(MPG 29 city/40 hwy, automatic) $23,740

Volkswagen Jetta TDI

1. VW's first diesel engine to meet California's hyper-restrictive emissions standards, the TDI traps nitrogen oxides and incinerates foul exhaust before it reaches the tailpipe. The technology earned VW a Green Car of the Year award at the L.A. auto show. And because it runs so clean, the vehicle qualifies for a $1,300 federal tax rebate, à la hybrids. Wanna run even greener? Fill 'er up with B5 biodiesel.

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If you're constantly schlepping bikes around, consider a hitch mount. Compared with roof racks, they're easier to load/unload and don't cut into your fuel efficiency as much. We love YAKIMA'S FLIPSIDE (9; yakima.com). It clears your spare tire, swings down to either side for tailgate or hatch access, and sports stowable arms that support up to four bikes, plus it has integrated bottle openers. If you like your bikes up top, check out Yak's highly versatile SPROCKETROCKET (9). Looking for a cargo box to complement that German beauty in the garage? THULE's superslick, aerodynamic BOXTER (0; thuleracks.com) opens from both sides and holds 18 cubic feet of equipment.

2. Don't let the mileage estimates fool you; in many cases, we got much better, clocking an amazing 51 mpg at 70-plus miles an hour over 150 freeway miles. And unlike hybrids, or even the Jetta's gas-powered brethren, the two-liter, 140-horsepower turbo diesel's torque is unmitigated by high altitudes: Passing on a 10,000-foot mountain road, the TDI leaped to 90 mph with no hesitation.

3. Push this thing and you'll swear you're in a sports car, not a compact fuel sipper. Taut handling, relatively tight suspension, and autobahn-worthy brakes make driving a joy, and traction control keeps the TDI performing in any weather. Bonus: Fold down the rear seats to complement the spacious trunk, and you can fit a couple of skis, or a bike without removing the front wheel.

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