuting.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:26 AM
I love diesels. Well, modern, well engineered diesels. They have gotten a bad rap here in America. I loved the episode of Top Gear where they drove from Switzerland (I think) to the north of England in diesel cars. Clarkson took a Jag and drove like an idiot and still made it on one tank.
However, I still love my sh!t box. 1989 Dodge Colt GT w/ a 4G63T swap. 30mpg and boosted fun. But I bet a newer MKIV TDi could whoop me around a track. There's no replacement for torque. Except maybe RPMs?
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:29 AM
Steve, I'm interested in the direction you go about this build. For example, will Kermit be your main source of engine tuning and parts? I think your hp/tq goals are extremely reasonable. Please do us a favor and report if any of those infamous VW electrical gremlins pop up!?

What I love about this project is the mileage capability of the motor. I've been preaching to family and friends this renewed emphasis on mileage with regard to fuel economy in the tuning process. Some projects are a lot easier on the wallet if you already have a fuel efficient motor to start. PS your starting dollar point makes this budget project that much sweeter!
Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:43 AM
Very nice. I, with less funds at my disposal, am choosing the classic crx hf as my "commuter". 50mpg in a $1500 car is awesome. My friend got 55mpg on the hwy with his. Going to keep it as stock as possible on the outside, but planning on doing some modifications to increase the mpg as well. I want to see if I can get into the 60mpg range!
Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:28 AM
I am fully onboard the diesel bandwagon,
The new A3 can come in s-line trim with a TDI I think that is a pretty sweet package.

several co-workers and friends have TDI's ('04 golf 4dr, '06? jetta wagon, and new '11 jetta 4 dr) I love the cars (interior bites as noted)

I keep considering a TDI swap into something RWD, the motor has to have 350lb/ft of tq potential,

anyone see Le Mans lately??? yeah
Thursday, April 07, 2011 7:20 AM
Anything is better than our local pickup trucks with black smoke belching out of a pair of stacks sticking up vertically from behind the cab. "Tuned" means that everyone at a stoplight gets lost in a black fog bank, right....?

I like diesel cars, and I can't wait until someone figures out how to make them fun to drive. Wink.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 7:34 AM
@SkullWorks - I agree with you on the new A3! I'm really excited about the upcoming A3 in sedan form.... that should really cool! As for a RWD swap... that would be really cool. Any idea what car you would try to put it in?
Thursday, April 07, 2011 7:55 AM
The zombie survivability index, is a definitive pluss of living outside a city.. Lol...
Thursday, April 07, 2011 8:29 AM
Does it smell like crayons? I've got a brother-in-law who loves his VW's and every single one always seems like it smells like crayons. Weirdest damn thing.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 9:45 AM
@Fabrik8: those trucks that are "rolling coal" are generally tuned improperly and are a few more seconds under full load from melting a piston. Our TDI, even after tuning, will make very little smoke with the plans we have. 140whp can be done nearly smoke free, with maybe a little being visible while only on the dyno.

As for fun to drive, that depends on what you consider fun. If you mean fun by revving to the moon, that's never going to happen, but if you mean fun by riding a huge wave of torque, then yep, they're fun. :)

The weird thing about these diesels is even though they're barely revving at all (I shift no higher than 4k rpm), they feel like they are since the gearing is a lot taller than you'd find in a gas 4-banger.

@HybridAndy: Smells like crayons sometimes. It has something to do with the sound deadening in the firewall. Mine mainly smells like air freshener with a hint of cigarette smoke while I chase the last bits of tobacco smell away.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 10:39 AM
Looks like an awesome project! I've been interested in getting a Diesel commuter for a while, but I've never had to commute too far (like walking distance for the past number of years). The prices are crazy, too. My brother got a 2000 jetta TDi with a stick in college for some price i can't remember. He drove it for 5 years and traded it in after he became a car saleman for $2k more than he paid for it! He then sold the car to somebody on the lot and got another $1500 in commission! So basically, he drove a car that got great mileage for 5 years and made $3,500. He had problems with the turbo, though, and for a while he couldn't get to 60 mph. He also had problems shifting, something in the linkage I think, not the transmission itself. i can't really remember.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 11:58 AM
A 2001 Honda Insight with a turbo is pretty fun. And the guys that have them are getting almost 90MPG.

THAT would have been an amusing project....
Thursday, April 07, 2011 12:42 PM
simple - buy a used s2000 on ebay for 10K and use the other 14K you would have spent to buy a prius on gas and lap dances maybe some go fast bits - never look back.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 2:14 PM
I think a CR-Z with a turbo would also be a fun option. That you can at least have with a manual transmission!
Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:01 PM
My daily is an 01 Golf with the AEG motor. Theres so many crappy parts that go into these cars, like plastic hose flanges and crap like that. Ive been through everything in this car, done the timing belt 3 times because im nuts, but i love it. Its a very decent car. Wish i had the TDI.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:04 PM
@ RRocket: 90mpg is a pretty amazing number. Unfortunately, I needed something with 4 doors and a back seat (I have 2 kids), and an Insight won't accommodate that. From what I've read, they have the same battery issues in warmer weather (like SoCal) that the 1st gen Civic Hybrids did.

@ circuitsports: $24k is a little beyond what the budget for this car is (about 4x)... :)

@ sethulrich: CR-Zs are a cool idea, but they get about the same mileage as a Fit but only have 2 doors, 2 seats and cost more. They should've just left it with a small, rev-happy gas motor and been done with it.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:06 PM
Derbruce, didn't see your comment until now. Not sure on tuner yet, but will definitely weigh my options, and Kerma is certainly in the running (they've got a prepackaged 150whp kit).
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, April 07, 2011 5:28 PM
Steve, Kerma seems to be "tried and true" with the 1.9. Nobody has a real handle on the 2.0 yet. I think when you really are ready to go crazy, your gonna have to check out the Smyth Performance g3f. Your Jetta will make the perfect donor. It should be available this summer and it will finally define the diesel sports car! There will be everyone's rwd, desired tdi.
Friday, April 08, 2011 5:29 AM
Yep, that seems to be the staple with the TDI community. The other option being RocketChip.
Sunday, April 10, 2011 7:38 AM
So these cars are hard to come by in the 'States then? I see TDI Passats all over the place here in Canada, TDI Golfs are fairly rare though.
Naji Dahi
Naji Dahilink
Sunday, April 10, 2011 9:29 AM
Nice write-up Steve. I am a diesel convert. I have a 2010 Golf TDI. I have had the car for slightly over a year and 11,500 miles. It handles great (it has a GTI suspension variant), has 17 inch 215 rubber, has 140 hp and 236 ft-lb of torque, rides smooth and comfortable and has an interior way better than other cars in its class.

I sold my 06 Evo 9 to get the TDI. Looking back it has been the best decision I made. I sold the Evo for 20,200 with 27k miles on the odo. I bought the TDI for 21,554 after the 1,300 Federal govt credit. So I only lost 1,354 in the transaction.

So how much money did I save driving the TDI for 11,500 miles over the Evo 9 (had I kept it)?

Evo 9:
avg. mpg: 23.63
gallons: 488.6 premium
$/gal: 3.20
$: 1563
cents/mile: 0.137

avg. mpg: 46.83
gallons: 244.7 D2
$/gal: 3.421
$: 838.7
cents/mile: 0.073

So in one year of ownership I saved $724.3 driving the TDI over the Evo. So I recovered alomst half of the losses from the sale of the Evo. In another year I will more than break-even driving the TDI over the Evo. I consumed 244 FEWER gallons of fuel, reducing MY imapct on the environment and dependence on oil.

This has been a really win-win transaction on my part. No complaints at all.
Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:59 AM
@FlyinZ: Yep. Pretty rare here. Canadians, from what I can tell, seem to not have the same stigma about diesel that Americans do. Bummer for us here. CA also effectively banned diesel passenger vehicles in 2004 until 2009.

@Naji: Yeah, diesel is an excellent fuel, and can make a lot of fiscal sense. I see you at the top of the monthly mileage threads on tdiforums every month. Good work.

And yeah, reduced dependence on foreign oil is definitely a good thing.
Monday, April 11, 2011 4:19 AM
BTW, Naji, this year's savings will be even better, since the spread between Premium Unleaded Gasoline (PUG) and D2 is the same as it was last year (~$0.10-0.30), but the prices are higher. So, smaller percentage delta, higher overall cost.
Friday, April 15, 2011 11:15 AM
Autoweek announced that honda has plans for a 1.4l turbo (no hybrid drive) for the CR-Z...let's all hold our breath
Monday, April 18, 2011 6:45 AM
Yes, let us all bow our heads in prayer. Hopefully, this engine makes it to the Fit as well.
Thursday, April 21, 2011 7:09 AM
Well, if you don't need 4 doors and a backseat, consider a RWD Corolla, Starlet, or MK1 MR2 with a 20v 4AGE engine swap. Give-or-take 140whp, sub-2350lb curb weight, 31+mpg average. I drive my MR2 daily and it's a hoot!
Thursday, April 21, 2011 4:26 PM
Sounds like a blast to drive. Unfortunately, 2 child seats won't fit. :)

That, and there's something really cool about getting 50-60mpg while not being a total slug... :)
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 7:37 PM
Been driving my 1999.5 Jetta GLS TDI since 2008 . Dad bought it new and passed it on to me. Shes my baby and I wouldnt trade her for the world(get questions about/offers for her wherever I go). Its been kept essentially stock with regular maintenance and is up around 200K miles. Been saving and have about $6-8k to spend on my baby. I was wondering what you were planning to do to your project TDI? 140whp, 250 lb-ft and 60mpg?!? I dream of those numbers. Teach me great one.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011 6:19 AM
Well, those are goals. As for what we'll do to get there, you must have patience, young grasshoppa!

The second installment for this project should come out in the next couple of weeks.
Sour Sprocket
Sour Sprocketlink
Monday, April 09, 2012 9:31 AM
Where did you find such comprehensive information on the different maintenance issues, and problems each car model had? Was this the culmination of hours of forum research, or is there a specific website you gleaned this information from?
Monday, April 09, 2012 11:51 AM
Hours of forum and other website research, unfortunately. myturbodiesel.com did have a fair amount of information, but that site is more of a how-to than a buyer's guide (though they have some).

Fortunately, I've done all the work now, so you can just visit here from now on... ;-p
Sour Sprocket
Sour Sprocketlink
Monday, April 09, 2012 2:32 PM

Well thanks for all the hard work! I will be following this project very closely.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012 9:24 AM
No problem at all. I take it you read the other installments?
Sour Sprocket
Sour Sprocketlink
Friday, April 13, 2012 12:36 PM
@ Rockwood

Yep. The maintenance looks like a PITA, but worth it in the end.
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