While diesel cars cost more initially -- they tend to have higher sticker prices -- they provide overall savings because they are more fuel efficient and depreciate at a slower rate than similar gasoline models. UMTRI's research compared 12 diesel vehicles to their gasoline counterparts and found they achieved between eight and 44 percent higher miles per gallon, resulting in ten to 29 percent lower fuel costs overall. When looking at depreciation, UMTRI found that 11 of the 12 diesel cars analyzed held their value better than their gas counterparts during the first three years of ownership, with eight logging savings of 17 to 46 percent. Over five years, there was an overall savings of 10 to 39 percent in depreciation costs.
"Though there are some exceptions, the overall direction of the results supports the idea that diesel vehicles compete well within the U.S. market," said UMTRI researcher Bruce Belzowski.
Both mass-market and luxury diesel vehicles are currently available in America. They generally don't stand out, as they are simply a familiar vehicle with a diesel engine plopped inside -- there are no diesel-only cars here in the States.
For mass market cars, UMTRI compared the total ownership cost savings for three Volkswagen models: Jetta, Jetta SportWagen and Golf. It found that the diesel-powered Golf provided the biggest savings compared to its gasoline counterpart over three years, with drivers spending $5,013 less on total ownership costs than they would on the standard Golf. The Golf was followed by the Jetta SportWagen ($3,389) and the Jetta ($3,128).
In general, savings over the first three years of ownership were even larger when comparing luxury models. The diesel Mercedes-Benz GL-Class saved a whopping $13,514 over its gasoline counterpart, while the diesel Volkswagen Touareg crossover saved $7,819 and the diesel Mercedes-Benz R-Class saved $5,951.
There are currently 27 diesel cars on the market that you can buy or lease new, as well as plenty of used options. While buying a used diesel car would not net as substantial savings because most of the depreciation cost occurs in the first year of ownership, you can still save a bunch in fuel costs.
For performance enthusiasts, the increasing number of diesel choices means more alternatives for cars that are fun to drive. This is because diesel cars typically offer more torque -- and, thus, faster acceleration -- at lower rpm than their gasoline counterparts. For example, the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Value Edition produces 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm – all while getting an EPA-estimated 42 highway mpg. The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE produces 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm, getting an EPA-estimated 36 mpg on the highway.
In the coming years, there will be even more diesel passenger vehicles on the market, thanks to the federal fuel economy standards that are rolling into place. By the next decade, the availability of clean diesel is expected to grow dramatically, comprising between 7.2 to 17.8 percent of new car sales, according to a study by the Fuels Institute.