Volatile gasoline prices and environmental concerns are nudging more and more people toward alternatives to the old-fashioned gas-guzzler. And never have there been more options for getting from Point A to Point B.
Electric cars are no longer the stuff of wistful science fiction. Hybrid cars are mainstream. Alternative fuel cars are available and even gasoline-powered engines are more efficient and eco-friendly. Driving a green car may reduce your monthly operating costs, but in most cases the higher purchase price means a payback period of years, not weeks or months.
If you think diesel-powered cars are smoky and smelly, you’re wrong. Diesel engines today meet the same emissions standards as gasoline vehicles. Improvements fuel injection and electronic engine control technologies have increased power and fuel efficiency. Diesels are also much quieter than those of a generation ago.
• More miles per gallon. Diesel cars are 30-35% more fuel efficient than their gasoline counterparts. Several diesel cars get better than 40 mpg on the highway.
• Go even greener. A diesel car can run on a biodiesel fuel – a blend of petroleum diesel and vegetable oil, such as soybean oil, or even used French fry grease.
• More oomph. Diesel engines deliver more torque, or the twisting power generated by an engine. That means more thrills when you stomp the accelerator.
• Higher upfront cost. Hybrids cost more than their conventional counterparts, and so do diesels. The MSRP on the Volkswagen Jetta sedan is $15,515. The MSRP on the Jetta diesel is $22,775.
• Higher fuel prices. Diesel fuel costs more than gasoline and the gap varies. Still, because they are more fuel efficient, diesel cars still go more miles per dollar.
Models to consider
• BMW X5: This diesel-power luxury SUV features a panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors and heated front seats. The 3-liter, inline-6 turbo-diesel engine produces 265 horsepower while getting 26 mpg in highway driving.
• Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: A diesel version of the already fuel-efficient Chevrolet Cruze is expected to be on dealer lots in 2013. Gasoline-powered versions of the small sedan have earned high marks from the automotive press.
• Volkswagen Golf Diesel: This compact car delivers 42 mpg on the highway and is pretty quick off the line, making if fun to drive as well as cheap. Edmunds praises “top-notch materials, meticulous construction and going-the-extra-mile niceties” of the car’s interior.