Archive for the ‘Fuel Economy’ Category


Sometimes prayers are answered. The rest of the world has had the pleasure of powerful, clean and ultra-efficient diesel engines for decades. The Germans, masters of diesel technology, steadfastly refused to bring diesel power to the U.S. market because they don’t think that we will buy them.

School_Bus_diesel_ExhaustThey do have a point. I mean, ask the average American driver about diesel and they conjure up images of billowing clouds of black, noxious smoke, belching trucks and busses and the dreaded diesel chatter. Even people not alive during the 1970s or 1980s have a visceral negative reaction to diesel, probably a byproduct of their parents’ prejudices or maybe from getting stuck behind a diesel school bus on a two lane road with no passing possibilities. Roll up the windows and press the recirculation button.

But the whole diesel question kind of goes back to the chicken and the egg paradox. We aren’t going to buy diesel-powered cars if they aren’t available, right? And what do we make of the fact that, for many years, Volkswagen dealers have been quietly selling out of every TDI (VW-speak for turbo-charged direct injection diesel technology) model they can get in inventory?  Conclusion: There is a small, but growing market for diesel power and efficiency.

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

The fact is that diesel power never left the truck market. Diesel is still the engine of choice for heavy-duty pickup trucks that need lots of low-end torque for towing and carrying heavy cargo. Almost all big rigs are still diesel-powered.

For most of the 1980s, 1990s an early 2000s, gasoline was so cheap in the U.S. that manufacturers didn’t see the need to offer efficient diesel models. Diesel engines are more expensive to manufacture and are heavier than their gasoline counterparts.  Pollution control regulations also killed diesel offerings as most couldn’t meet California’s emission standards and without sales in California, it didn’t make economic sense to federalize a diesel engine.

And then there was the dirty diesel fuel itself. It wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. implemented ultra-low sulfur (15 ppm) diesel fuel, a necessary step before European diesel engines could function properly.

The cleaner diesel set the stage for a renaissance of European (mostly German) diesel-powered cars to return to the U.S. and to meet ever-increasing federal and California emissions standards. In California (and the states that follow California emissions laws), a diesel-powered car must meet the same standards as a gasoline-powered car.

Up until 2013, if you wanted a 4-cylinder turbo-diesel powered-car, you had to buy a front-drive Volkswagen (the Audi A3 TDI was discontinued in 2013).

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

To help boost corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rating, the Germans have chosen V6 diesel power for their larger, heavier SUVs such as the Mercedes-Benz ML350  and GL350 BlueTec, the BMW X5 xDrive35d, VW Touareg TDI, the Audi Q7 TDI and the Porsche Cayenne Diesel.  However, the seemingly-obvious application of a high-mpg 4-cylinder diesel for volume models like the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-Class was inexplicably absent.

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine making

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine delivers 240 hp and a massive 455 lb-ft of torque and is EPA rated at 20/23/28 mpg.

That’s all finally changing for the 2014 model year.

Over the summer, Mercedes-Benz introduced a 2.1L 4-cylider twin-turbo diesel engine in the 2014 GLK250 BlueTEC and now, the same engine is in the 2014 E250 BlueTEC sedan, which went on sale last month. I’ve driven the GLK250 BT and loved it, so I have no doubt that the same engine, making 195 hp and a whopping 396 lb-ft of torque, will be fully-capable in the new E250 BT. Both models use Mercedes’ excellent 7-speed automatic transmission with adaptive logic.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

But what should turn heads is the EPA numbers for the rear-drive 2014 Mercedes E250 BlueTEC sedan: 28 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, 34 mpg combined. That’s right, this 4,200 pound sedan offers fuel economy better than most hybrids, and if you drive mostly highway miles, you will likely do better than 45 mpg.  Mercedes also priced the diesel E-Class as its entry-level model, $500 less than the $52,825 E350 V6 which tops out at 30 mpg and sucks down premium fuel, which is often the same price as diesel.

Not to be outdone – finally some competition – BMW introduced its first 4-cylinder diesel engine in the US market in the 2014 3-Series. The 328d sedan enlists a brilliant 2.0L turbo-diesel engine making 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. A ZF 8-speed automatic is standard.  The 328d is EPA rated at 32/37/45. That’s far better than 328i which is rated at 23/27/35. The 328d, starting at $39,525, is $1,300 more than the 328i. However, if you drive around 12,000 miles a year, you could easily recoup the diesel premium in three years.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

It’s a mystery why anyone would buy BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3, which uses a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain, when it gets only 33 mpg highway and starts at $50,825, a whopping $11,300 more than the 328d. Oh wait, I forgot. No one is buying the ActiveHybrid 3 and dealers can’t give them away – what few actually exist.

More German luxury diesel competition is either here today or coming soon. Audi already sells 3.0L V6 TDI variants of the A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7.  In 2014, we should see an Audi A4 2.0LTDI (probably a 2015 model).  In addition, Audi has hinted at gracing our market with a 2.0L TDI version of the lovely A4 Allroad wagon.

2014 Audi A6 TDI

2014 Audi A6 TDI

The all-new (Gen-4) 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, to be built for the North American market at Mercedes’ Vance, Alabama plant, will likely get 2.1L BlueTEC diesel engine. If it does, its power and fuel economy could trump the BMW 328d. Unfortunately, the wagon variant of the C-Class won’t likely be sold in the US.

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Porsche already sells a diesel Cayenne running a specially-tuned version of VW’s corporate 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The Porsche version has 240 hp with a staggering 406 lb-ft of torque.

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

The 2015 Porsche Macan, a baby Cayenne based on the Audi Q5, will get its world debut at the upcoming 2013 LA Auto Show.  Starting at around $40,000, when the Macan goes on sale early in 2014, it is likely to become the best-selling Porsche, feeding Americans’ insatiable desire for compact crossovers.  Of course, there will be a diesel Macan (a given for the European market) running the same 3.0L V6 diesel found in the Cayenne Diesel; but it’s not likely to be sold in the US — at least not immediately.  I think the Macan Diesel will come to the US, maybe a year from now, possibly as a 2016 model.  I’d like to see it with the VW corporate 2.0L TDI engine; but I don’t think that’s going to happen unless Audi drops one into the Q5.

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

I saved my favorite diesel development for last. BMW has always made a sweet compact 3-Series sports wagon. However, in the US, it’s been on the endangered species list for a while now.

As background, BMW used to sell a fantastic 5-Series mid-size wagon in the US; however, in 2009, it was discontinued in favor of the butt-ugly 5 GT (big mistake) and the few wagon customers were either forced to visit a Mercedes-Benz dealer for the E-Class wagon or buy BMW’s X5 SUV.

When BMW introduced the sixth-generation (F30) 3-series in 2012, the company also announced plans for a 3 GT. The 3 GT has a longer wheelbase, 4-doors, extra back-seat room (mostly for the Chinese market) and a hatchback with extra cargo space.

Wagon lovers feared the worst. Oh god, is BMW going to force a 3 GT on us? Didn’t they get the hint when no one wanted the 5 GT? Maybe the powers-that-be heard the prayers of us wagon-lovers and for the 2014 model year, the 3-Series Sports Wagon returns to BMW’s US lineup.

But it gets better – the award-winning 2.0L TwinTurbo diesel engine is available in the form of the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon. You lose a couple miles per gallon to the all-wheel drive system, but it’s that rare beast that will likely remain on the endangered list as long as it’s for sale. But for now, it’s the Holy Grail for wagon-lovers.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

You have to look closely to see the "d" in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

You have to look closely to see the “d” in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity.  The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity. The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

I drove the 2014 328d xDrive Sports Wagon (starting at $43,875) and it was sublime. The average driver wouldn’t have a clue that it was diesel powered. You barely hear the distinctive diesel low frequency throbbing and engine and standard 8-speed automatic transmission work in perfect, steady harmony acceleration across the entire RPM range. It feels faster than the 328i (even if it isn’t) and with the urea-based injection system scrubbing the emissions, there is absolutely no diesel exhaust odor.

I’m feeling faint and nearly powerless to resist ordering a 328d – you may need to wake me from this little wagon’s intoxicating charms with a real whiff of diesel. Right now, it’s the most delicious diesel-powered car on the market.

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Have you seen the all-new 2014 Mazda 6? If you haven’t you really should. The new 6’s “Kodo” design language instantly vaults it from a forgotten mid-size family sedan to a flashy alternative to the likes of the ho-hum Big Three from Japan – the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

The 2014 Mazda 6 in Soul Red (its signature color, according to Mazda).

The 2014 Mazda 6 in Soul Red (its signature color, according to Mazda).

Previously joined at the hip with Ford (Ford owned 1/3 of Mazda), the last-generation Mazda 6 was based on the Ford Fusion. Both were rather unremarkable and, by all accounts, the lucrative mid-size market had passed over Mazda.  In 2012, for every Mazda 6 sold, Toyota sold 12 Camrys and Honda sold 10 Accords.

Introduced for the 2013 model year, the Fusion represented a quantum leap forward in styling for mid-size, mid-price family sedans. This is a 2014 Fusion.

Introduced for the 2013 model year, the Fusion represented a quantum leap forward in styling for mid-size, mid-price family sedans. This is a 2014 Fusion.

Last year, Ford shook up the mid-size family sedan segment with its sensational 2013 Fusion. Sporting an Aston-Martin inspired nose and swoopy 4-door “coupe” styling, the Fusion instantly vaulted Ford into mainstream consciousness. Great styling can sell a car without spending a dollar on marketing.

While the rear of the 6 looks similar to other Japanese sedans, it manages to be distinctive with all those creases and curves.

While the rear of the 6 looks similar to other Japanese sedans, it manages to be distinctive with all those creases and curves.

Together with the new Fusion, the 2014 Mazda 6 represents a new paradigm in what was once the blandest segment of the automotive industry: The mid-size family sedan. The corporate fleet car. The airport rental.

The 2014 Mazda 6 in Blue Reflex

The 2014 Mazda 6 in Blue Reflex

Left to its own devices, without the development dollars or meddling influences of outside managers, Mazda’s engineers cooked up the company’s SkyActiv smorgasbord of technologies to create a complete automotive banquet.

The umbrella term “SKYACTIV” (I hate the all-caps) includes the use of ultra-high tensile steel, lighter and stronger wheels, direct gas injection, high compression, lower-friction materials, i-Eloop (yeah, another loopy name) regenerative braking and the new SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed automatic transmission with faster shifts, lower friction and smarter software.

Mazda's 2.5L SKYACTIV-G engine.

Mazda’s 2.5L SKYACTIV-G engine.

All you really need to know is that it works in perfect harmony.  The new 2.5L 4-cylinder Sky-G direct-injected gas engine makes 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. (It’s also the only engine currently available.) Coupled with the 6-speed SkyDrive automatic, the Mazda 6 is rated at 38 mpg on the highway (26/30/38). If you opt for the Grand Touring model with the Technology Package (that includes i-Eloop regenerative braking), all the fuel economy numbers are pushed up by 2 mpg, which allows the Mazda 6 coveted 40 mpg bragging rights.

The styling is muscular and sleek, like a cheetah waiting to pounce. The designers used some slick tricks to make the hood look longer – like a rear-drive car. The roof slopes in like those far more expensive 4-door coupe models such as the Volkswagen CC or the Mercedes-Benz CLS. The taut metal is creased and molded with evocative purpose under Mazda’s Kodo design theme – which Mazda says loosely translates to “Soul of Motion” to showcase the “graceful movement of nature.” Yeah, I can see eyes rolling now.

If you skip all the designer hyper-babble and just step back and enjoy the view, you know it all works beautifully. This great design starts at $21,000 – proving that mass market, mass segment transportation doesn’t have to a boring appliance.

Mazda only has two choices for the interior: Somber Black or Bright Almond (which looks white) . Something in between like grey or tan/saddle would be nice.

Mazda only has two choices for the interior: Somber Black or Bright Almond (which looks white) . Something in between like grey or tan/saddle would be nice.

The Mazda 6 feels and drives lighter than other mid-size sedans. The new electric power steering was light, but communicative and you could easily toss it into curves and turns. The leather-wrapped steering wheel felt great in my hands.

The chassis seemed tight but flexible. It was able to soak up road imperfections with ease and without fluster. I didn’t feel punished like I do when driving a BMW with its rock-hard run-flat tires.

I don’t love everything about the new 6. I found the engine a bit lacking in low-end torque and it had to be pushed hard to move quickly. A turbo would perk up this excellent engine and I’m sure Mazda engineers are working on one (even if they say they aren’t).

Inside, some of the plastics felt cheap, particularly in the base model. The 5.8” full-color touch-screen infotainment and navigation screen worked well, but felt small compared to the 8” MyFord Touch unit in the Ford Fusion or the 8.4” U-Connect screen in my Dodge Charger.

This is the "Almond" interior. It looks off-white in person and while I like it, I think it would show dirt quickly.

This is the “Almond” interior. It looks off-white in person and while I like it, I think it would show dirt quickly.

There were lots of dead buttons and I hate that. Of course the answer to this problem is to pop for the top-of-the-line Grand Touring (GT) model with all the option boxes ticked. Then there are no dead buttons to remind you that something was missing.

I think that the $30,490 GT with the $2,080 Technology package is a real bargain, considering the raft of cool tech all bundled together. In fact, for many years now, Mazda has led the way in loading expensive luxury technology into affordable mainstream products like its volume-leader Mazda 3.

The list of useful, affordable high-tech features is long and impressive:

  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with premium finish
  • 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment and memory settings
  • 4-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat
  • Dual power side mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators
  • Power windows with driver’s one-touch-down/up feature
  • Tilt and telescopic steering wheel (manual)
  • Steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls
  • Advanced front air bags, front side-impact air bags and side-impact air curtains
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)** & Traction Control System (TCS)
  • Auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink
  • Auto-dimming driver’s side mirror
  • Rear seat heat and A/C vents
  • Blind Spot Monitoring System
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Hill launch assist
  • Bluetooth® hands-free phone and audio streaming
  • 5.8″ full-color touch-screen display
  • Back-up camera
  • HD Radio
  • Pandora Internet radio
  • SMS text message audio delivery and reply
  • Power sliding glass moonroof
  • Bi-Xenon headlights with auto on/off
  • LED daytime running lights
  • Auto rain-sensing wipers
  • Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters
  • Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry with push-button start
  • Navigation system with real-time traffic updates
  • Heated front seats
  • Leather-trimmed seats
  • Bose® Centerpoint® Surround Sound Audio System with 11 speakers (including subwoofer)
  • SiriusXM Satellite Radio with 4-month trial subscription to the Sirius Select Package
  • Smart City Brake Support
  • Advanced Technology Package (Grand Touring trim level) $2,080:
  •      Radar Cruise Control
  •      Forward Obstruction Warning
  •      I-Eloop regenerative braking system with capacitor storage
  •      Lane departure warning
  •      Automatic high beams
  • Remote Engine Start – $575
  • Rear Parking Sensors – $475

There are only a couple of things I’d like to see on this list. Cooled front seats would be nice, particular in warmer climates like we have in Los Angeles. All four windows should be one-touch up/down – it costs nearly pennies.  A thinner smart key would be better for pants pockets.

Do I want it? No, but that’s just me. I’m waiting for a different power plant. Before the end of 2013, Mazda will introduce its first diesel engine in the U.S. market. The all-new SkyActiv-D is reported to be a gem, boasting the world’s lowest-compression ratio. The low compression ratio cuts emissions enough to eliminate the need for expensive exhaust treatments and it meets both European and U.S. standards.

The 2.2 liter engine gets a two-stage turbocharging system with a small turbine that boosts low-end torque while a larger turbo increases high-end horsepower.  It should produce around 173 hp and a whopping 310 lb-ft of torque. The diesel should deliver stellar mpg. Car and Driver reported an estimated highway 43 mpg while Popular Science predicted 56 highway mpg.  With the 6’s 16.4 gallon tank, it could have a hybrid-busting 700+ mile cruising range. That’s what I want!