Five Cool Diesel Cars You Can’t Buy in the U.S. — Plus Two You Might

To the average American car buyer, diesel is synonymous with truckers, farm equipment, and an upscale clothing brand. For Europeans however, diesel is the must-have fuel for those who can’t stomach the $8.70/gal (current average price in Germany) for gasoline. With diesel selling for $1 less per gallon and providing greater fuel economy, it’s no wonder more Europeans prefer diesel cars. While American fuel prices remain far cheaper, recent price hikes have had more people asking: where’s our diesel option?

A host of factors have contributed to the dearth of diesel cars here in the United States. Until 2007, the allowable sulfur content in American diesel fuel was far higher than in Europe, requiring manufacturers to completely re-engineer engines for our market. While the sulfur content is now the same, American limits on NOx and NO2 emissions are still significantly lower than their European counterparts, demanding use of an expensive urea-injection additive such as AdBlue to meet standards. Higher labor costs have also been an issue, as most diesels built in European countries suffer from unfavorable exchange rates when exported overseas. Building a diesel engine factory in either the U.S. or Mexico would reduce labor cost – if buyers can be found for the 350,000 units a year a typical $350 million factory puts out. Finally, EPA certification for a new engine adds even more to the bottom line.

These issues have understandably risk-averse car makers asking: will our diesel cars sell? Can we recover costs and make a profit?  Even in Europe, the diesel engine option still adds $1,500 – $3,000 to the sticker price. Until recently, few Americans would’ve swallowed that bitter pill at purchase time. But times may be changing.

Wondering what we’re missing? Here’s a look at five great diesel cars we can’t get here in the U.S.A. (and two we very well might).

Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion Diesel

Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion Diesel

1. Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion

Volkswagen’s Polo is a small hatchback that looks a lot like a shrunken Golf. Indeed, it does share some of the same basic hardware underneath its familiar skin. BlueMotion is the brand VW has created for its most frugal line of vehicles, and the Polo BlueMotion delivers. With a tiny 1.2 liter turbodiesel engine to move the lightweight Polo, the BlueMotion just barely gets out of its own way. Getting to 60 mph in 13.6 seconds might be laughable to some, but the stellar 71 MPG it gets on the European combined cycle proves that there are some races the tortoise does win.

2. Ford Fiesta Econetic

With a 90 hp diesel engine, subtle aerodynamic tweaks and low rolling resistance tires, the Ford Fiesta Econetic scores big on efficiency earning a high 63.5 MPG on the Euro combined cycle, and an impressively low 98 grams per kilometer release of C02. Unfortunately, the British-built hatchback would sell for $22,000 at current exchange rates. With a base Fiesta sedan starting at $13,800 there’s little chance savings at the pump could ever get your initial investment back. Hopefully Ford will find a way to build diesel engines in North America for the next generation Fiesta Econetic.

3. Mini Cooper D

Mini has already won hearts and minds the world over with its mix of funky style and effervescent personality. The base Mini Cooper is widely recognized as a fun and efficient commuter with nimble handling and a healthy 32 MPG average economy figure. The European Cooper D improves on that performance with a commendable 65 MPG combined. The sparkling torque figure of 188lbs/ft – more twist that the sporting Cooper S puts out — gives the Cooper D a satisfying shove in normal driving, and makes it quick off the line. Shame we haven’t received the diesel option… yet. Mini is still considering offering a diesel option here in the future.

4. Volvo S40 DRIVe

While long associated with industry-leading safety innovation, Volvo had languished a bit in the efficiency department. That is until the S40 DRIVe debuted in 2009. With carefully massaged aerodynamics and suspension, stop/start engine hardware, an electric steering pump, and a keen 1.6L turbodiesel engine, the most efficient Volvo returns a very respectable 62 MPG on the European combined cycle. Equally as impressive is the low 99g/km CO2 emissions rating. However what makes the S40 DRIVe more compelling than its conventional diesel siblings is outstanding handling — a happy byproduct of the aero and suspension tweaks. Who said efficient cars can’t be fun too?

5. Subaru Boxer Diesel

Loathe to adopt another manufacturer’s conventional diesel engine, Subaru took years to develop an industry-first boxer configuration diesel. Typically pistons are arranged either in a line, or a V shape. Subaru’s pistons lay flat, 180 degrees apart – and punch out, hence the boxer name.

The appeal of the boxer diesel is the efficiency it delivers, while keeping the core Subaru traits of all-wheel-drive security and stability intact. In the Forester for instance, the boxer diesel can get up to 37 MPG highway, while providing enough torque to keep performance on par with the regular gas version. The big hurdle for Subaru has been getting the AdBlue system into their cars while keeping costs down. If you like the idea of a Subaru diesel, click “like” on their fan page on Facebook — maybe fans on social media can help bring these engines over.

6. Mercedes Benz S350 BlueTec

Now for some good news: after a 15-year hiatus, Mercedes is bringing back the S-Class diesel for 2012. Powered by the same engine in the E, GL, ML, and R classes, the S350 BlueTec will be the “entry” model in the luxurious S-Class range. Offered exclusively with Mercedes’ 4-Matic AWD system, the torque-tastic oil burner will roll to 60 in a fleet 7 seconds flat while returning an impressive 31 MPG on the highway. Perhaps the only thing not fantastic about the diesel Benz luxury liner will be its $70,000+ price tag. Nevertheless, diesel S-Class Benzes have been long sought after on the used market by savvy buyers seeking an unrivaled blend of luxury and economy. In a few years time expect the same cult following around this model.

7. Audi A6 TDI

Audi is no stranger to fitting oil burners to its cars. Indeed, in Europe you can get every Audi model bar the R8 supercar with a diesel engine. Yet back in the U.S., Audi’s diesel family is limited to the A3 hatchback and Q7 SUV. In response to vocal customers and dealers, Audi is close to releasing the 2012 A6 with a TDI option. Using a new turbocharged and intercooled V6, the diesel will pair performance with frugality. Expect a 0 to 60 sprint in a Boxster-rivaling 6 seconds, standard Quattro all wheel drive, an 8-speed transmission, and an average fuel economy figure in the high 20s. Whoever said “you can’t have it all” never sampled an Audi diesel.

These are just some of the great diesel models not available to American buyers. Nevertheless, the advantages to diesel are numerous — so make sure to let your favorite car makers know that you’re interested!

bobk August 26, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Guess I’m not a “average American car buyer. I’ve enjoyed my Jeep Liberty CRD ever since I picked it up. I drool over the wide range of available small diesel pickups every time we go visit my wife’s family in Kuala Lumpur. Do ya hear me, Detroit???

D.R.Wicka September 2, 2011 at 8:37 am

Boy would I like the ability to purchase a mid- size deisel pickup.
A full size pickup is to big for my garage and my lifestyle. Also, I have a small tandem axle travel trailer that is a little much for a mid-size pickup or SUV with gasoline V6.,

Mitchell Moore September 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I operate a small fleet of taxicabs. In 2007 I purchased a then Dodge branded Sprinter van. The unanimous opinion of my so-called peers was that I was an idiot for paying $40,000 for a cab. Four years and 200,000 miles later I have recovered my entire investment by parking my paid for Ford E350. The 2003-2006 sprinter with the 2.75 litre diesel consistently gets in excess of 25 mpg with both air conditioners and wait time factored in. I cut my fuel consumption in half. Now, having recovered my initial investment, my low fuel costs have given me a huge competitive advantage. I can offer a 10% discount on any long distance fare and still net more revenue than my gas V8 equipped competitors. The point I want to make is that the first automaker to market a 5 passenger diesel mini van is going to sell a vehicle to me. The vehicle that is actually needed is a 1.5 litre diesel transit connect hybrid. I drive 50K miles per year. The average cab is driven for two shifts @100k miles per year. The daily fuel cost of a retired crown vic police cruiser is @ $80. A diesel hybrid getting 50 mpg would have a daily fuel cost of @ $20. The resulting savings in fuel cost of $1800 per month should be adequate to cover a 24 month vehicle payment. This is a no brainer investment. Will someone please give me an avenue to order a diesel mini van before the $ 1 trillion dollars in cash we send out of the US every year for petroleum imports crushes our economy and our treasury. I parked my fleet of Detroit V8s. I have scion xbs and my sprinter. I cut my per vehicle fuel consumption by 70%. I am seeking to cut another 50%. Give me a transit connect diesel electric hybrid. I’ll take ten. mtm.

Mark Macias November 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Hi I’m a licensed Smog Tech in Elk Grove California. I had a problem with my 1988 chevy diesel, and used the emissions tester to verify the problem. I have a blown head gasket, so I used the probe to test for hydrocarbon emissions coming out of the radiator. But for the heck of it I tested the tailpipe at idle it read 15ppm HC and 1531ppm Nox . Idle I have been told is when emissions are the worst in a diesel because that’s when the run lean and that leads to Nox formation. Note this truck has no catalytic converter or computer to help reduce emissions and it would pass the gas engine emissions test for the same size truck of the same year. They are allowed aprox. 130ppm Hc and 1800ppm Nox and .65% Co. I hope this helps dispel some of the myth of the diesel being dirty, also I get 17-20mpg and can carry 1.25 tons the gas truck carry .75 tons and gets 10-12mpg for the 7.4 or the 5.7 engine. Thanks ,spread the word diesels are a viable alternative to reduce oil consumption.

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Dick Rogers February 19, 2012 at 2:19 pm

First, Global Warming. All BS. The earth has been warming for over 100,000 years and will continue even if you shut every engine, smoke stack, etc. off.
The only “Smoke Stacks” we can’t shut off are the worlds “Volcano’s”.
I live “EXACTLY” where the last Ice Age Ended in New Jersey.
50,000 years ago there was 5,000 feet high of Ice we’re I live. It was 11,000 years ago when the ground where I live was first seen.
There were no cars, smoke stacks or Wacko Al Gore and Obamas’ back then, BUT,,,, there were “Volcanoes”. (Google New Jersey Ice Age)
As a Kid (I’m 68 today), bus loads of Science Students and Professors were constantly in our area doing studies/ research about the ice age here. They told me all about the “Wisconsin Glacier” as they called it.
Today, Diesel engines without Gov’t BS could cut our Energy Consumption in Half Plus. I haven’t owned a gas powered vehicle in 40 years. Even my lawnmower is a diesel..
I could “Rant On”, even write a book about the “Insanity’ our Gov’t is putting us thru, but then, they’d probably put a “Hit’ out on me.
God forbid we should tell the truth. {:>)
I own a “Trucking Co.”. Next time you see a class 8 Gas powered truck, call me. There are “NONE”,,,, for a reason.
Stop this insanity of

LP February 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Dick, you’re living in LA-LA land on global warming. More than 95% of the scientific community agrees that global warming is real, has been accelerated by human burning of fossil fuels, and will have significant impact on sea levels and commerce. I’m a small diesel fan – have rented and driven diesel vehicles in Europe on several occasions over the last few years. Diesel offers a good alternative to hybrids.

Jared February 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

Its no big surprise that the EPA is the biggest hurdle, and not the cost of making clean engines but the huge cost of going through the testing and approval process. We have come a long way since the 80s when they pushed the diesel cars out of the market, if you get 2xs the range per gallon you are burning less per mile… Its so much worse for the environment to push these unrecylable plastic hybrid cars that will devastate Chili and Bolivia if they need to step up mining to meet the market demand.

Jared February 29, 2012 at 8:13 am

Dick, if your from New Jersey you can think back to your own childhood and then ask your grandparents to think back to theirs. In the last 100 years we have escalated the warming tremendously regardless of if it would happen on its own over a thousand years or not. It has also happened very specifically along with the industrial revolution and spiked again in the last 30-40 years as we burn more and more. I’m from the Boston area and one of our biggest markets in the 1800s was ice harvesting, and not from Maine but right next to the city they could consistently year after year harvest blocks of ice 2 feet thick. They have historical data from logs for the last 200 years showing the ice out dates (melting) for lakes here has statistically gone earlier and earlier each year. Its not a myth and you dont have to go far to see it. Sure its part of nature but its the scale and escalation that is the concern.

Dr. shadid Riad May 17, 2012 at 11:36 am

Dear Sir.
My Question Is , How To Buy Diesel Car From America To TUNISIA, North Africa.
We Are Intrested In Buying Mercedice, BMW , Audi & Light Truck Like GMC, Chevrolet
Dr. Shadid

Paul Akerhielm May 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm

There seem few good reasons why EPA and European emission standards should still differ by so much for NOx. Europe has greater concentration of towns & cities, similar traffic densities and dates just as much – arguably more – about the health of their citizens. Inspite of 50% of vehicles on European roads being diesel, my impressions driving there are of less – not more – obnoxious exhaust smells than in north america with its supposedly cleaner burning vehicles. There is also no good reason why diesel in north america should be more expensive than gasoline, historically it has usually been cheaper to refine. It appears that the US Govt and the car manufacturers have colluded to keep it more expensive through discriminatory taxation, so that diesel from US refineries can be more profitably exported to Europe, instead of providing cheaper fuel and more efficient diesel engines for n.americans. In the end it is arbitary regulations and taxes, plus ridiculous horsepower wars – who really needs a 250hp family sedan? – that are keeping north americans driving such inefficient vehicles compared with other countries. America could cut its oil imports by 10-15% overnight, with a related reduction in overseas conflicts, if it embraced efficient clean diesel power for its light vehicles.

Chris June 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Yet again, thank you to DC and the EPA. They want us to drive fuel efficient vehicles, yet they and the oil companies don’t want anyone getting over 45 mpg. The TDI Beetle is a good example. When it first came out, people were averaging over 55mpg on the highway, subsequent models barely cracked 40mpg.

mannes July 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I got 865km in my 1.3L opel corsa without refueling and I still haven’t hit the red mark on the fuel indicator. average fuel consumption of about 4.3L/100km, 40L tank (45L counting the reserve). with a bmw 3 series or ford focus or opel astra you can exceed with ease the 1000km mark with one tank full alone. of course, I’m talking about diesels here…

4.3L/100km = 55 US MPG (i guess).

i heard lot’s of people saying that diesels are more difficult to drive because of the increased weight that impacts the handling. very false. inspite of feeling the turbo lag, the feeling of getting thrown in the seat once the turbine kicks in is may take lots of people by surprise.
there’s basically no difference at all in terms of steering. you only have to adjust to another response coming from the engine and that’s about it. you change gear at 2000-2300rpm in a diesel car and at 2500-2800rpm in a petrol one.

Russ McMillan May 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I own a 2006 Mercedes E320 CDI which I bought new. I have driven over 150,000 miles with unbelievable comfort, luxury and economy. The vehicle was rated at 27 mpg City and 37 mpg Highway. I achieve and exceeded these figures on a regular basis with an incredible record 41.5 mpg achieved while highway cruising for over 100 miles averaging 79 mph! I took a picture of my speedometer display as I knew most would not believe this. The E320 CDI exceeds newer Bluetec models in mpg & power. My 0-60 is 6.6 seconds which is very respectable for any sedan today gas or diesel.

Anonymous June 20, 2013 at 3:02 am

I own a 2004 Ram 2500 with a 5.9 l turbo diesel in it. It is a 4 door 4×4. I have gotten 22 mpg with this truck wich i think is great. this truck weighs 6000 lbs. Its a unit. I am very happy with it.

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