Reader Question: Investing in a Diesel?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Carl asks: I am thinking about buying a Chevy Cruze diesel before they stop making the Cruze. What are your thoughts on this?

My reply: I have become ambivalent about recommending new diesel-powered passenger cars because of their cost/complexity and no longer especially impressive mileage advantage vs. gas engines.

The diesel-powered Cruze is rated 30 city, 52 highway – which is very good.

However, the gas-engined Cruze (1.4 liter) rates 29 city, 40 highway – also very good.

Unless you do a lot of highway driving, the average difference between the diesel and gas-engined Cruze will be about 7 or so MPG (41 average for the diesel vs. 34.5 for the gas).

If gas cost appreciably more than diesel, the math might be better. But in fact, diesel costs more than unleaded regular. Also, the diesel has the additional cost of DEF – diesel exhaust fluid – which must be periodically topped off. It is not a huge expense, but it’s an expense and should be figured in.

The main expense, though, is the cost of the diesel itself. Chevy only sells the diesel engine with a loaded up version of the Cruze: $25,620 vs. $17,995 for the base trim with gas engine.

Granted, the diesel-equipped Cruze comes with many more features and options – but if we are talking about saving money, then the several thousand dollars higher MSRP for the diesel should be taken into account, too.

Finally, modern diesels are much more complex and maintenance-intensive than diesels of the past; you may actually end up paying more to service it than the gas engine – the opposite of what used to be true.

Finally, the new generation of gas-turbo engines closely approximate the “right now” and abundant torque delivery of diesel engines, especially in passenger cars. Diesels still have an advantage, but it’s not as much of one as it once was.

So, for these reasons, I’d be reluctant to buy a diesel – at least, in a passenger car. In a truck or SUV, the calculation is different because of the diesel’s superior aptitude for work, such as towing and hauling.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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