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New SUVs use different methods for efficiency

June 17, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Carmakers are trying to lure sport-utility vehicle buyers with the latest technology that promises to be more fuel-efficient. Some of the newest models can travel much longer without gassing up.

The Mercedes-Benz GLK got a mild makeover last year, and it just got one under the hood as well. You can now choose a clean diesel engine for Mercedes' smallest SUV.

"It offers tremendous fuel economy. It's powerful, class-leading torque, and we really feel it's a very compelling entrance in the segment," said Mercedes-Benz SUV Product Manager Joe Stauble.

The new diesel engine may be small, but it puts out a huge amount of torque, as much as some V-8s. And it really shines in fuel economy: 24 mpg in the city and 33 highway mpg, beating the gasoline GLK by a wide margin.

Mercedes-Benz is adding diesel power to more and more of its models. including all of its popular SUVs. Diesels have really come into their own lately.

"It's really incredible the amount of technology that's gone into these products. Many times we see customers not even realize they're driving a diesel," said Stauble.

SUVs are slowly getting more fuel-efficient, though not every carmaker agrees on how to do that.

Toyota is sticking with hybrids. Their Highlander is nearing the end of its second generation with a hybrid option, and a redesigned version next year will again offer hybrid power.

Ford, on the other hand, did away with the hybrid Escape when the vehicle was redesigned. It now gets along fairly efficiently with small-displacement turbo engines instead.

But take Audi and its German sibling, Volkswagen. They're offering hybrids and diesels on some SUV models. Hybrids do better in city driving, while diesels are efficient for highway travel.

Making SUVs more fuel-efficient does often come down to intelligent power-trains and new tricks to get better miles per gallon. Auto companies can also do things like reducing weight.

The big Range Rover is all-new this year. It offers more luxury and more technology, but also, less weight, to the tune of 700 pounds less, thanks to it now being made of aluminum.

Fuel economy is up by 2 mpg on the base V-8 engine. That doesn't sound too impressive, but in a large vehicle with city gas mileage in the low teens, 2 miles per gallon does help.

Many people still need or want SUVs, and the auto industry is working to make them less fuel-thirsty.


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