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Diesel cars offer clean, gas-efficient ride

March 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Many people know hybrids and plug-in electric cars save gas, but did you know diesel cars can also save fuel?

When it comes to larger vehicles that are likely to travel long distances, electric power has too many limitations and too few advantages. But there is a way to increase fuel efficiency without adding batteries or hybrid systems.

Diesel power is efficient, and these days, it's also clean.

Audi's big Q7 SUV has seven seats or a huge cargo space with the third row down. It has every bell and whistle you could possibly want and it'll gobble up the miles with the best of them.

But even though it weighs nearly three tons, the TDI model is rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway. The gas V8 version, which is no longer made, got a dismal 13 and 18 miles per gallon, respectively.

The gas V6 model splits the difference in rated mileage, but the diesel has effortless torque and loafs along at freeway speeds, easily attaining the 25 mpg figure.

Mercedes-Benz is expanding its diesel choices too with the S350. It's big, pricey and plush, but also fuel efficient with the 3-liter turbo diesel under the hood and 41 mpg on the highway.

Europeans have been embracing big diesel sedans for years. Now that our fuel prices are up so much, we may be too.

Years ago, diesel vehicles had a lot of issues that may have kept people from wanting them. However, thanks to technology, most of those issues are gone. For example, diesels used to produce a lot of black soot from the exhaust, but today, there's pretty much none. The other issue diesels always had was noise, but now they're very quiet. Whether at idle or even at speed, they're now almost as quiet as gas engines.

Another issue does remain, though, and that's cost. Diesel engines and their emission control systems add to the sticker price.

As for diesel fuel, it varies. Sometimes it's less than unleaded, but sometimes it's more. Even then, the extra miles per gallon usually offset the fuel cost.

Less expensive cars are going diesel, too. Volkswagen has a couple already, and they'll soon add turbo diesel power to the Beetle.

Chevrolet will also be adding a diesel option to its Cruze compact by sometime next year.

Hybrids and electrics are good ways to save fuel around town. But when it comes to efficient highway travel, diesels are gaining ground, too.