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Diesel Cars: What Are the Benefits?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro

In the last 20 years, Americans have largely stayed away from diesel technology. Much of the reason is early diesel cars were loud and slow -- and many were big polluters. But that's no longer true, and diesel has surged in popularity as drivers and automakers search for better gas mileage. Should you consider a diesel car for your next vehicle? We've examined the benefits of diesel technology.

Fuel Economy

The main benefit of diesel powertrains is better fuel economy over gasoline equivalents. That's important for drivers looking to spend less money at the pump. Some diesel vehicles can improve gas mileage by 20 percent or more, which is a huge boost. And while others don't increase fuel economy that much, they can offer better gas mileage and acceleration that feels like a larger engine.

Of course, hybrid cars also save at the pump -- and drivers have to carefully consider which is better for their lifestyle. For instance, hybrids may be better in town, while diesels offer a greater benefit on the highway.

Highway Driving

Many drivers prefer hybrid technology to diesel powertrains because hybrid cars are more beneficial in the city. The reason is hybrids offer regenerative braking that helps boost gas mileage as you're slowing down. But for those who spend a lot of time on the highway, there's nothing like a diesel car.

One example is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which is only rated for around 30 miles per gallon in city driving. That figure isn't exceptional -- but the car's 42 mpg on the highway certainly is. The same is true for the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, rated at 27 mpg in the city but a whopping 46 mpg in highway driving. As a result, we strongly suggest considering a diesel car if you do a lot of highway driving.

Low-End Power

Many drivers like the feel of diesel cars when they accelerate from a stop. Unlike gas engines, diesel engines don't need to be revved high for the best acceleration. As a result, diesels often feel more powerful than they are -- especially at lower speeds. For drivers who enjoy being the first away from a traffic light, or for those who just enjoy a jolt of power when the light turns green, a diesel may be worth considering.

Improved Towing

Diesels also offer improved towing capabilities compared to their gasoline counterparts. That's why many heavy-duty trucks use diesel engines: They can tow and haul heavier loads.

The reason for this is diesel vehicles tend to have more torque than gas vehicles. While horsepower is a measure of how fast a car's engine can propel it, torque describes how much work it can do. When you're towing, you want to have more torque since that lets you do more work -- and in that case, diesel is the powertrain you'll want.

Reliability?

Many drivers believe diesel engines are more reliable than gas engines. This is an old concept that may be based on simple diesel powerplants from years past -- but few automotive experts believe it's true anymore. These days, gas engines are just as reliable as their diesel counterparts, but diesels benefit from a perception of reliability that helps them still find buyers.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Diesel Cars: What Are the Benefits?