With many gasoline-powered cars and hybrids today getting great fuel economy, you may be asking yourself is a diesel car right for you? Before you automatically discredit the thought, consider how things have changed in recent years with respect to diesel-powered vehicles.

Many of us probably remember the noisiness of diesels and the belching black smoke that burned our eyes and made us want to retch because of the fumes. But those days are long-gone, thanks to improved technology that’s virtually eliminated such nuisances – and health hazards.

Today’s diesel engines produced for light-duty vehicles are “clean diesel” engines, meeting or exceeding federal requirements for diesel engines to run on a new, low-sulfur version of diesel fuel. The result is decreased pollution and soot so common from diesel-powered cars in the 1980s.

Diesels are grabbing the attention of more U.S. automakers for a couple of different reasons. The first is that higher gas prices have made American consumers more receptive to alternative fuel vehicles – and they’re looking for diesel cars in the market. The second is that new and more stringent fuel efficiency standards mandate automakers boost their average mileage from 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016 to 35.5 mpg by 2025.

But, back to the question: Is a diesel car right for you?

  • Diesel engines typically get 30 percent better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts. That means you can go farther on a tank of fuel with diesel than gasoline.
  • You don’t have to downsize your vehicle or buy a hybrid to realize substantial fuel economy improvements.
  • Resale value is better with a well-maintained diesel-powered car than its gasoline counterpart. The reason is a diesel engine’s reputation for better durability than a gasoline engine.
  • Diesel has more power or torque than gasoline engines. You don’t have to be a gearhead to appreciate the quick acceleration of a diesel when passing on the highway or towing a big load.
  • On the other hand, diesel cars cost more, from $2,000 or higher than their gas-powered equivalent, depending on the brand and price range of the model you choose.
  • Price and availability of diesel fuel is also an issue – or can be in certain geographic areas. Diesel is priced more on par with premium fuel, so it is more expensive than regular unleaded gas. Some areas may not have diesel fuel, so planning refueling stops in advance may be necessary.
  • Limited vehicle selection is another drawback. For years, Volkswagen (and Audi) was the only automaker selling diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. and, although that is changing, the choices are still few. Chevrolet is coming out with a 2013 Cruze diesel compact sedan. Chrysler will offer a diesel engine option in the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz offers diesel in the 2012 E350 BlueTEC clean diesel sedan, the 2012 S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC sedan, the 2012 ML350 BlueTEC midsize SUV, the full-size 2012 GL350 BlueTEC SUV, and the 2012 R350 BlueTEC seven-passenger crossover. There’s also the 2012 BMW X5 xDrive35d sport activity vehicle.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be is a diesel car right for you, but which diesel vehicle is right for you? Look for more automakers jumping on the diesel bandwagon in the near future.

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