Diesels making a comeback

New cleaner diesels are making a splash in US

Melissa Erickson More Content Now

More popular in Europe, diesel-powered cars are making a comeback in America.

Long thought of as loud and dirty, today’s diesels benefit from tough emission standards that took effect a few years ago. Now they run quietly and cleanly on ultra-low-sulfur diesel — no black smoke.

Diesel vehicles have always been more efficient than their gas counterparts, and they offer more power and torque, too.

It’s true that diesel is more expensive that gasoline. AAA’s current estimate is 53 cents higher than regular unleaded. But since diesel is richer energy than gas, diesel provides better gas mileage and horsepower.

“While clean diesel cars make up about 1 percent of the total U.S. vehicle market, the diesel share increases to over 3 percent when pickup trucks and vans are included,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum.

Slowly becoming more mainstream, diesels accounted for 3.2 percent of U.S. auto sales in 2012 — that’s about the same as hybrids, according to research firm LMC Automotive, which estimates that the number of diesels on American roads will double by 2018.

Most of the diesels sold are manufactured under the Audi or Volkswagen badges, both German manufacturers. Here are a few to notice this spring:

- The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze stands out from the crowd with a 27 mpg city and a whopping EPA-rated 46 mpg in highway driving, the highest of any non-hybrid on the road. The 151-horsepower, 2.0 turbodiesel four-cylinder engine is manufactured in Germany at GM’s Opel division. The Cruze diesel starts at $25,695, about $3,600 more than a gas-powered Cruze with the same options.

- Audi is expanding its diesel lineup with the A6 TDI midsize sedan, the A7 four-door coupe, A8 TDI midsize sedan and the Q5 TDI compact crossover. The sedans use a 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel with 240 horsepower and 406 pounds of torque. With a starting price of $57,500, the A6 gets a mileage rating of 29 mpg combined. The more stylish A7, $66,900, has the same 29 mpg. The A8 is larger, comes with a 28 mpg combined and starts at $82,500. The Q5 comes equipped with a V-6 engine, is rated at 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway) for $46,500.

- The BMW 328d returns to showrooms with a sports sedan ($41,525), four-door sedan ($39,525) and a new Sports Wagon ($43,875) with a 180-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder turbodiesel with 280 pounds-per-foot of torque. The 328d is powered with an eight-speed automatic transmission rated at 37 mpg combined — 32 city and 45 highway. The all-wheel xDrive falls to 35 mpg.

- With an engine manufactured in Italy, the Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel is a 3-liter V-6 turbodiesel that produces 240 horsepower and 420 pounds-per-foot of torque. Equipped with all-wheel drive it gets 21 mpg city and 28 on the highway. Only available on the top three Grand Cherokee models, it’s an extra $2,000 on the Limited, $3,000 on the Overland and rear-wheel drive Summit and $5,000 on the all-wheel drive Summit.

- The Volkswagen Golf TDI has long been one of the top selling diesels, but consumers will have to wait until 2015 for a redesign.