Thursday, March 13, 2014

To Diesel Or Not To Diesel?

VW Jetta diesel: as good or better than gasoline for most of us.

Volkswagen is offering an additional $1000 fuel voucher as an incentive to buy a Jetta diesel (TV ad).  I don't get it--I'd have thought that VW could sell all the diesels they can make in the North American market.

Of course, as a performance-minded driver, I'm not a diesel candidate.  But if one had been available to my sister four years ago when she bought her Ford Fiesta, I'd have recommended it to her.  For her, inexpensive operation and low emissions trump all.  Neither of us is a typical new car buyer, but it mystifies me that a typical buyer would walk away from 25-40% better fuel economy.

1984 Oldsmobile Toronado (diesel): not ready for prime time.

In 1984 my father bought an Oldsmobile Toronado diesel.  He was a fuel economy freak.  He loved that car, although he was very annoyed when the price of diesel went from below to above the cost of gasoline.  My mother disliked the car.  She said it was smelly and noisy.  That was only partly true. When filling the tank the fumes were more noticeable than gasoline, but not in driving.  It had some of the detonation rattle we hear from big rigs and diesel pickups, but mostly in hard acceleration.

I've blogged before about how diesels are "all grown up" in Europe, where the Everyman Car is a 1.5 liter diesel sedan.  Not surprising when fuel costs $7-8 per gallon.  They get 35 m.p.g. in mixed use (over 40 on Autoroutes) and can manage 80 m.p.h. comfortably.  In two trips to France and Belgium, I drove three 1.5 liter diesel rentals and one 2.0 liter gasoline unit.

The best of the cars was a Skoda (VW) diesel station wagon.  The worst was a Peugeot 307 with a 2.0 gasoline engine.  We got it when I asked for something sportier than the Skoda.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the 307.  It just wasn't sporty enough to justify its thirst for fuel. The Skoda was more luxurious than the Renault and Peugeot diesels, and had better, stiffer, suspension too.  None of them smelled, smoked, or clattered.  They all had plenty of torque between 1500 and 3000 r.p.m.

It's only where things start to get interesting in a Honda Civic Si that they get dull in a diesel.  Most people, most of the time, drive their cars inside the boundaries of dull.  With a diesel, you get 33% better fuel economy, fewer grams per mile of emissions, and you don't have to worry about replacing a hybrid's expensive battery or disposing of its exotic metals.  Why aren't more people buying diesels?

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