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Diesel vs. Gas vs. Hybrid economy

1978 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  cheekymunky
good article, from


Technologies have advanced in the past 15 years but that doesn't mean our fuel-efficiency has. A flashback to 1992 shows that fuel mileage has remained stagnant and even regressed in some cases.

Maybe gasoline prices are crimping your household budget. Maybe you'd like to reduce the loonies that flow to the Middle East, or elsewhere, for oil. Perhaps you're motivated by concern for the environment, or the nagging reality that oil is a depleting resource that shouldn't be wasted.

Whichever the reason, many North Americans - including you, perhaps - are looking for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

So what should a consumer know when deciding among low-mileage gasoline cars, diesel-powered vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids?

Fuel Economy Reality

The Honda Civic Hybrid boasts improved fuel economy over a gasoline-only Civic sedan and qualifies for a federal government tax credit. But it can take years to recoup the higher retail price of the hybrid car.

Put into perspective the fuel economy numbers posted on a new vehicle's window sticker. Studies show the average driver has been getting only 75 per cent or so of the mileage figures that are on the sticker of their new vehicle.

This will change in the fall of 2007 as the federal government begins phasing in a new way to calculate those fuel economy figures for the window stickers. The goal is to make the fuel economy statistics better reflect what real-world drivers will get.

You see, the numbers aren't derived from real-world driving but from various US and Canadian government agencies' emission testing procedures on new vehicles. Thus, the laboratory procedure does not involve cars using gasoline for the testing. Additionally, many variables - including weather, terrain, driving habits and condition of the vehicle - affect the kind of mileage that regular drivers get.

This is not to say the reported numbers can't be used for comparison purposes between vehicles, especially those in the same class.

But some owners of gas-electric hybrids, in particular, have voiced disappointment in the disparity between their mileage and that posted on their vehicle window stickers. These owners of Honda, Toyota, Lexus and Ford hybrid vehicles have ready access to their real-world mileage via graphical displays on the dashboard, which tend to draw driver attention to fuel use and mileage statistics more so than in conventional vehicles.

Consumer Reports magazine, which calculates its own fuel economy stats, noted that its Toyota Prius hybrid test car got 5.34 L/100 km (53 mpg Imperial) in real world driving, not the city/highway rating of 4.3 L/100 km (66 mpg) that the government agencies report.

So, yes, while hybrid vehicles generally provide better mileage than like-sized vehicles in their class, drivers should be aware it will take more than just a gasoline-electric powertrain to get the fuel economy they think they've been promised.

For more information about driving habits that can maximize fuel mileage in any vehicle, read our article on fuel-saving tips:

Hybrid Pricing
Gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles typically are priced higher than non-hybrid counterparts -- anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to several thousand dollars.

For example, the Honda Civic Hybrid has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $26,250 for a base, 2007 model. A 2007 Civic LX gasoline-powered sedan with many comparable amenities carries a starting MSRP that is some $5,620 less.

The most fuel-efficient passenger vehicle in the Canada is Toyota's Prius gasoline-electric hybrid car, with government fuel economy ratings of 4.0 L/100 km (71 mpg) in the city and 4.2 L/100 km (67 mpg) on the highway.

True, the 2007 Civic Hybrid is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRC) at 4.7 L/100 km (60 mpg) in city driving and 4.3 L/100 km (66 mpg) on the highway. This is about 30 per cent better than the gasoline-powered 2007 Civic LX.

But even if a driver maximizes his or her fuel savings and gets the full benefit of the Hybrid's technology, he or she would need almost a dozen years (11.7 more exactly) of annual driving, at the rate of 20,000 km a year, before the gasoline savings - calculated with gasoline at $0.90 a litre for 2007 - would recoup the $5,620 extra paid for the Hybrid over the traditional Civic LX.

Some of the price difference also may be recouped by the federal rebate for the most frugal cars. In the case of the 2007 Civic Hybrid, the credit is $2,000. Some Canadian provinces have additional cash incentives for vehicles with the best fuel economy ratings.

Other Hybrid Issues
Auto industry officials project that hybrid vehicle prices will come down as these vehicles become more plentiful and generate greater economies of scale. Indeed, the suggested retail price for the 2008 Toyota Prius is $29,500, a whopping $1780 less than the MSRP price of the 2007 model.

Internal competition from the larger Camry Hybrid is one reason, but also the notably lower price of rivals such as the $26,250 Honda Civic Hybrid.

Shoppers need not limit their choices to hybrids and diesels. Many smaller gasoline-powered cars provide fuel-efficient travel, too. For example, this 5-door Nissan Versa with CVT is rated at 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg) in the city and 6.3 L/100 km (46 mpg) on the highway.

Another issue concerning hybrids revolves around the fact that today's hybrids are still relatively new. The technology mates an electric motor to a gasoline engine so the electric motor supplements the engine at times. This reduces greenhouse gases as well as optimizes the use of gasoline.

Today's hybrids wouldn't be possible without electronic engine controls that modulate the smooth working of these two systems together and manage power delivery to maximize fuel efficiency. But the sophisticated mixing and matching of the power is not always easy to accomplish, and buyers might find it best to take their hybrids to the local dealer for service, where technicians have received specialized training, rather than a neighbourhood garage.

Hybrids store electric energy on board in large battery packs. The packs are warranted for eight to ten years, depending on the manufacturer, but it's uncertain what the cost will be for replacing old battery packs down the road. Current prices are about $3,000. This could make hybrids less attractive as used cars and thus reduce their resale value. In the past few years, though, the replacement cost of hybrid vehicle battery packs has been gradually going down.

Several auto analysts figure that the popularity of hybrids will prompt greater production of battery packs and thus lower their prices. Time will tell.

Some emergency workers have been concerned that they could face a danger of electric shock when working on a disabled or crashed gas-electric hybrid vehicle. Auto manufacturers assure them that safeguards are in place and that computers on board the vehicles have a series of safety checks that are designed to avert problems. Still, some first responders are undergoing special training to become comfortable in handling hybrid cars.

Some groups have complained that hybrid battery packs are toxic and likely to become troublesome to dispose of. But automakers say current nickel-metal hydride batteries are recyclable.

Diesel Efficiency
Diesel-powered passenger vehicles are another fuel-efficient option. Highly popular in Europe, diesel models are still relatively limited in their availability in North America, due to emission restrictions. Note that in contrast, gas-electric hybrid vehicles are sold continent-wide. Indeed, hybrids are far cleaner in many emission properties than even conventional gasoline vehicles.

Still, diesels are known for getting extra mileage out of every litre of fuel. They offer better torque than many gasoline engines. And their price differential over gasoline models generally is much smaller than that for hybrids. Some are even becoming truly attractive.

The 2007 Mercedes-Benz E 320 Bluetec sedan operates on diesel fuel and has a traveling range of more than 1,000 km (600 miles). It matches the gasoline-powered Mercedes E 350 4Matic in acceleration but offers much better fuel economy for a solid $6,400 less.

For example the very frugal 2008 Mercedes-Benz E 320 Bluetec diesel-powered midsize sedan has an MSRP of $68,100, which is $6,400 less than the gasoline-powered E 350 4Matic sedan and only $2,300 more than the 2008 E 300 4Matic sedan, also gasoline-fed.

The two others do offer the benefit of all-wheel drive, of course, but the diesel-sipping E 320 Bluetec has them both trumped on sheer engine torque and fuel economy. By comparison, the 3.0-litre V6 in the E 320 Bluetec sedan puts out an amazing 388 lb-ft of torque starting as low as 1600 rpm, which compares with the 258 lb-ft of torque starting at 2400 rpm in the 3.5-litre V6 gasoline engine in the E 350 sedan, and the 221 lb-ft torque peak of the E 300 4Matic.

The diesel E-Class's fuel economy ratings are 9.0 L/100 km (26 mpg) in city driving and 6.1 L/100 km (39 mpg) on the highway, while the E350 4Matic consumes 12.9 L/100 km (18 mpg) in city driving and 8.8 L/100 km (27 mpg) on the highway. The E 300 4Matic has city / highway ratings of 13.0 and 9.1 L/100 km (18/26 mpg), because its engine needs to work harder against the midsize sedan's weight.

No such problems for the E 320 Bluetec which, in addition to its exceptional fuel economy numbers, can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.73 seconds while the E 350 4Matic sedan takes 7.81 seconds. So much for the reputation of diesel-powered cars as sluggish performers...

Thus, if a driver maximizes the diesel's fuel economy, it would take 2.6 years to recoup the approximately $2,300 extra cost of the quicker, more powerful and stingier E 320 CDI diesel model over the E 300 4Matic, according to NRC data. As for the E 350 4Matic, your fuels savings start immediately, added to the diesel's initial $6,400 price advantage.

Other Diesel Matters
Diesel engines are getting cleaner. Thanks to cleaner diesel fuel with radically lower sulphur content now available in North America and new vehicle technology that filters or traps troubling engine particulate emissions, diesels are becoming cleaner than ever.

In fact, Mercedes-Benz currently touts its Bluetec as the "cleanest diesel in the world" and has joined with Audi, Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group to spread this 'clean diesel' technology across other several diesel models in the coming years.

Some consumers, however, will object to having a diesel because these cars are still perceived as noisier than gasoline-powered vehicles. Some buyers also might object to the telltale odour that is associated with diesel vehicles, or to their reputation of spewing out smoke.

No such problems with the diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI Bluetec sedan in our experience, though. The engine starts readily and is slightly noisier than a typical gasoline for a few seconds while still cold, but it produces neither any smoke nor the slightest acrid diesel fuel smell.

Granted, not every filling station has a diesel pump readily accessible to passenger cars, but it's a minor annoyance, at worst. The substantial fuel economy benefits are motivation enough for diesel converts to plan their refuelling. With the enormous range of most diesel-powered cars, it's an easy proposition.

One thing certain is that diesel engines have been with us for a long time - the first diesel-powered passenger car was a 1936 Mercedes-Benz sedan - and diesel engines are known for their outstanding durability. For this reason, they are standard fare under the hoods of all semi-trucks as well as most buses, for that matter, no to mention ships and locomotives.

Gasoline models can shine too
That said, consumers don't need to venture from conventional gasoline models to find fuel-thrifty vehicles. However, they need to focus on small, lightweight vehicles in order to maximize the gas they use.

For example, the 2007 Nissan Sentra with continuously-variable transmission as well as the Kia Rio, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Toyota Corolla - to mention only these - are all gasoline-powered cars with better fuel economy ratings than the aforementioned 2007 E-Class Mercedes-Benz diesel.

Gasoline models with the best fuel economy all have four-cylinder engines, rather than V6s or V8s. That's always a good place to start when you shop for your next car.
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Seems like an old article, they talk about 2007 and no mention of the Jetta Sportwagen.
This is a Canadian site, the price difference is even less for the mercedes when in US dollars. I think the premim is only about $1000-1500.
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