Why Are Today’s Diesels Only So-So Economical . . . and So Expensive?

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There’s something weird and cruel about the fact that diesel engines are – for the most part – for the  affluent-only. You’d think it’d be the reverse.

And it is … in Europe.

Over there, more than half the passenger vehicles on the road have diesels under the hood and most models (cars, crossovers, SUVs) offer the option. This is not surprising, given that gas costs about the same per gallon as a decent quality whiskey costs per liter here.

But why aren’t diesel engines more commonly available here? Or rather, why are they almost exclusively offered in high-end models like the BMW 7 Series I reviewed recently (here) or the Audi Q5 I just posted a review of? Indeed, with the exception of a few Volkswagens (Golf, Beetle and Jetta) and one Chevrolet (Cruze) there are no diesel-powered passenger cars that aren’t also high-end/luxury-branded cars (i.e., BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes-Benzes).

This seems counterintuitive at first. Diesel engines, after all, are fundamentally economy (and durability) engines. Their performance attributes are secondary. People buy them because they go farther on a gallon of fuel and (historically) cost less to maintain and tend to last almost forever with decent care.'15 740Ld pic

So, what’s up? How come there are so few economy-minded (and modestly priced) diesel-powered passenger cars available for sale in the United States – while the same kinds of cars are so readily available in Europe?

Form a picture in your mind of a belligerent-looking old man with a goatee wearing a red, white and blue costume… .

Uncle has made it very costly to sell – and drive – a diesel powered vehicle in the United States. Severe (and severely stupid; give me a minute) emissions regs that are also different from the regs in Europe mean that before a manufacturer (ack, jargon alert; this is what car journalists say in lieu of “car company”) can legally offer a diesel-powered car in the United States, it must meet emissions regs at both the federal and state level. There are 50 different states and several of them (individually and in regional blocks) have different (or additional) regs in force. Plus the feds. It can be a big hassle – and a really big expense – to alter/adjust a given model that’s ok to sell in Europe so that it’s legal to sell in every U.S. state.'15 A8 TDI

This makes it really problematic to sell a diesel-powered economy car. Or even a diesel-powered mid-priced car. The margins are already tight for cars in those classes. An additional 5 percent in “up front” costs tends to focus the consumer’s gaze in a more affordable direction.

Especially when the cost of diesel fuel is factored in.

It used to be that diesel cost less than gas. Now, it’s the reverse. Diesel sells for about 50 cents more per gallon than regular unleaded. This greatly undermines the economic argument for buying a diesel.

Again, thank Uncle.ultra low sulfur diesel

Laws have been passed (and regulations issued) requiring expensive processing of diesel fuel. All the diesel sold in the U.S. (excepting for off-road/farm use) is “ultra low sulfur” – ostensibly to lower emissions. The same justification for the onerous (and different) tailpipe emissions regs all diesel vehicles must comply with before they can be sold.

It sounds reasonable – if expensive. No one wants to choke on smog. But the truth is that’s not been an issue – much less a threat – for decades. We long ago reached the point of diminishing returns with regard to vehicle exhaust emissions. The proverbial low-hanging fruit has been picked. And there is very little left to be picked, even if we really stretch our arms.diminishing returns

We are talking about “cleaning up” fractions of the remaining 3-5 percent of what comes out of a new car’s tailpipe – because the rest of it (the other 95-plus percent) is non-smog stuff, principally carbon dioxide and water vapor.

It is very, very expensive to get at that .5 percent of 3-5 percent.

Now, the argument can be made – not unreasonably – that while such fractional reductions per car might be hard to justify given the costs, when scaled to encompass hundreds of thousands of cars, the total reduction is significant.

Which is true enough, as far as it goes.

The problem is that modern diesel-powered vehicles don’t go as far as they otherwise might because (you guessed it)  the emissions requirements/changes made to comply with them plus “clean” diesel have lowered their efficiency.

This means they burn more fuel overall.

And the more you fuel you burn…

Yep. Even if you manage to reduce the tailpipe bad stuff by say 1 percent (which in today’s terms would be a huge achievement) if the car’s efficiency is lowered by say 3 percent… well, you see what I mean.smog pic

Unfortunately, most people do not see. Because they do not know. Because they have been deliberately misled. They are not informed that cars (gas and diesel-powered) have been extremely “clean” since at least the early-mid 1990s (so, for more than 20 years now) and that whatever future reductions may be achieved, they’ll be ever-smaller and cost ever-larger amounts of money.

Diminishing returns.

Back to Europe. The diesels sold (widely) overt there are not “dirty.” If anything, the Europeans (their various Uncles) are more demanding when it comes to what’s allowed to issue from the tailpipe of an automobile. The problem, simply, is that our Uncle’s rigmarole is different, which makes compliance expensive.'15 A8 side 2

Which is why the few car companies that do sell diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. sell them as “heavily contented” (more car industry jargon; it means “loaded,” in plain English) upper-tier models like the BMW 5 and 7, the various Audis and Mercedes-Benzes. The pitch is luxury and power (as well as long legs; the ability to travel 600 or more miles on a single tank) rather than economy. The up-front costs (and higher cost of the diesel fuel) are less objectionable at this level. A person with the means to comfortably spend $50,000 on a vehicle will probably not be too put out by another $3,000 for the diesel engine, much less the extra 50 cents per gallon at fill-up time.

But the rest of us are out of luck. Diesels have become – of all things! – rich men’s engines.

Imagine that.

Don’t forget to thank Uncle.

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  1. A friend of my cousin recently bought a 2015 Chevy truck, Diesel powered.

    He completely replaced the exhaust system from the turbo back and deleted the DEF mess entirely, along with the cats. The reward for this was a gain of 4 mpg! I must assume there was a power gain as well.

  2. One unmentioned issue with US diesel fuel is this: it’s always been crappy. It legally cannot be sold as diesel fuel in Europe. The usual cetane rating for US diesel is 40, and higher cetane ratings are very hard to find. Saw 47 at one pump as “premium diesel” many years ago. In Europe, cetane ratings start at 51.

    This was true long before today’s ultralow sulfur fuel. I suspect that the low cetane ratings have a lot to do with the lack of diesel automobiles here, especially since the cost of the fuel went up so much after the ULS spec became mandatory.

    Our gasoline isn’t all that either…

  3. Reading this I had this thought: Why do cars need to comply with rules of all 50 states? In the past this was because cars could be driven anywhere so a vehicle that emitted smog forming pollutants or particles would end up in LA or other big city. But with GPS monitoring you could have a vehicle that only worked in a single state, or outside major cities. So a truck that operated only in farm country could pollute more than one that operated in cities. People in Iowa could drive with no catalytic converters, but only in Iowa. Drivers in LA could be required to drive Teslas.

    You could even have different fuel mixes for different vehicles. There might be more cheating with fuel but remember the smart pumps and cars would report you.

    Databases of VIN numbers and license plates would be set up to make monitoring simple.

    • Hi George,

      They don’t have to comply – but if they don’t (can’t be sold in certain states; California, for instance) it is much harder for the manufacturer (e.g., VW, BMW, Mercedes) to justify offering it for sale at all. That’s the problem.

  4. Running a Diesel on Hemp Oil is the best Biodiesel there is. Between the high lubricity and lack of abrasives the motors can go a million or more miles with little wear. Throw in the highly renewable properties of hemp and all the other benefits of it’s remaining products after the oil is pressed from the seeds it’s no wonder why Uncle Sugar prohibits it. Might cut into the profits of their campaign contribution gravy train.

    • Henry Ford was using hemp oil to make plastic body panels when John D Rockefeller mounted the campaign to outlaw it in the 1930s

    • Yep. There are some really cool vids of Henry and his buddies hitting the trunk with a sledge hammer in the winter and no visible damage. I think it’s Lotus or possibly Aston Martin that is using hemp oil plastic for some body panels now. No wonder Henry Ford was so vilified as an anti semite amongst other things for trying to produce a product that actually lasts, and pay his workforce enough to afford them. He was the Banksters worst nightmare.

  5. Since diesel contains no ethanol, isn’t it more moral? Drive a diesel, feed a village.

    This just in:

    As many as one billion additional gallons of gasoline are consumed each year transporting overweight and obese Americans, according to research from Sheldon Jacobson and Douglas King at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That would amount to about $2.5 billion, according to the average cost of regular gasoline as of March 3.


    • Bio-Diesel is made from crops that would normally become processed food so there’s that…. Although it can also be made from food waste products. But commercially I figure it’s more straight from the farm.

  6. Dang it Uncle Sam cant do math(what else is new) the diesel has torque approaching the electrics,but at a vastly greater range and around here the premuim for diesel is usually closer to 25%,as much as its loathed DEF is not a deal breaker for me,its just the hassle of trying to get the dang thing to start with,the only real attraction to me of the Diesel now is the pulling power to get something close to that in a gasser you would have to get an 8.1 litre GM big block(dont think they make them now)and you are looking at about half the mileage for the big block and with the Diesel comes great responsibility for maintenence,keep the filters clean and never,ever overheat it.Even the Big Guys are being crippled now,I’ve been told some of the Mediums are lucky to make 300k now due to the low sulfur fuel and lighter construction,all in the Quest for the extra Mpg and almost unobtainable emission limits(you would think the EPA Wants these powered by antimatter)for Petes sake give these Ham fisted bureaucrats another target to pick on,have you heard how much pollution one freighter or SuperTanker creates?Lets halve the crap those things spew,now that would be worthwhile and I bet it would be easier then squeezing our poor little clean vehicles any furthur

  7. I have a US 3/4 ton 06 pickup with a Japanese Diesel in it. I’m sure you can guess which that is. The EGR valve and Cat are gone and it has a Hydroxy generator and programmer. It gets about 25 on ultra low sulfur fuel if I keep my foot out of the pedal, and once got nearly 30 using red diesel. Of course if you pull a serious load it can get below 10. I live in an oil producing region and was told several years back the UL diesel is now made from Natural Gas condensates and not from conventional crude because there is a lot less sulfur to remove from what we call “drip”. It’s also very dirty fuel as far as particulate matter in the fuel. Buy a gallon of UL diesel and let is sit for a few months and see what precipitates out of it. It’s also why the filters are designed to filter down to 2 microns and are so large. they’d fill up in a few tankfulls is they weren’t.

    I have to give our benevolent masters a kudos for the genius who came up with the urea injection. There are a number of CAFO dairies around here amongst the pumpjacks. They have huge “lagoons” of cow waste that they’d normally have to dispose of as hazardous waste. But they figured out a way to bottle it and require diesel owners to run through there engines.

    • “but they figured out a way to bottle it and require diesel owners to run it through their engines”….. kind of like how they managed to dispose of poisonous fluoride in our drinking water. I wonder if our masters have their own private food and water supply so they don’t have to consume the crap they force on us mundanes.

      • I read the other day that the actual origin of Hydraulic Fracturing began in 1960 when Halliburton got the contract to dispose of something like 2 trillion with a T gallons of highly radio active fluoridated H2O leftover from processing nuclear fuel into plutonium for weapons production. They’re still doing it to this day. It’s pumped down injection wells under enormous pressure. The ground water around here “Ogallala Reservoir” is “naturally” fluoridated to 4 parts per million. The maximum “safe” level recommended by the EPA for drinking water. There just happens to be quite a few injection wells all through the region. And any place Fracking goes on they exist. So even if your community doesn’t add fluoride it’s no guarantee it’s not in the water already. And yes they do have food grown in biodomes with filtered water.

        • There’s many different fluoride compounds. It always depends on which one. Naturally occurring fluoride in water is usually in a different compound than what is intentionally added as I recall.

          • Fluorocylic acid is what they add to H2O systems. It’s byproduct of the enrichment of uranium from uranium hexafluoride gas.

  8. Actually at the time the new regulations were passed, I was doing a lot of work in various automotive fuel system testing labs. Ford and Toyota were very excited about the initial results of their new micro-burst diesel injection system.

    The engineers who drove the test vehicles marveled at how the micro-burst system had eliminated the diesel knock and improved the acceleration immensely. The comment I hear most frequently was that the driver couldn’t tell it was a diesel under the hood.

    They (Ford and Toyota) were mobilizing to bring this into production as quickly as possible. And then the EPA suddenly targeted diesel soot emissions with nearly impossible to meet new regulations. After that, all the new diesel programs were shut down.


    Well, the automotive welfare queens (GM & Chrysler) would have been starting from way behind developing competing injector technology at that time. Neither of the welfare queens were spending much on R&D in 2005.

    Given that nearly all of the congress-critters are bought, I’ve always wondered how much it cost the welfare queens to spike the new diesel injection system development using the EPA.

    Political entrepreneurship at it’s finest.

    • I didn’t mention it in the article, but Mazda’s Sky-D diesel (supposed to have been available last year in the new 3) is still in a permanent holding pattern for the U.S.

      You can guess why.

  9. For awhile Ford was offering a diesel called Duratorq in Europe, and other parts of the world, but certainly not North America. I would have been interested in it had they offered it here; I recall one advert somewhere saying it got 62 British MPG (around 52 US MPG) on average (yes average, not highway miles.) I think a large part of the reason they don’t sell them here is that they don’t have the urine exhaust cleaning system that seems to be on every diesel car they sell in the US. Ford says they feel there’s not enough market demand for a car diesel, yet VW is selling car based diesels like hot-cakes, so i don’t buy that explanation.

    And I wonder if the 52 US MPG is with all the unnecessary stuff that lards these vehicles down, imagine what the mileage could be without all that junk.

      • I drove that very car in Belgium and France; could not believe how powerful (nerveuse) she was. I’ve been ranting about this subject ever since a farmer drove me around the countryside in northern France in the 90s in his muddy Peugeot 205. Break neck speeds, fantastic mileage etc… Eric has a new fan.

  10. Before sulfur was removed from diesel fuel, there were roads I had to avoid, because if I got behind a diesel dump truck, I had to pull over and let it get well ahead of me so that I could continue breathing. Didn’t know it was the sulfur until they eliminated it, and I could drive again….

  11. Good article, in agreement

    I am the happy owner of two TDI’s a ’15 VW Passat and a ’14 Cayenne
    I bought the Passat for the mileage, with a lot of business travel on the highway at 900-1000 miles a week the Passat pays for itself with gas savings over my company truck it does often 50MPG or better and I can promise you I am NOT a clover. The engine is miraculous with the power and the torque but as with the Cayenne the big advantage is the range, 700 miles is not unusual on a tank and I have done better with the Porsche but the Passat is king, best I have done was 850 miles and it was not empty. When traveling this is a benefit in the you can afford to be picky about filling up. Interstate stations are pricey and instead of having to take the whatever is available you can afford to go another 100 miles to find a better price on fuel. It often drops as much as 30cents just a mile away from the interstate, so I save fill ups for the rest or overnight stops. Drive all day on one tank, find a room fill up at a cheaper station – best find the busy ones not the ones with the cobwebs on the diesel pump handles, but they are easy to find. In the south Raceway usually has the best.

    There is a place in Montgomery AL that advertised triple filtered diesel and it is cheap, I have the range to easily make it from Miami to Montgomery.

    The thing that sold me on the Cayenne TDI is the fun to drive factor, that engine and the torque make it a pleasure to drive anywhere. I can scoot around a Prius roadblock so quick the clover usually doesn’t even react fast enough to give me the finger before I am too far ahead to see it. Add that to 700+ miles on a highway tank means Jacksonville Fl to Montgomery Al on one tank, fill up before I leave at Raceway where diesel is 20-30 cent less than anywhere on the highway and don’t have to get any until I get back. It does 26 or better around town and 32 MPG at 80, at 85 it drops below 30 though and if you can believe the computer, it is a solid 28 mpg at 90-95.

    Plus after the SHTF if I have to I can I bug out on canola oil

    Oh yes and it is an easy matter to defeat the AdBlue level sensor so it always thinks it is full; Job 1 after the SHTF.

    • Funny, we too have a Passat TDI (2013) and a diesel Cayenne (2013). I have seen multiple tanks of the Passat over 900 miles, and the lifetime average is 50mpg (I tend to drive it carefully, and mostly on the highway). And yes, that Cayenne really does scoot.

      Comparing gas to diesel, if diesel is $4 per gallon and gas 50 cents or 12% cheaper, then a gas engined car has to get within 12% of the mileage of the diesel to make economic sense (ignoring for the moment the extra cost of the diesel option). That calculation usually favors the diesel still, because there aren’t too many 45mpg (or so) midsize gas cars out there yet.

      The diesel engine costs more, but the extra cost may pay off in reliability, and anyway it is a vanishingly small factor if you’re the sort to put 200,000 miles on a car.

      • I imagine can get 900 miles on a tank in mine and so far I am comfortably doing a good solid 50 with it.
        I guess secret to the payback is miles on the Passat, even it more expensive with more expensive fuel
        I know the Cayenne will never pay for itself but that smile on my face whenever I punch it is worth the extra cost and the longer range.
        I was playing with a couple of weeks ago and got off on an exit ramp, crossed over to reenter hit the Off -Road switch and took it up the overpass incline right to the top. What a hoot!
        Meteor Gray Platinum edition.
        Passat is the blue mettalic, the wife loves the VW because it so roomy and very comfortable to travel. Things is a torque master.

  12. Great write up Eric!

    I traded in my 95′ SHO for a used VW TDI(a 2000) back in 03′ because I had a long highway commute. (I no longer own it and my commute is short now)

    While I wish I still had that SHO, the TDI served its purpose well…but certainly when they mandated the low sulpher fuel not long after I purchased it the economics got a lot closer to standard gas engines.

    Even further, the ridiculous method by which VW designed the TDI at the time to deal with Uncle’s particulate emissions regulations, by redirecting emissions back into the intake which eventually caked up inside the manifold and destroyed the turbo intake side, was simply horrible.

    Of course, VW didn’t use that stupid design for their Euro cars at the time. Now most use some type of urea injection & particulate filters in the exhaust.

    Anyway, the last 10 years has seen some huge gains in standard gasoline engines in terms of MPG as well….so now the economic savings is even less. But, there’s no question Uncle has had a hand in destroying the diesel market in the lower priced cars in the US.

    I still love the effortless high speed/highway cruising of a well designed diesel in a saloon type vehicle, but it’s hard to justify it in the US between Uncle’s price increasing regulations and the fact local fiefdom’s ticket you for being “reckless” now going over 80 mph on the highway-which is nothing in a modern car on many of our highways. Most modern cars with a competent driver can safely do 100mph with plenty of safety margin to spare.

      • Sorry to disagree Eric, but eventually (It may take a long time) they will screw that up too, by going belly up financially. Once the checks stop going out, even the sheeple will start to wake up. And they don’t have enough force to continue once there is little or no de facto consent.

        • I think you’re an optimist about the sheeple waking up….
          They’ll riot, starve, kill each other, burn their own neighborhoods down – but NEVER wake up.

          That takes work and thought…

          • Jean – that’s true, but they are less likely to just walk into the cages than they are now. And, like said, the gunvermin has a lot of power, but it is not unlimited.

    • Is there anything Uncle Sam can’t f*** up?

      I’m still searching. There must be something, somewhere, that the government hasn’t fucked up through waste, coercion, cronyism, and general stupidity. Or maybe not: people who are no good at running their own lives somehow think it’s appropriate to run other people’s lives, and – surprise! – they’re even worse at that.

  13. 2005 VW Passat TDI here:

    “Uncle has made it very costly to sell – and drive – a diesel powered vehicle in the United States.”

    I take great exception to your attribution above ! It is absolutely not “Uncle” that has destroyed our access to good diesels. If anyone believes that, they think the government runs the country. In our current system of Fascism, it is the money mongers across all sorts activities that dictate the so-called federal rules.

    I have written this before: If the culprit for ALL of our crazy regulations is really sought, follow the money. Do not get distracted by the regulation. Seek who benefits financially, and it will always come back to the money mongers. Everything has been “monetized” by these creeps, to our impoverishment.

    Your article perfectly explains the futility of trying to clean up diesel emissions more. But his argument falls on deaf ears because the efforts are making millions of dollars for the money changers. They do not give a hoot about efficiency facts, all that matters is lucre.

    Grasp the meaning of “ROI” from the money people, and you can see who is really running the train.

    Thanks for your great efforts. Focus them on the real villains, not the enforcers.

    • Jack, great point. I learned back in high school in the 60’s to follow the money, who’s making money from any govt venture. Vietnam was the example that woke me up. I was a kid but had a teacher point out to us boys we’d soon enough be toting a second class gun around in a bunch of natives’ backyard. Good thing he made us think about more than the drivel printed in the paper and the vocal types in media pushing the whole thing. Paul Harvey was the guy I had to listen to every day at noon in my parent’s home. Old Paul was a great shill for the war-mongers for years(I just want to give credit where it’s due). As the war seemed to be a quagmire nobody could ignore Paul had a tougher job. You could sense the time when he realized his son, about my age, was about to be fodder for the machine. Dang, ol Paul did a hell of a turnaround(probably had to buck his bosses like crazy but he was sooooo popular with the pro-war crowd as well as fence-sitters). One day he’s pro-war and the next month he’s ready to call everybody home, cut our losses and say to hell with it all. Dick Cheney got 5 deferments, sorry SOB. Yep, he liked the war as long as he’d benefit but whoa now, let’s don’t go crazy and send his sorry ass into the fray. He never rethought his political bend though, just made sure he didn’t have to pay the price for it.

      • There were a lot of “chicken-hawks” around in the Nam era, just as there are now. I probably would have qualified myself, back then. Thank God I lost the lottery. Never complained since then about not winning anything.

    • Without enforcers, the villains will run and hide.
      They have no spine, and their mouth and anal sphincter are interchangeable – if you can dig the head out…

  14. European here, I have been driving used diesels for about 9 years (2003-2012), first Ford Escort 1992 1.8d then Escort 1998 1.8td (both european models.) First had consmpution of about 4.4 l/100km (53.46 MPG – after rebuilded engine and gearbox changed to original – before it has petrol’s gearbox) and the second due to some sensor issue was more thirsty at about 8l/100km (29.4 MPG)

    When it was a time for another car my mechanic strongly advsied against tdci engine and suggested tddi engine instead since injector for tdci costs about 500 US$/piece and for tddi are about 100 US$/piece. Also Bosch mechanic told me that in tdci engine diesel pump paint is peeling internaly (resolved after 2005) and destroying the injectors so at roughly 100000 miles you have to rebuild the pump and change injectors with total cost in 2012 of about 3500US$.

    While it was relaxing to drive knowing that you are spending less, the repair costs (injectors, heaters, diesel filter etc.) and obligatory belt changes at 20000 miles (better safe tha sorry, reccomendation was at 50000 miles but this was for geniune parts) were overall high.

    Also there is cold start issue, since diesel here in Eastern Europe is at lowest quility and being stollen by the pump employees and replaced with water. There are a number of cases where even the new cars were destroyed with low quality diesel (high sulphur ratio and water).

    At this point I switched to used petrol car.

  15. Now with all the new high end diesels, we get to see upper middle class people think they are the king of the world as they expect truckers and pickup owners to move out of the way of the pump when they come by. Ive seen one guy start yelling at a trucker because he was taking up 2 pumps to fill his 2 tanks

    • Well, there are anal orifices, and then there is the stuff that comes out of them.
      I was at a station once that only had 2 diesel pumps – out of about 30. Some ‘jerk’ was sitting blocking one of them, waiting to pull up to the gas pump ahead of it. I started to go (read them the riot act) politely ask them if they could please move, when I realized it was someone I knew. Glad I didn’t just yell at them (or use sign language).

  16. What a perfectly timed article, Eric. We just bought a diesel, one of them there fancy yuropeen ones with lots of high-tech, expensive options to break. Just the way you like ’em, I know.

    It’s a CPO 2011 X5 with third row, tech, convenience, premium, sport activity, professional sound, cold weather, rear climate and SIDE VIEW! (An option I never realized I needed until BMW told me I did.) I wasn’t looking for one that loaded. It’s just that the CPO, diesel and third row are few and far between for my price range. This one happened to be priced at the same price as the 35i offerings, most with fewer options. …and we loved the Alpine White/Cinnamon color combo…

    I agree with everything you’ve said above and mathematically, the 35d is a tough case to make over the 35i. Right now, 17% more for fuel at the pump for 18% better EPA ratings. That being said, the first highway tank exceeded the EPAs 26 rating, getting over 28 and we’re getting over 20 (19 EPA) in strictly around town driving. Our city numbers consistently read lower than what they really are, especially in this recent weather since we idle (oh the horror) at the bus stop, which is several hundred feet down a busy, through-road at the end of our neighbors drive, since ours is on a dangerous curve.

    I couldn’t make the case on the fuel savings nor will I try too… it would take a long time to recover the add’l cost paid up front but… I looked at 35i models as well, with comparable options, condition and mileage, and were they were priced pretty much the same. I think with gas being relatively cheap and some folks just might not want a diesel, it basically eliminated the extra $4K+ paid by the original owner.

    Now… fuel savings over the Jeep with the Hemi? Easy. I was lucky to crack 12 around town and 17 on the highway.

    I just *wanted* a diesel. I love the way it just surges forward and we do tow a trailer from time to time. I’m hopeful I’ll see less impact when towing than I did with the Jeep. Heck… the trailer full of SxS and ATVs would drag that thing down to 12 on the highway. I dunno why. I just really loved how it drove and the performance almost matches the 35i.

    The third row is tighter than a Q7 and really only suitable for short drives with kids, which is all we really every do with it when they take friends to the movies or something like that. The Q7 is too long to fit in the spot where I put it in the garage. (Why I had the Commander… tidy dimensions). Wasn’t into the MB. These really are an exceptional handling vehicle, for what they are. No third row in the Jeep GC and they’re even more few and far between, used, and too much new.

    So… I’ll just wait now for all this fancy stuff to break so you can say, “I told you so.” I’ve owned a BMW before so I kinda know what I’m getting into… Fortunately, I’ve got a good local indy that did some work on my M Coupe for when the CPO runs out.

    The real upside of this trade was… my wife was more than happy to adopt the X5 and let me swap her van for a *car*, not a crossover, not an SUV or CUV. The kids are getting older, we don’t really need the space or the sliders any more. I’ve spent much time training them to swing open the doors slowly and carefully, especially in the garage. So… I recently traded that for a CPO G37x S, which you personally reviewed very positively. It’s a 335i at 328i prices and without the known reliability issues. I’d still like a true “fun” car but this will scratch that itch for a while and no need to build a small garage/large shed for the tractor.

    We need either FWD with snows or AWD just to get up the driveway in the winter, even though I know most people who think they need AWD don’t… I may end up picking up a cheap set of OEM 18″ wheels for the X5 for snows since those tires are fairly wide and tend to float on top of the snow a bit. (I can’t imagine the 20s with what… 315s in the back, I think?)

    • Thanks, Late!

      I, too, love the big block (gas V8) easy thrust these engines deliver – and for me that would be a major “sell.”

      I just wish they (the car companies) could sell simple, economy-minded diesels … models akin to the late ’70s VW Rabbit diesel.

      But it looks like that kind of car is history.

  17. Again, it is the California Air Resources Board, not the feds driving emissions in the U.S.

    And long ago they decided on ridiculously strict nitrous oxides (NOx) standards (far stricter than Europe).

    NOx emissions are a problem with any lean-burn (all diesels) engine, even gasoline-burning ones (i.e. the old Civic HX couldn’t be sold today)

    Another problem is that today’s diesel engines require high-pressure (30,000 psi) direct fuel injection, plus a turbocharger, to get those extra mpgs – neither of which bodes well for long-term reliability.

    • I said “Eff the Man” and dropped a diesel in my tired old Jeep Cherokee. Yeah, it was expensive… $12k or so for the car, engine, parts, and labor. And yeah, I have a sizeable monthly maintenance bill keeping it rolling.
      But Eff the Man.

  18. The big reason for low sulphur diesel is because of “particulate matter” in the exhaust, AKA soot. The various add-ons to the tailpipe are all there to filter and process the extremely fine particles of soot that are part of the burning process. Anyone who’s seen a work site with a lot of heavy digging equipment at the start of the day knows what soot looks like.

    The problem is, that’s the big soot particles. They generally didn’t stay airborne for very long. It’s not really an issue, unless you hang laundry out to dry by the freeway. The remaining soot that comes out the tailpipe is extremely fine. So fine, you can’t see it. it stays airborne much longer. And your sinuses and nose hairs don’t filter it. It can cause respiratory problems, but usually only if you breathe the stuff directly. All the steps taken to reduce soot haven’t really done anything to stop it, but at least you can’t see it anymore.

    And remember that diesel engines are now cleaner than gasoline engines (which also produce very fine soot). It’s only a matter of time until Uncle starts requiring more stuff on the tailpipe of gas engines too.

  19. Hmmmm, IF I reduce emissions by 1% at cost of a 3% loss of fuel efficiency at !the end of the Day I am polluting more not less per mile driven! Amazing, I wonder if our betters have even done the Math.

  20. There is yet another problem with today’s diesels: Maintenance.

    It used to be that diesel cars were cheaper to maintain as well. That’s because they had no carburetors, no spark plugs and no distributors to adjust/repair/replace. They also had no catalytic converters, air pumps or other smog control devices to repair/replace. Im my home state of Pennsylvania, diesel cars were also exempt from emissions inspections for a time.

    You can thank Uncle for today’s high-maintenance diesels, too. Call it AdBlue, Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), urea, horse whizz, you name it…that’s another expense and hassle to deal with. Not to mention particulate filters that have to regenerate or be cleaned…and when you have a problem with these, you get more than just a Check Engine light…you get stuck.

      • My 09 Sportwagen TDI does not need adblue, but I get a frequently recurring Check Engine light that throws a code referring to the EGR.
        First time it happened I took it to my neighborhood guy, and he ran some kind of cleaner through it. OK for about a week, then back on. He said better take it to the stealer. They took a look at it and said “We don’t know what’s wrong. For $800 we can take it apart and TRY to figure it out.” Meantime, they said it won’t hurt the engine to run it that way. I bought an ODBD II (or whatever) so I could check to be sure it wasn’t something else when the light came on. Been running it this way for 2 years. At least the diesel does not require emissions inspection here in MD, so I don’t need to worry about the light coming on at the wrong time there.
        Kind of a hassle. Makes me wonder if adblue would be LESS of a hassle?

  21. I still think that a heavy contented “luxury diesel” is oxymoronic. 😉

    Under the circumstances you describe, diesel passenger cars are a losing proposition…..except for their one saving grace.

    Diesel fuel can be stored for much longer than gasoline. And that just might keep a diesel owner rolling long after everyone else has been reduced to horses, or bicycles….or worst of all, “public transportation.”

    • Hi Mike,

      The one upside is they’re often very strong. The Q5 TDI, for instance. 429 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,000 RPM. This is close ot what the monstrous 7.5 liter (455) V8 in my old muscle car makes…. and it does not give you 30 MPG, either!

  22. Great article Eric.

    One thing to point out though. Even the farm fuel is ultra low sulfur. It has been that way for about 3-4 years I believe.

    Out west, diesel is about .90-1.00 more per gallon. We order bulk off road fuel for our construction equipment. It’s about the same price as gas unless you order a tanker load(10,000 gallons). Even if you run farm fuel in you cars, it’s no cheaper than gas. After you figure the extra cost for the engine itself, the mpg over gas doesn’t make sense. The only way it is “worth” the extra cost is for those who have pickups that are pulling all of the time because of the torque and turbo boost of the diesel.

    The new emissions take their toll on the longevity of diesels too–or so it seems. I remember the old Cummins diesels in the Dodge Rams? It was simple enough that a regular guy could work on it. Noe there are 24 valves, blue def, and so much other crap on the diesel engines, they look like duel over head cam gasoline engines–intimidating to touch anything.

    • Yep, look at any new diesel now, regardless of size, and it has that extra tank for blue def and EGR, particulate traps and all sorts of doodads you can’t identify. I still want to get another cab for my old 6.5 Turbo and make it live again. Those pickups were fairly powerful(but not compared to new diesels), clean running and anyone could work on one since it had a mechanical fuel system and not a computer on the vehicle. I still say it’s the ideal fall-back vehicle when the SHTF. An extra lift pump on hand and you’re always ready to go or do a quick repair and be back to rolling. A great many of those pickups were manual transmission that made them even simpler and more reliable.

      Now we deal with diesels that won’t start or simply shut down. Run the codes and find out they’re a gallon low on coolant…..and that’s not enough to affect the temp they run at but enough to set off that sensor and stop you in your tracks.

      Manufacturers feel the need to make trucks foolproof so now any fool can operate one…..and sit on his hands till somebody shows up with an analyzer. I’m sure most non-clover drivers notice what appear to be brand new rigs on the side of the road with the hood flipped and a service vehicle beside it. You can count on the problem being with something in the fuel system, the EGR or the DEF or particulate trap or something similar. Engines are fairly much bulletproof these days until you tack that crap on them and tie it all to a computer. For the most part, you don’t even need to ask where the truck is since it shows up on internal GPS. Trucking used to have that draw of nobody looking over your shoulder. Those days are rapidly drawing to a close. Nothing like having your phone over-ride your music and someone inquiring why you are not near enough to your prescribed route. Stuff like that doesn’t extend my life.

      And now there’s no electronic analyzer over-ride switch so you’re stuck.

      Any good operator will tell you with the right gauges(pyrometer, turbo boost gauge and fuel pressure gauge)they know of impending problems ahead of time or at least know what the problem is. And that’s coming to an end for lots of companies. I detest not knowing those 3 things.

      • So, 8SM – When you’re sitting alongside the road waiting for the mec, does that still count against your DoT hours? I had a cousin that got a DoT ticket because he timed out while waiting in line to go through Customs into Canada.

      • Eight,

        I’d love to have a first gen 5.9 Cummins in a 2nd gen Tundra pickup. That would be the ticket. I’d get me a filter system setup on some large tanks and buy used oil from the oil stores. Mix it with 25% diesel and run the thing on approximately $1 per gallon fuel after figuring my costs.

        Put a 100 gallon tank in the back and you’d be ready for a long drive or a shtf scenario.

  23. I remember reading somewhere a few years back (maybe in 08-09 when the ‘new’ ULSD TDI became available) that VW was making another, smaller TDI (1.7?, 1.4?) that got 50-60% better mpg than the 2.0. And they were making them right here in Tenneesee. But they were all for export to Latin America. The EPA would not allow it to be sold here because (wait for it) its emissions were 10% higher PER GALLON of fuel consumed. Never mind that it was consuming 50% fewer of those gallons.
    Gag me with an entire place setting!

    • That’s the 1.8L TDI that is only available in places other than here. It’s also why you couldn’t buy an A3 TDI Quattro in the US, even though it’s available in Europe. The transmission in my TDI has the PTO for the rear wheels, as it’s the same as the 1.8L. However because the 2.0L engine, with the Uncle seal of approval, is transverse mounted and the 1.8L is mounted in-line, there’s no way to have both TDI and Quattro. And the 1.8L engine is just slightly slower, so in daily driving I doubt most of us would notice the difference in performance. But we would see a bump in MPG and I’m sure it would be that much better in the snow.


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