Diesel fuel is making a comeback

May 5, 2017

Rumors of diesel's demise have been greatly exaggerated, it turns out. The fuel that has come under so much scrutiny thanks to Volkswagen's admission that it intentionally and systematically cheated federal emissions regulations is actually in the midst of something of a resurgence right now.

In short, there are far more diesel-fueled passenger cars available today to American consumers than you might realize.

Here's a look at what's currently available and what is on its way soon.

2018 GMC Terrain Denali, 2017 Detroit auto show

2018 GMC Terrain Denali, 2017 Detroit auto show

Crossovers and SUVs: room to grow

If any vehicles stand to gain the most ground when it comes to reducing fuel consumption, it may be those in the increasingly popular crossover segment. General Motors is diving headfirst into diesel with two models, one of which it has suggested will be rated as high as 40 mpg on the highway. 

The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and the 2018 GMC Terrain will both offer a 1.6-liter turbodiesel. It'll be a costly option—more than $3,500 over the base gas 4-cylinder, albeit bundled with a few other goodies. 

But don't count out Mazda, which is preparing a diesel-fueled CX-5 crossover said to be on our roads by the end of the year. 

2017 Mazda 6

2017 Mazda 6

Sedans and hatchbacks: 

Now that you can't buy a VW diesel (well, not quite—stay tuned), Chevrolet and Mazda are attempting to fill the vacuum. Chevy just recently started selling a turbodiesel version of its Cruze sedan and a hatchback version is arriving for the 2018 model year. At up to 52 mpg, the Cruze diesel is exceptionally thrifty. 

Mazda may be next up with a diesel-fueled version of its Mazda 6 sedan. The 6 serves as a reminder of how challenging it is to certify a diesel engine for legal sale since the automaker has been promising it for a couple of years. 

Volkswagen TDI 'clean diesel' television ad screencap

Volkswagen TDI 'clean diesel' television ad screencap

VW diesel: yes, you can buy a new one

It might seem hard to believe, but you can actually walk into a VW dealer today to take home a new Golf, Jetta or Passat with the automaker's 2.0-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder engine. The story: when the EPA forced VW to stop selling its cheating models, the automaker took back all of its unsold diesel inventory back in late 2015. Those cars were tucked away until the automaker and the EPA worked out a fix for the engines, which supposedly doesn't hurt drivability and is fully compliant with emissions testing. They're on sale now as new 2015s with a full warranty (and a story or two to tell).

Those cars—Golf hatchbacks, Jetta wagons and sedans, and Passat sedans—are just now trickling into dealers. We've heard conflicting reports about how good of a deal there is to be found on these cars. 

2017 Chevrolet Colorado

2017 Chevrolet Colorado

Trucks: a complicated story

There's two ways to look at trucks: big and not-quite-so-big. The big trucks—those heavy-duty models with a high gross vehicle weight rating—are essentially considered commercial vehicles by the federal government, so they're not subject to the same emissions rules as, say, the Ford F-150, the Ram 1500, the Chevrolet Colorado, and the GMC Canyon are. Those four models are all available with turbodiesel V-6 engines... albeit with one big asterisk

Chevy and GMC will sell you a diesel Colorado or Canyon today. Ford says it's on track to have its first diesel F-150 on the road late this year as a 2018. But the Ram 1500? Well, the 2017 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel hasn't yet been certified by the EPA and both Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the feds are deep in discussions about whether the 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine is actually emissions compliant. Earlier this year, the EPA reported that it found software programming that it says could be a "defeat device" to cheat the emissions test. 

2017 Land Rover Discovery

2017 Land Rover Discovery

Luxury cars: still strong, but different 

One market segment where diesel has consistently been popular is among luxury brands; after all, Mercedes-Benz has been synonymous with diesels here for several decades. But things have definitely shaken up. Mercedes has indicated to Reuters that it is backing away from diesel, at least for now. The German automaker currently offers no diesels.

Cross-country rival BMW is gearing up for a new 5-Series mid-size sedan fueled by diesel and it continues to offer versions of its 3-Series compact sedan/wagon and X5 crossover with diesel engines. 

Waving the diesel flag the most aggressively these days is Jaguar Land Rover. Nearly every model it sells in the U.S. is available in a diesel version, including the recently introduced Land Rover Discovery. 

So far, we've not seen a diesel from an American or Japanese luxury brand, but given that General Motors is dipping its toes into the diesel pool, a Cadillac may not be out of the question someday. 

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