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Upsides and Downsides of Driving Diesel

There’s a good chance that you don’t know anyone who drives a diesel vehicle. At the end of 2012, an analysis performed by R.L. Polk & Company for Diesel Technology Forum showed that less than 3 percent of registered passenger vehicles in the U.S. were diesel. However, the number of diesel vehicles on the road could increase in the near future. “Some analysts predict diesel sales will reach 10 percent of the U.S. market by 2020,” said Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. Still, with such a small number of diesel vehicles on the road, is there a reason that they’re overlooked?

2014 Mercedes E-Class Diesel
2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC (Mercedes-Benz USA)

Diesels Are More Powerful

While they don’t always offer the horsepower of their gas-powered siblings, diesel vehicles often have more torque, which is the twisting force that can make your car quicker from a stop or help your truck or SUV tow a heavy trailer. For example, the Jeep Grand Cherokee offers 420 pound-feet of torque when equipped with a turbodiesel V6, which is 160 pound-feet more than the base V6 model and 30 pound-feet more than the V8-powered Grand Cherokee.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

Better Fuel Economy

With the exception of heavy-duty trucks, diesel models typically offer better fuel economy than their gas-powered counterparts. The Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel gets 27/46 mpg city/highway when equipped with an automatic transmission, which is significantly better than the base gas model’s 22/35 mpg. Better fuel economy means that the Cruze diesel can go farther on each tank of fuel too. It has a driving range of 515 miles, which is 94 miles more than base Cruze can drive.

Fuel Costs may Vary

The Catch-22 of improved fuel economy is that diesel fuel typically costs more than regular gasoline. AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report indicates that the average price of diesel is $3.93 per gallon, which is 28 cents more than the current price of regular gasoline.

2014 Chevy Cruze Diesel
2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel (General Motors)

So while you may be traveling more miles per gallon, the savings may not be as high as you might think. In the case of the Chevrolet Cruze diesel, the EPA reports that you’ll save about $250 annually with current fuel prices if you drive 15,000 miles per year compared with the gas-only model. The turbodiesel Volkswagen Golf offers slightly higher savings of $350 per year when compared with its gas-powered sibling.

[Read: Diesels Save Fuel, But Do they Save Money?]

While higher fuel costs dig in to savings when compared with cars that run on regular gas, that isn’t the case if you’re considering a car that runs on premium fuel. AAA says the national average for premium gasoline is currently $4 per gallon, which is seven cents more than the current price of diesel. Using current fuel prices, the EPA reports that the diesel-powered BMW 328d’s annual fuel cost is $650 less than the premium gas-powered BMW 328i’s. Additionally, opting for the turbodiesel Audi A6 TDI will save you about $700 per year in fuel costs when compared with the V6 model.

2014 BMW 3-Series Diesel
2014 BMW 328d (BMW of North America, LLC)

Higher Upfront Costs

Like buying a hybrid car, diesel models are typically going to cost a bit more if you’re shopping mainstream brands. Adding a diesel engine to an affordable midsize car like the Volkswagen Passat will tack $5,680 on to its $20,995 base price. However, diesel models typically offer more standard equipment. In the case of the Passat, the diesel engine is offered starting with the mid-level SE trim, which adds features like a rearview camera, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, satellite radio, a USB port and an upgraded stereo with a touch-screen display.

While most automakers charge extra for diesel models, that’s not always the case if you’re shopping luxury brands. Mercedes-Benz has made diesel powertrains standard equipment in some of its models, including the base E-Class sedan, GLK-Class and GL-Class.

2013 VW Passat Diesel
2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI (Volkswagen of America, Inc.)

Diesels Hold their Value Better

Although many diesel vehicles carry higher sticker prices, some research indicates that they also carry higher residual values. Last year, ALG reported that on average, diesel-powered models typically have residual values that are 10 percent higher than gas-powered models after 36 months.

[Read: Diesel Vehicles are Less Expensive to Own]

Cars like the BMW 5-Series continue to have a higher residual value when equipped with a diesel engine. While the turbodiesel 535d costs $1,500 more than the gas powered 535i, ALG predicts that after three years of ownership, the 535d will be worth $2,800 more than its gas-powered sibling.

2014 Ram 1500 Diesel
2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

Is a Diesel Car Right for You?

While there are typically higher upfront costs, German brands like Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have been selling diesel vehicles for some time, and recently, other automakers have started to follow suit. Full-size truck buyers can now get a diesel-powered Ram 1500, while small car shoppers can choose from diesel versions of the Chevrolet Cruze, Volkswagen Beetle, Golf and Jetta. After weighing the pros and cons, would you consider buying a diesel car, truck or SUV?

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