Diesel Cars: Should You Buy One? The Pros And Cons

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2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel, 2012 New York Auto Show

2013 Porsche Cayenne Diesel, 2012 New York Auto Show

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Last week, we looked at the pros and cons of buying and running a hybrid vehicle.

We concluded that, provided you didn't mind paying a little more on the purchase price, that their smooth driving characteristics and great gas mileage makes them hard to beat for green-minded buyers.

Now it's the turn of diesels. With more manufacturers offering diesel than ever before, and even more on the way, should you go diesel for your next car?


Diesel is rapidly increasing in popularity, and much of that is down to manufacturers like Volkswagen and BMW, with their powerful, efficient diesel engine.

In fact, the mix of performance and high gas mileage that diesels offer is hard to beat. The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta diesel makes 140-horsepower from its four-cylinder turbodiesel, yet gets an EPA highway figure of 42 mpg. Likewise, the old 2011 BMW 335d, with 265-hp and huge reserves of torque, still managed 36 mpg highway with an automatic transmission.

Better still, the EPA's figures seem quite conservative, and it's not unknown for Jetta diesel drivers to manage figures well into the 50s. The current average on the fueleconomy.gov website is 44.6 mpg, to the EPA's combined 34 mpg.

Consider that those sort of numbers are available despite the impressive power and torque numbers on offer--which makes for a fun drive, in most modern diesels--and it's easy to see the attraction.

With modern levels of refinement and soundproofing, they're more pleasant to drive too. Most modern diesels are near inaudible at higher speeds, though some still clatter a little at idle.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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While carmakers may have rid diesels of the death rattle of old, they're still--unfairly, in most cases--subject to a poor reputation for being smokey, noisy and slow.

That's no longer the case, though despite recent advancements with particulate filters and urea injection they still lag behind hybrids in terms of emissions. Those high-tech emission-reducing solutions have also added to the cost of diesels, making them--like hybrids--relatively expensive to buy at the time of purchase.

Where a 2.0-liter gasoline Jetta costs from $16,645, its diesel equivalent starts from $22,775--a significant increase. It's more powerful, quicker, more economical and vastly better to drive, but that's still quite a sum of money, and one that would get you a heck of a lot of gasoline if you weren't bothered about performance.

It would almost get you a Prius hybrid, which would cost even less to run over time. The hybrid, running on gasoline, would also cost less to fill, with diesel prices currently averaging $3.68 per gallon (as of 7/9/12), to the $3.41 per gallon of regular gasoline.


Diesel cars have made massive leaps over the last decade or so, and they're certainly no longer the slow, noisy and unclean beasts they once were. That's thanks to a whole lot of clever new technologies, though unfortunately these do add to the price of your average diesel vehicle.

If you spend most of your time on the highway, we can thoroughly recommend a diesel vehicle for reducing your fuel bills, though we'd suggest that if much of your driving is done in the city, hybrids are still cleaner and more efficient, and quieter too.

Any diesel owners reading? Let us know why you chose one, in the comments section below.


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Comments (15)
  1. I Agree 100%

    If you regularly have a long clear commute or drive often on the highway for your work, get a Diesel.

    You know it makes sense.

    If you schlep around town in stop start traffic, get a prius or better yet a Scooter !!

    Simple choice

  2. Fortunately those of us who respect diesel efficiency but don't want to own one can easily match the TDi mpg on the freeway in a Prius. 60mpg AVERAGE baby! :) Unfortunately I have to keep it at 60mph or lower to get 65mpg indicated. :(

  3. There are also a few maintenance things that are a bit different than owning a gasoline car. Particularly the diesel fuel filter. It needs to be changed about how often you fill up with DEF in a VW Passat. It's a bit of an involved process making sure air doesn't enter the fuel lines. If you're ok taking it to the dealer or patient enough to follow a step by step guide as well as buy a little hand vacuum pump then you're cut out for diesel ownership.

  4. I've owned an Excursion diesel for six years when the family was younger and two diesel Jettas [latest is the new 2012]. I admit that an electirc motor-assisted small gasoline engine car with skinny tires is ideal for around town, but it lacks overall usefulness of the diesel for power, stability, and range. And as my neighbor discovered when having to pay $3500 to replace the batteries, that starts to eat into the cost difference. I'll take my power, performance [nice wide tires], and 600 mile range on the highway [900 miles/tank with the Excursion fully loaded], the 35 mpg in the city, and all the extra space I have without all those batteries to lug around.

  5. Diesel exhaust has just been declared a definite carcinogen by the UN...and contains the most toxic substances ever tested, according to Japanese researchers. You might as well be smoking cigarettes as breathe diesel exhaust.

    I can understand that someone might want to take their own life, but why would someone actually want to buy a diesel machine that kills and maims their kids and neighbours?

    It's time for humans to stop the burning of fuels. It's a habit that's hard to quit. Fortunately, the technology to do so is now becoming available. We just have to say, "Yes!"

  6. Why is that, in Pennsylvania my TDI is exempt from emissions testing. It is cleaner that most compact cars on the road and burns more efficiently.

  7. A few comments:

    1. Diesels should get better economy than gasoline engines; diesel fuel has about 10% more energy per gallon (14% in the real world with 10% ethanol).

    2. As autos move to GTDI, the difference between gasoline and diesel fuel economy will be reduced. Considering the cost of diesel, the overall fuel cost is very similar. For example, the Passat 2.0l diesel auto (30/40/34) at $1,600 annually, and the projected 1.6l EcoBoost Fusion (26/37/31?) at around $1,680. The extra cost of the diesel powertrain would not necessarily be a good deal for the consumer.

    3. Diesel drivers tend to be "fanboys", so you have to view annecdotal mileage reports with some skepticism.

  8. Thanks for your comments Richard. To address a few of them:

    2. As you note, that's already starting to happen, and particularly so in Europe. Diesel engines are expensive to produce so they're slowly disappearing from smaller cars, where profit margins are lower. They're being replaced by small-capacity turbocharged gasoline cars, though the economy figures of some of these are a little disappointing in the real world.

    3. I'm sure you're right, though I'll play devil's advocate and suggest that there are equally as many fanboys of other vehicles - so if we're to take diesel figures with a pinch of salt, it'd only be fair to do the same for gasoline, hybrids and everything else...

  9. The EPA figures on TDI VW models are grossly misleading. I own a Passat TDI, and after 12K miles, I can say that the city figure is more or less accurate. However, the highway number is way too conservative. I can get 46 MPG with the AC on in highway driving, and can get 50 MPG pretty easily. I journal all of my fill-ups and routinely blow away the EPA numbers in regular driving. For real world numbers, look at sites like fuelly.com or something like that.

  10. @Rashard: Indeed, we covered the same phenomenon for the Jetta TDI a couple of years ago:

  11. I have a company 2012 Jaguar XF 2.2 TD. Company purchased car in France (along with 29 more for use in Europe) and had it shipped to US for my full time use. Today is the end of my third week with the car. I'm averaging 53.2 mpg to date, driving an average of 1,092 miles per week. I drive 70 where allowed. My territory: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Yeah, a lot of area, but the pay is fantastic (as long as I hit at least quota).

    HP rated at 190 PS (1 HP = 1.014 PS) or 189 HP.

    Gas, on old car: 3278 miles @23.2 mpg = 141.3 gal @ $3.36/gal = $474.77.

    Diesel to date: 3278 miles @ 51.7 mpg = 63.41 gal @ $4.01/gal = $254.28.

    Car runs smooth, quiet, no smoke and 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds.

    I'm happy with savings!

  12. @David: Curious to know how the car is registered and/or how long it can be kept in the States before the EPA requires it to be exported out again? AFAIK, that engine is not homologated in the XF for this market, so there's usually a ticking clock on such imports. Or are you on Diplomatic plates?

  13. Our company is working with both Jaguar and EPA. Car went to EPA in Leesburg, VA for 9 days before I flew up to get it. Not quite sure what the deal is, but company did have a different Jaguar brought into the US about 16 months ago. That one stayed with us for 13 months before we shipped it back to France. Mine is supposed to be here for only 12 months. No Diplomatic plates, but she is wearing her French plates. Me, I just got the gig to use the car as my daily driver, probably because from what I was told by my boss, my driving milage is highest in the company.

    Oh, and I am not a "fanboy", just a happy user.

  14. Good to hear your experiences, David. 53+ is pretty impressive, presumably that's indicative of nice, steady journeys, as I've noticed figures of only 40mpg or so (in imperial gallons) for the generally London-based journalists who have them on long-term test.

    Regardless of the car's mileage, the XF with that engine is a lovely car to drive. We drove it back in February: http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1073421_jaguar-xf-2-2-diesel-forbidden-fruit-first-drive

  15. I think diesels make a lot of sense for mid to large SUVs. I'm on my second diesel ('07 ML320CDI and now '11 ML350 Bluetec) SUV and I'm hooked. True they are not rockets off the line but the mid range punch and highway cruising is fantastic in a heavy loaded SUV. Even in suburbia overall performance is impressive.

    Hybrids don't have the torque a diesel has on a consistent basis. Hybrids do very well in smaller to mid size cars in city environments where the extra oomph from the electric motor makes it all work. But that oomph is initial only so if you need grunt at speed and on command diesel works the best.

    I also drive a 100% electric car so I have a lot to compare it to.

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