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September 29, 2013

Diesel engines proliferate, including in Audi

Diesel engines are engaged in the automotive equivalent of the one-armed pushup. But they’re getting stronger all the time and intend to double up.

They’re proliferating rapidly in passenger cars as old consumer impressions and prejudices fade away, though slowly.

General Motors, no longer smarting from its disastrous dance with diesels back in the 1980s, recently introduced a diesel in its Chevrolet Cruze compact. The Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV has a diesel model, along with the Ram 1500 light duty pickup truck. Japan’s Mazda also has a diesel ready for its midsize 6 sedan.

So far — and for the immediate future — German manufacturers dominate the niche. Volkswagen has diesel options in nearly all of its models. Audi is the same, and Mercedes-Benz now offers diesels in its E-Class sedan as well as its MLK, ML and GL sport utility vehicles. Even Porsche and BMW have diesels in their lineups.

Despite diesel fuel prices taxed higher than regular gasoline and a scarcity of fueling pumps, diesel cars now provide the most direct competition to popular gasoline/electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Ford C-Max. Pure electric cars are still in their infancy, and plug-in hybrids have yet to win broad acceptance.

A powerful new V-6 diesel makes its debut in four of Audi’s 2014 luxury vehicles, all of which bear a TDI badge to identify them as oil burners. TDI originally stood for turbocharged direct injection.

Two — the A6 and A8 — are four-door sedans; one, the Q5, is a crossover utility vehicle. The last, the superb A7, is a hatchback, though to call it a hatchback is borderline disrespectful.

The A8, Audi’s near-$100,000 top-of-the-line sedan, already had curtsied to the customers when the company staged a diesel centric event in Washington, D.C., to introduce the other three and tout the advantages, stumbling blocks and rosy future of diesel engine technology.

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