When I was asked to relocate to Los Angeles for AOL Autos, I jumped at the opportunity partly because it would allow me to fulfill one of my most important bucket list items: Driving across the United States. I have always felt like I could never have a true appreciation for what it means to be an American, having never seen some of its most celebrated landmarks and quotidian lifestyles.

When I informed our press fleet manager (the guy who sets up up with test cars from the automakers) of this, implying that I wanted a vehicle I could test out along the 37 hour drive, he surprised me by saying that I was going to have to take a car much smaller than I had anticipated: A 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI.

I had spent weeks planning my trip on the assumption that I would be driving a much larger van, minivan or SUV. The fact that my available space had been severely downsized presented what I thought to be a logistical nightmare.

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But then it dawned on me: This was actually an opportunity. The Jetta TDI (base price $22,995) was going to give me the chance to defend my philosophy that everything in the auto industry needs to be smaller, and that small and mid-size cars are never given a fair shake by consumers who tend to assume they have an inherent lack of versatility.

A famous Volkswagen Beetle ad proclaimed: "Think Small." This was my chance. The Jetta is not exactly small, but it is smaller than what I has expected to be driving. The TDI, "clean diesel" version of the sedan, would allow me to show great fuel economy of diesel to diesel doubters.

If I could successfully move almost all of my life to the other side of the country, I could take a step in proving to my colleagues, myself and consumers around the country that a mid-size sedan can be used for tasks generally usually assigned to SUVs and vans.

And so it was time to put my money where my mouth was. I started out from Detroit, Mich., and headed west, eager to see the country.

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The first thing worth noting about the Jetta was that it really could fit a lot more stuff in it than you'd think. It was like playing Tetris. I was able to pack all of my clothes, kitchenware, TV and several boxes of miscellaneous objects using only the truck and the back seat. I couldn't see out of the back window, of course, but I was impressed that the Jetta could handle everything I intended to bring out to Southern California. And that included my golf clubs - something that I had a surprising amount of trouble fitting into the trunk of a couple of different CUVs.

It was a tight squeeze. There were times during the trip when I really wished I could have reclined my seat. Fortunately, I got over it. And with a little help from my copilot, I didn't have any problems checking blind spots when switching lanes and merging.

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This leg of the journey was actually quite smooth and comfortable, which is impressive considering the state of roads in Michigan. Five hours of cracks and potholes usually lead to a sore back and neck, but I felt little driver fatigue with the Jetta's nice, soft suspension.

Upon entering the more agreeable Illinois and Iowa roads the first break came in Iowa City, IA. I simply had to get a peek at the world's largest wooden nickel.

The Jetta posed for a photo and while I left still wondering if a nickel made of wood can really be considered a nickel, I felt as though the sedan has passed the crucial Day 1 test with minimal issues and I was confident that the next three days would fly by.

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My enthusiasm for this cross-country voyage evaporated somewhere in Nebraska during this leg of the trip. While the Great Plains are wonderful for many, many things, driving scenery is just not one of them. Had it not been for the Jetta's infotainment system, I think I may have gone crazy.

I will say that had I not been driving, a bigger SUV or van with a TV in the back would have done wonders and I shudder to think what families with little kids have to endure traveling this leg in a sedan without a DVD system, or at least a portable player. But since it was just my co-pilot and myself, I passed through the cornfields with a hodgepodge of audiobooks, satellite radio and iPod playlists to keep my mind alert and focused on the task at hand.

I did welcome a break when the Jetta took advantage of a photo op in front of the storied teeny-tiny police station in Friend, Neb., and the almost immediate change in scenery upon entering Colorado.

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Another advantage I found in driving the sedan came in navigating the city streets in Denver. While the nimble Jetta could zip in and out of traffic, a larger SUV could prove to be problematic, especially on some of the more narrow roads where parking is at a premium and spots are designed for smaller vehicles.

But although the Jetta was great for city driving, the endless miles of cornfield had made me painfully aware of how small of a car I was in. Because the backseat was packed to the brim, stretching out my legs and reclining the seat was impossible, making the car feel severely uncomfortable on the inside with a sedan full of my junk. If I was just on a vacation drive, it would be a different story.

As I stretched out on my hotel bed in Denver, I thought about just how cramped the car was starting to feel and how the constant barrage of sunlight made the Jetta feel like a solar cooker that no level of AC could adequately cool down. Again, I feel like I was putting the car through some kind of extreme performance test, and it was having trouble at some points.

I hoped Day 3 was going to be better.

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Feeling refreshed and revitalized by some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, Day 3 began and ended on much better notes.

I think the biggest benefit of employing this sedan for this move was fuel economy. I averaged about 44 mpg for the trip and I was very thankful for that number mostly because it meant I didn't have to get out of the car and fill up. Driving through the mountains and desert meant I encountered some extreme weather (35 degrees at one point and 110 at another) and I was much better served to stay in the car as much as possible.

In fact, one of the only times I had to stop to refuel was in western Colorado, a minor detour that allowed me to view an homage to Mike the Headless Chicken and snap a photo of the Jetta in front of a ferocious T-Rex that makes its home in a roundabout.

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And getting such great fuel economy also meant I never needed to worry about life imitating cliché and running out of fuel along a desert highway. Had I been driving a fuel guzzling SUV, I would have been nervous at some points along this leg, especially along I-80 in Utah where there is a 110-mile gap between gas stations.

Of course, not all sedans are going to net you 44 mpg with a trunk and back seat full of heavy stuff. This was where the diesel engine really showed its true strengths and I'd recommend going diesel every time. These days, the average American consumer view on diesel engines as dirty is unwarranted. They are cleaner than ever, quieter than ever and impressively efficient.

Driving from Denver to Las Vegas was the longest, but most scenic part of the trip and the Jetta simply ate the miles up. I set the cruise, turned up the AC and zipped through breathtaking mountains, canyons, desert and forest until I made my final overnight stop in Sin City on much better terms with the Jetta. Its true colors had come out during this leg and its advantages greatly outweighed it weaknesses.

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Upon arriving in Los Angeles, I had to admit that while the Jetta accomplished almost everything I asked of it, but it was by no means an easy trip. We pushed the comfort of the car to its outer linits with all my gear and belongings. The car could often feel cramped, hot, sticky -- sometimes all at once. But all in all, I was glad I took this car if not for the comfort, for the experience and the knowledge I gained about the true versatility of mid-size sedans.

After all, I had done what I set out to do: I moved almost my entire life from suburban Detroit to LA using just over 15.5 cubic feet of space. Ignoring the existential quandary that arose in knowing I could fit my life into such a small area, I was happy to prove that a mid-size sedan was up to a task most people would never even think to assign it.

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So if there is anything to take away from this story, it's that before you default to a van or SUV for your next car purchase, think about how much you really need that extra space and whether its worth taking the hit in fuel efficiency and overall cost of ownership.

If you need an SUV or pickup a handful of times a year, think about renting on those days.

Bigger vehicles are going to cost a lot in the long run and while it's easy to get duped by the marketing of SUVs when they show couples and families making memories on the open road and going places no other car could go, remember that smaller cars have evolved to become much more than cheap econoboxes. They have successfully been designed to battle the challenges presented to Americans every day.

So, take it from me: Opting for something smaller will make you just as many memories.

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