Diesels Are Coming to the U.S., One Way or Another

2012 BMW X5 M50d

Last year, BMW sold more than 67 percent of its cars in Europe with diesel power (X5 M50d above). Diesels were bought by 66 percent of Audi buyers. In total, German drivers bought 49 percent of their cars with diesels in 2011.

In the U.K., 981,594 diesels were sold in 2011—that is, 51 percent of all cars.

U.S. drivers have been slow to take to diesel, because they don’t understand how good they have become. My buddy tgriffith today seems to glorify the fact that the new gas-powered BMW 328i is the equal in fuel economy (1 mpg better) and performance (one-tenth second faster to 60 mpg) than the heavier, more expensive 335d.

Well, yeah, but that is still apples and oranges. The best gas engines can now compete with diesels in fuel economy. But they cannot beat the new diesels in torque (raw power off the line) or in longevity.

Diesels are best for long-distance driving and, like some hybrids, for high performance. BMW is announcing a new line of diesel-powered M5 cars with 381 hp and 545 lb-ft of torque—though not for the U.S. right now. The company is also making a 4-cylinder turbo 2-liter with 201 hp.

Audi BiTDI dieselAudi is totally committed to diesel and is launching a new 3-liter biturbo V6 TDI: 5.1 seconds to 62 mph in the new A6, with 44.1 mpg average.

The U.S. market—only about 3 percent diesel last year—will evolve as gas prices shoot up and long-distance drivers come to their senses. Still, our buyers have a pretty wide choice if they want diesel power: See this list of what’s available now. As the piece notes, the high cost of diesel here is largely due to certification for U.S. emission standards.

The government is doing something, finally, to help. In a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, Cummins is developing a 2.8-liter diesel four to power a Nissan Titan light-duty pickup.

Mazda is bringing its 2.2-liter Skyactiv diesel (with 310 lb-ft of torque) to the U.S., probably in the CX-5 crossover. Next year, the Chevy Cruze diesel (likely with a 2-liter from Holden) will be available here. Some have said the target for this car is 50 mpg.

Yes, diesels cost more. They also last longer and, in some situations, perform better. It all depends on what you need and how you drive. I find that most drivers who have done some kind of cost-benefit calculation and bought diesel—well, they love ’em.

Given what you can afford and how you use a car, would a diesel be right for you?

—jgoods

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1 Comment

  1. I’m probably get a new car this year, and since 80% of our trips could be considered “short” trips, I have to say the Prius or Prius C are looking like the best shot at this time. I have looked at VW’s TDI cars (like the Jetta best) but when I actually compare the two, I think the Prius comes out on top. It gets much better city mileage, the warranty relieves my concerns about battery pack and control electronics problems, and it requires less finicky maintenence than the TDI. Although not as important, Diesel fuel prices and availability and cold weather performance are also items of comparison. Now if I was still in the position I was a few years ago and driving 65 mile commute distances, I think the TDI would be my first choice.

    BTW, the real reason for so little Diesel market penetration in the US is that the manufacturers simply don’t offer them, and when they do, they cost too much more to justify the expense. As more Diesels become available, I think you see them get more popular.

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