Home / Auto News / News article: Why Buy a Diesel Car? Get the Facts, Know Your Options - AutoGuide.com News
 |  Apr 12 2012, 1:35 PM

Price, looks and size… these are the few factors that used to decide what vehicle you’d park in your driveway. Looking for a cheap and small car? A Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic will do. Need something bigger, perhaps a mid-size Hyundai Sonata or an SUV. Things used to be pretty easy.

With increasingly high gas prices and an overall movement towards green, fuel efficient vehicles, fuel economy has become more important. In fact, for many price, looks and size are now completely trumped by fuel economy.

“Buyers just look at the MPG on the sticker,” says IHS Automotive Analyst Devin Lindsay commenting that car buyers are now completely mesmerized by the EPA sticker label.

Take a look at the Toyota Prius, for example. It’s not terribly big, is fairly expensive, and looks… well… weird. But that didn’t stop three million of them from being sold, all thanks to a hybrid gas-electric engine that provides excellent fuel economy.

The Prius isn’t the only option for someone looking for a fuel efficient car, however; especially those in search of a more engaging driving experience. If you want to cut down on trips to the pump, and still drive a fun, powerful, good looking car, your best bet might just be in a diesel powered vehicle. That does mean you’ll almost certainly have to drive German, although a flood of new diesel-powered vehicles are about to hit our shore.

Despite the popular misconception, diesel fuel is readily available at numerous gas stations with most of the major chains dedicating at least one pump to diesels. “Finding diesel is not really a big problem anymore,” says Lindsay. “If one station doesn’t have it, the one across the street certainly will.” And there’s a good reason for the popularity of diesel pumps too. Ford, Chevy and Ram easily sell in the tens of thousands of the diesel versions of their popular pickups each year.

Historically, diesel cars were known for being smelly, hard to start in cold weather and not environmentally friendly. For those most part those issues have been solved, with improvements made to quiet the engines (though they are still noticeably louder than gasoline engines), while special emissions filters and exhaust after treatment systems have been devised to reduce pollution – though at an expense that’s handed down to the consumer.

Volkswagen has been offering diesel options for years, and in key areas, their diesel vehicles are better than the gasoline powered ones.

Take for instance the Golf. The TDI diesel option offers 6 more miles per gallon in the city over the gasoline model (30 mpg vs. 24 mpg) and 11 more miles per gallon on the highway (42 mpg vs. 31 mpg) all while still looking great and keeping its trunk space (something many hybrids can’t say.)

In defence of hybrids, average fuel economy on a Civic Hybrid is 44 mpg while the Prius is 50 mpg. The Golf TDI may have a solid 42 mpg highway rating, but average fuel economy is a less impressive 34 mpg.

Volkswagen sees diesel as an important part of becoming a more environmentally friendly car company. Mark Gillies, Product and Technology PR manager at Volkswagen America tells us “Diesel is part of our future powertrain strategy and you will likely see more models with a diesel option in the future.”

He explains that diesel can appeal to many drivers “The more practically minded will love the excellent highway mileage and range, which are perfect for the way that so many Americans drive.”

Gillies also explained his personal preference of diesel powered cars “As a car enthusiast, I love the torque of a diesel, which is perfect for mid-range passing performance, merging onto on-ramps, and for towing.”

Gillies’ torque-love is well-founded. The TDI Golf makes a noticeable amount of additional torque: where the normal gas Golf makes just 177 lbs-ft of torque at 4250 rpm, the TDI model makes 236 lbs-ft or torque at 1750-2500 rpm.

All that extra diesel-y goodness comes at a price though. Literally. Diesel fuel costs slightly more at the gas station and most diesel cars are more expensive than their gasoline stable mates. In the case of the Golf, a gasoline model starts at $17,995 while the diesel version costs $24,235, a difference of $6,240. To help off-set this cost, VW tends to better equip its TDI models. If you’re on more of a budget, Volkswagen also offers a Jetta TDI for about $2,000 less.

As mentioned, diesel models often require expensive emissions systems, which can also result in added maintenance, and cost. Two of VW’s models use what the company calls AdBlue, a chemical solution (often generally referred to as DEF or Diesel Exhaust Fluid) used to help the vehicles’ emissions stay environmentally friendly. The AdBlue liquid must be refilled at regular service intervals (every 10,000-15,000 miles) and are covered under VW’s three-year/36,000-mile Carefree Maintenance Program.

But it is something to keep in mind, as prices of refilling a car’s DEF vary between manufacturers. Consumer Reports has mentioned paying $241.50 to refill 7.5 gallons of DEF for a diesel Mercedes-Benz GL Class. That’s $32.20 per gallon! Volkswagen apparently sells the same solution for much cheaper, with reports of customers paying just $5.40 per gallon.

Other automakers take a different approach to their diesel powertrains. Take a look at Mercedes-Benz’s E350 models, which are also available with either a gas or diesel engine. The diesel version gets only meager gains over the gasoline engine, earning one more mile per gallon in the city, and two more on the highway. That’s far less impressive than the difference on VW models.

However, in comparison to the Volkswagen vehicles, the diesel E-Class isn’t much more expensive than the gas version. In fact, it’s just $1,200 more, a much more favorable price difference. While the fuel economy doesn’t significantly favor the diesel E-Class, the torque numbers are eye-opening: 400 lb-ft of torque in the diesel compared to 273 lb-ft in the gas model.

As a result, Mercedes markets its diesel models as more of a V8 than a V6 alternative. In Mercedes’ SUVs this means that buyers can enjoy the high torque of a V8, but with the fuel economy and environmentally friendliness of a V6. Mercedes’ offers diesel engines for its ML, GL and R-Class trucks.

The selection of diesel offerings is expanding, and not just by German automakers either, with both domestic and Japanese manufacturers preparing to launch diesel vehicles in the next few years. Among the planned arrivals is the Chevy Cruze diesel, Cadillac ATS diesel and the return of the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel. Mazda has also announced it will offer its new Skyactiv-D engine in the near future, though isn’t saying what car (or cars) it will power.

For those who want a fun and powerful car, but one that also visits the pump less often, a diesel can be a viable option. Like hybrids, they carry a price premium over their gasoline powered brothers. Unlike hybrids, particularly ultra high efficiency ones like the Prius, they’re peppy around town.

The price of gas is quickly reaching the price of diesel gas, helping make diesel an attractive alternative for prospective car buyers. Another factor that might make diesel a more attractive option is the fact that they tend to fetch a better resale value than their gas powered counterparts.

Ultimately it’s a question of driver preference, before buying a diesel it’s important to make sure it suits you driving style – and your commute.

  • Mickey

    Though you make some true points, you mislead on one VERY importnat point.
    There is NO Diesel that is enviromentally friendly.  Even with all the adatives, the “Enviro”
    diesels are only as clean as the average Gasoline engine!  Added cost, added weight, added smell,with only modest fuel consumption gains and a higher price at the pump, does not sound like a good choice to me.

  • Imountedyourmom

    Idiot.

  • Kamlottis

    Its actually mighty suprising that diesels have taken this long to offer a a considered niche in the Americas. despite its slightly more complexity in power train, small modern diesels are trully awesome to own and drive…and just look at what the germans have turned them into!

  • diesel man

    bull to all, I owned a 09 tdi jetta an average 42.7 combind  mileage ,at least 600 miles on a tank full.
    That in my book is good mileage, upkeep is cheaper and it is all about torque so load it up and still
     enjoy good mileage and performance. Plus the extra longevity you get from a diesel vehicle.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/J2T4LM3FB2MJ3XFXXORS3XI6PU chavitz chavis

    What diesel is really good at it can provide higher torque at low rpm than gas-engine.  However Hybrid like Prius can provide instant more powerful torgue at much lower rpm because the electrical power from battery can provide instant torque even at almost 0 rpm.  Therefore, Diesel realy has no any advantage over Hybrid at all.  What those brag about Diesel’ torque advantage over Hybrid is a sheer joke at best or at worst a misleading.

  • John

    Idiot!

  • John

    You are an idiot. Hybrids have shit torque compared to a diesel. If your ridiculous point were really the case they would use hybrids in the trucking industry rather than diesels. How many hybrids do you see pulling long loads… none dip-shit!

  • NavyNuke

    I love these comments, as an electrical engineer i’ll tell you this. There are certain boundaries in electrical power, sure some may think that it is the ultimatum in the search for energy and yes it is efficient as well and provides good torque numbers however, the batteries, oh the batteries you would need to propel a 3000 pound car at 65-70mph for 605 miles (rough range of a golf tdi, i have one) would turn that 3000 pounds into more like 5000 pounds. That being said, pound for pound a diesel engine can go further and will (WILL!!) last longer than a gas ICE which is being cycled on and off depending upon loading. I’m sure someone with a lower intelligence and far less credentials will flame me on this but do the research yourself before you “buy new for the environment” With all the diesel burned by the non dpf cargo ships delivering everything around just to make the prius battery (seriously look it up) it would way more time than you would like to put into driving your prius just to help the environment again, you will be sick of the car before you can even help save the world. Save yourself and the environment if you really want to and buy used if you choose to. Sure a non dpf diesel won’t produce as few emissions as a new dpf equipped car, but you just purchased a car that likes to hold its retail value, something with less parts to fail/likely to fail, built inherently stronger than a gas engine and you didn’t take a car off the lot which means in someway, sometime you prevented a new car from being built.. I’m not trying to “hate” on anyone that has purchased a hybrid or feels that they are superior to what is available in an economy car but facts are facts and my dpf equipped tdi will probably go well over 300k miles, I won’t have to replace the batteries after 7 or so years (life service is getting better but more expensive as well) and the dpf on the tdi drives the emmisions to be less than that of a prius. Even with the dpf removed the emmisions are still great this is mainly due to a fairly low compression ratio and the common rail injection system. I dare you to test drive both cars and tell me which you preferred, the VW will win :) I promise you that.

  • 2ClassicBeetles

    We have a ’12 Golf TDI w/DSG. Just turned 8k on odometer. Got 50.2 mpg on 200+ miles of driving (35% city – 65% highway) in 90+ degree FL weather at avg speed of 55 mph over last 3 weeks. Only filled up and calculated because Isaac enroute. Before it was broken in got 48.6 mpg on 3k trip from FL to IL and back w/day of city driving in and around Memphis. Have talked w/many other TDI drivers. All getting well over EPA figures. Wish our 2 classic Beetles were diesel. Price of diesel = price of premium in sunny Central Florida

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_APQVKJDGOFYSOF6HZ7ZJTGADLE Nonymous

    at this point in time, I believe diesels are better suited to the highway than hybrids
    however, do not mistake small engines for a failure of the technology; hybrids do the work

    take the Lexus RX 450h – hybrids designed for a refined clientele, not entry level or half-baked by any measure; with a 3.5L V6 instead of the Prius’ 1.8L 4 cyl; 
    rated for combined 34 MPG, same as the Golf TDI (combined) in this article, also same as a gas Camry (combined) = level playing field, hybrid better city, diesel on the highway

    234 ft-lbs of torque vs 236 for the TDI in the article, albeit at higher RPM = ~still level
    however, the hybrid is rated for net 295 hp; vs the TDI at 140hp = advantage hybrid
    oddly enough, this TDI is not rated for towing, the same hybrid is good for 3500 lbs = advantage hybrid

    Toyota’s highlander hybrid is basically the same numbers, less luxury for 13 grand less
    -it is more than the Golf because it is bigger, similarly reliable, and designed to do more

    if you would like to compare working hybrids to working class diesels, make a realistic comparison, because we all know the Prius was not built as a pickup

    http://www.autoguide.com/car-comparisons/2012-toyota-prius-vs-2012-volkswagen-jetta-tdi-2076.html
    this same source drag raced the prius and TDI jetta… the prius had the lead in the beginning because it was lighter hand had better low-rev electric torque (with better fuel econ, a bigger engine would be needed to match the consumption of the TDI)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_APQVKJDGOFYSOF6HZ7ZJTGADLE Nonymous

    you put a bigger tank in a prius, it would also go farther; efficiency is the point

  • Jason

    I will never buy a hybrid cars even if they are cost less than 30 or  40% price of gas or diesel engines.  It is all about business not about environmental friendly.  This is the only reason our government rising the price on gasoline since the hybrid came out.  If you have noticed that whenever the hybrid cars are not on demand then the gas prices are rising….pure simple business!

  • Davpearn

    You Americans are going to have to learn new words to avoid confusion when referring to different fuels such as LPG CNG LNG all used by automobiles/trucks and busses in the ‘other’ world, but coming to you eventually. Then there is diesel and diesel combined with gas (LPG) then in ‘your’ words – diesel gas……oops. We in the rest of the world don’t ‘gas up’ our cars unless like me it’s LPG.
    We in Australia (not Austria) gave up the ridiculous imperial measurement system decades ago – isn’t it about time you entered the modern world?
    Your scientist have had to, even Wall St has been dragged kicking and screaming into the ‘global’ world you’re school kids will be so grateful if you do!

  • Ryan

    You’re a douche, Davpearn. No one really cares what you have to say :)

  • SemperFi1988

    Couldn’t agree more with Ryan!:) Cheers Mate! Hahaha, I love living in the U.S. (not U.K.) No one cares about  Australia, the only good thing that’s ever come from Austria…oops, Australia, is the Crocodile Hunter.

  • Dick_cheese

    Really… Gas prices are rising because of hybrid cars!?!? How about the cost of war to forcefully take the crude oil, the cost of cleaning up massive spills, the cost or working in a carbon concious marketplace, or supply and demand of a decreasing available resource? Sir, I believe you have your cause and effect ignorantly backward… Don’t just blindly blame the gov’t for corporation’s marketing decisions…

  • DSS

    Yawn. Can anyone besides “down under” tell me where the “gas up stations are” in the US? It is get gas or get fuel.

    We don’t get suckered at the pump with BS metric measurements like a liter. $1.60/L X 3.78 still means $120/75.6L tank is Aus. But hey atleast a liter is cheaper. That’s $3.60 for 3.78 liters in the US @ $78/20 gals. Metric vs Standard = boned at the pump down under.

    And what the…. is a 15 oz pint anyway? Ya’ll even getting shorted on your beers.

    Astronauts and astronomers use the Standard system. Light Speed/186,000 MILES per second and an AU is 92,955,807.3 MILES. Opps, you’ve only had 3 from Australians make it into NASA, never mind. That’s over your head.

    The metric system is so easy a caveman can do it. Duh umm. what comes
    after 2? anything in metric…er um 3…goodie mate here is a cookie.

    A 9/16″ socket will fit a 13 MM socket any day of the week. If we want really metric, we’ll buy a tool that fits both.

    Oh and we have all of the important acronyms down. KFC, MPH, TGIF, BRB and DILLIGAF.