By George Polgar

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – With fuel prices rising, demand for smaller fuel-efficient cars should rebound, though even the most recent sales tracking shows the dominance of trucks and SUVs in the US market is still overwhelming.

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Fortunately, small cars are no longer the low-end of the quality and performance range. A recent test drive of the new Volkswagen Golf TDI diesel makes the point.

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The latest edition VW hatchback, priced in the $20-$30K range, has gotten a little larger but markedly more athletic looking and refined inside. This fits the Golf’s popularity with the small car performance enthusiast crowd.

The combination of sharp looks inside and out, precise engineering, solid build and lively driving dynamics has made it a darling of the motor press. Equipped with the latest tech TDI diesel, the 150 horsepower Golf DSG automatic doesn’t have quite the punch of the manual transmission version but even with a $1000 upcharge the diesel mileage performance is well worth the sacrifice.

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While the EPA rates the Golf TDI Diesel DSG at 31 city and 43 highway… individual mileage test results of various Golf editions regularly top 60 mpg.