Apparently the Highest Mileage Clean Diesels Are For European Eyes Only

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I’ve been happy with all the recent efforts by European auto manufacturers to bring fuel-efficient diesels back to the States. From Volkswagen to Mercedes, diesels seem to be the new attempt at pleasing the US “green” crowd with classy, low-emissions fuel-sippers.

Reading that last sentence over, it seems funny to call them a “new attempt” because these high mileage diesels have been available to Europeans for a LONG time — but that’s another story.

So, while it’s debatable whether a gasoline-powered Prius at 40 mpg is more “green” than a diesel-powered Jetta at 40 mpg — it all has to do with how much of each type of fuel comes out of one barrel of oil — It’s a fact that having these new clean diesels as an option is certainly something the US has been lacking for a long time. And I appreciate having that option, I really do.

But I still feel a little cheated. Maybe I’m expecting too much, or maybe I just need to be more patient, but inevitably, when I hear about the newest, hippest clean diesel to be imported into the US, I go online and do a little research and find that in Europe [insert car manufacturer’s name here] sells the same vehicle in a slightly different configuration and it gets a boatload better fuel economy than the car that the US has the option of buying.

For instance, take Audi’s upcoming release of the A3 TDI to the US market this November (sorry to pick on you so much recently Audi, you just make it so easy). In the US your only option is to buy the 2.0 liter 140 HP TDI engine. At first glance, it seems like a pretty nice gig: 30 city mpg/42 highway mpg. I’m liking those numbers.

But then, just out of curiosity, you head on over to Audi’s UK website and do some comparison shopping. You find that, in addition to the 2.0 liter 140 HP, Audi sells a 1.6 liter engine to the European A3 TDI crowd. After doing some conversions from British Imperial gallons to US gallons and then taking into consideration that EPA mileage estimates are usually about 15% lower than European Union mileage estimates, you find that the EPA estimates for 1.6 liter A3 TDI would be about 40 city mpg and 52 highway mpg — a full 10 mpg more than the 2.0 liter.

The only thing you sacrifice for that extra 10 mpg is about 3 seconds of acceleration from 0-60 mph (8.9s for the 2.0 liter, 11.7s for the 1.6 liter). So, you say, that’s it! Audi has made the marketing calculation that an 11.7s 0-60 mph time is unacceptable to the US market. Mystery solved. But no, in Europe the A3 TDI also comes in a 170 HP flavor, one which is not available in the US. So, not only do the Europeans have more choice in terms of diesel fuel economy, they have more choice in terms of diesel power.

Maybe what the clean diesel marketers have decided is that they’ll start with a middle-of-the-road car and see how it sells. The thinking may have gone something like this: “It’s not the most fuel-miserly of the A3 TDI bunch and it’s not the most powerful, but it’s a compromise car and it will appeal to the broadest range of customers.”

In my mind, that’s the wrong approach to take. The best selling point of a clean diesel is its fuel economy. To stand apart, I would think you’d want to introduce a car that really exemplified the benefits of what a clean diesel can offer. Sell the highest mileage diesel you can and people will flock to it — guaranteed. You’d likely even pick up customers who would never have considered buying an [insert european car manufacturer’s name here] before.

Image Credit: Audi

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.