For what seems like forever, North America has been left behind when it comes to diesel cars. Sure there are a few options, but nowhere near as many as our friends in Europe. In fact, according to the Automotive Industry Data Newsletter, 52% of all new car sales last year in Western Europe were diesel powered.
Diesel engines offer unique advantages, with plenty of torque making tiny power plants more useable in small cars, while making modest size engines a functional alternative to much larger gasoline ones in SUVs. Towing, after all, is not something hybrids are known for. Additionally, diesel engines can provide fuel economy closer to that of a hybrid, without any of the worries surrounding new technology; plus, there’s no battery pack compromising passenger or storage space.
With those advantages, not to mention a push by automakers to meet increasingly strict corporate average fuel economy standards, a slew of diesel models are set to arrive on our shores in the near future. If you’re considering the switch to diesel power, here are a few options you’ll soon be able to consider.
Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC
The new 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC is a hearty four-cylindered alternative to most V6s found in crossover utility vehicles. Compared to the GLK350, the gas powered version of the German crossover, the GLK250 has 112 less horsepower, but 96 more lb-ft of torque. There’s no official EPA numbers on what the new GLK250 BlueTEC diesel will get, but last year’s European GLK diesel gets around 36 to 38 mpg in mixed driving conditions. European numbers are always much higher than EPA ones, however, so expect something closer to 30 mpg – still a very impressive rating.
Devin Lindsay, a Senior Analyst from IHS Automotive talked to us about alternative powertrains and their significance in the future. He said “Typically German manufacturers have had a presence when it comes to diesel vehicles.” That said, the GLK250 isn’t unexpected. These next diesels, however, are.
Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
The Cruze Eco with a standard six-speed manual transmission is the most fuel-efficient gas-powered/non-hybrid vehicle in America, with an EPA-rated 42 mpg on the highway. A member of GM’s Powertrain communications team told us that the diesel Cruze is early in development, and can’t comment on the new car’s fuel economy estimates. But rumors of its diesel have been flying, some calling it the Eco-D, with Chevrolet apparently targeting 50 mpg on the highway. Not much is known about the upcoming diesel, but if its European sales are any indication, it could be quite popular; the diesel Cruze in Europe sold 33,000 models last year. It’s also currently available in Australia as the Holden Cruze CDX (above).
Cadillac ATS Diesel
Looking to rival the BMW 3 Series in all ways, a diesel powered version of the new Cadillac ATS is a must. At the car’s reveal at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, however, Caddy dropped a bomb, announcing that it would also offer a diesel-powered version for our shores.
If a diesel Cadillac sounds interesting to you, hopefully you’re patient. Cadillac hasn’t given a release date for the car and has only said it will be offered some time during the current model’s product cycle.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel
Jeep has been showing off its diesel powered vehicles at all the major auto shows, but always carefully mentioned that it was for Europe and Non-U.S. markets. However Chrysler recently announced that it hired an extra 1,100 workers to help get a diesel version of the Grand Cherokee to the U.S. The European-spec diesel grand Cherokee gets about 28.4 mpg combined using the European equivalent of our EPA test – again, a more lenient test. The old Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD (on sale in America from 2007 and for a few years after) got a rating of 17/22 mpg, so look for slightly higher numbers for this new model.
Mazda Skyactiv Diesel
Mazda will be bringing a diesel engine offering to the North American market for 2012 and 2013. It’s expected to make its way into several models with Mazda first showing a Skyactiv-D engine in the Takeri concept (top), which will inspire the next-generation Mazda6. It also wouldn’t be much of a surprise to tsee the same engine dropped into the new CX-5 compact crossover. Mazda expects it to get 43 mpg highway, which is quite comparable to some hybrids available on the market. Additionally, Mazda has touted start-stop technology that will help optimize fuel efficiency.
We’ve actually already driven the new Skyactiv-D engine in a prototype Mazda6 (read it here) and came away thoroughly impressed. Making somewhere around 160 hp and over 300 lb-ft of torque perhaps the best feature is that it revs higher than competitors, up to 5200 rpm, with no torque fall-off, allowing it to feel more like a powerful gasoline engine.
So there you have it, five new diesel offerings heading our way, but will it make that big of a difference? According to hybridcars.com diesel take-rate in January, is still below that of hybrids, although hybridcars.com editor Bradley Berman says things are improving with, “A number of clean diesel products enjoyed higher sales as compared to a year ago.”
One thing holding back further proliferation of diesels in the US is cost, but according to Lindsay at IHS, automakers may be willing to shoulder some of that burden in order to help promote diesels in the short term as a solution to rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards. However, innovations in diesel are coming to a crawl thanks to CAFE standards that provide credits for electric and hybrid cars.
Lindsay helps shed some light on why European brands like BMW or Mercedes-Benz go diesel. “Diesel is still quite expensive per gallon. Since those BMWs or Mercedes-Benz owners would be putting premium gasoline, it’s not that big of a difference from diesel, which has efficiency advantages.” Some diesels also use a urea treatment which helps keep diesel emissions clean. This is an additional item to maintain and can add costs.
But more options in the market should help bring the costs down. In that regard, diesel could soon become the choice you’ll be making in your next car purchase.