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Hybrid or Diesel: Which Is Right for You?

If you’re thinking about buying a fuel-efficient car, you’ve probably found yourself trying to choose between hybrid technology and diesel power. So, which is better? We’ve listed the pros and cons of each in order to give you a better idea about which powertrain will work best for your situation.

Diesel Power: Pros and Cons

If you’re interested in a diesel car, you may have already realized that diesel-powered vehicles boast better gas mileage on the highway than in city driving. That’s the opposite of hybrids, which usually return better mileage in the city than the highway thanks to regenerative braking. As a result, one major benefit to diesel-car ownership is highway fuel economy, which can be a big deal for drivers who often travel long distances for work or pleasure.

Diesels also offer a few other benefits over hybrids aside from their highway fuel economy. One is towing. Diesel-powered cars often tow better than gas- or hybrid-powered rivals, largely because they make so much torque. As a result, if you’re thinking about towing — even if you’re only looking to pull a small trailer — a diesel might be the way to go.

Another big benefit of diesel cars is low-end power. Although diesels don’t traditionally have high horsepower ratings, their abundance of low-end torque helps to propel them off the line quicker than many cars with more power. That means diesel cars will usually feel quicker around town than many rivals.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to diesel power, such as city gas mileage. Unfortunately, many diesels struggle to outpace even regular gasoline engines in the city because they can’t cruise in the low-rpm range that typically delivers such excellent fuel economy. And that leads us to another drawback: cost. Many diesel cars are priced like hybrids, which is fine for highway drivers who get great mileage, but if you’re looking for a city vehicle, you won’t want to pay hybrid prices for fuel economy that will only be available on occasional highway trips.

Hybrid Power: Pros and Cons

Of course, hybrid cars also offer a long list of benefits and drawbacks. The biggest benefit is city fuel economy: While diesels do better with gas mileage on the highway, hybrids do better in the city. Their regenerative braking systems are more frequently used in the city, which allows the car to operate on electric power more often than on the highway.

Hybrids also have several other benefits. For example, they’re very quiet. Since the electric motor is used much of the time, including when you start the vehicle, hybrid cars tend to make very little noise. This is important for shoppers who want their next car to have a serene, quiet ride in addition to excellent gas mileage.

Hybrids, like diesels, also accelerate well at low speeds. Because their electric motors offer full torque the moment you put down your foot, hybrids often feel a lot faster than they really are. Unfortunately, the lightning-quick acceleration starts to taper off as you start picking up speed.

As for drawbacks to hybrid vehicles, there aren’t many. While you might hear some horror stories about battery life, the truth is that many hybrid batteries last much longer than 10 years and often well over 120,000 miles. As a result, batteries shouldn’t be a major concern when you’re buying a new car. Another issue with hybrid cars is that there just aren’t that many of them, especially if you’re interested in a family-friendly vehicle, such as a van or SUV. But the biggest drawback is cost: Like diesels, hybrids often have a huge price premium over gas-powered models. Since this price increase can often be thousands of dollars, it’ll take a long time to recoup, even when you factor in the improved fuel economy.

Our Take

If you’re interested in a fuel-efficient vehicle, you’ll certainly want to spend some serious time deciding between hybrid and diesel. Choose hybrid and you’ll get a fuel-efficient city car that offers excellent low-end acceleration. But pricing will be high, and you won’t have too many options, especially if you’re looking for a family vehicle. Go with diesel, and you’ll get a great highway cruiser, but you’ll miss out on a hybrid’s improved city fuel economy.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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