Today would be the 155th birthday of German engineer Rudolf Diesel, who invented the eponymous compression-ignition engine in the late 19th century. Though for years the U.S. market has shunned Rudolf's creations, we're slowly coming around to the idea of diesel engines. Here's a list of some of the most exciting new diesel-powered cars coming to the U.S. market.
Audi A6, A7, A8, Q5 TDI
Audi announced last year that it would introduce a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 engine in four of its luxury products: the A6 and A8 sedans, the A7 Sportback, and the Q5 crossover. The models are expected to return much better fuel economy than equivalent gas-fired models, without any significant loss of performance. The first to go on sale is the A8L TDI, which arrives this spring for $83,395, after an $895 destination charge. Rated at 24/36 mpg (city/highway), it is the most efficient Audi A8 on sale in America by a large margin. The A6, A7, and Q5 diesels will go on sale this fall.
The last diesel 3 Series sold here, the BMW 335d, was designed more for performance than fuel efficiency. That changes later this month at the New York auto show, where BMW will introduce the 328d. Its 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine produces 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, enough for a claimed 0-to-60-mph run of 7.2 seconds. Better still, the car is expected to return more than 40 mpg and cost less than $40,000. In other words, the 328d will offer both power and efficiency. The new BMW 535d follows in July; that car uses a twin-turbocharged diesel inline-six engine that will likely offer about 255 hp and 413 lb-ft.
Chevrolet introduced the Cruze diesel at the Chicago auto show as a high-mileage alternative to the gasoline Cruze Eco. Its 2.0-liter inline-four, already proven in Europe, produces 148 hp and 258 lb-ft, and should return 42 mpg highway with the standard six-speed automatic transmission. It will cost $25,695 when it goes on sale this summer, undercutting its closest competitor, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Chevrolet has a lot riding on the Cruze because it's the first diesel passenger car that General Motors has sold in the U.S. for decades.
Jeep Grand Cherokee/Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
Two big Chrysler products now have diesel engines. The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2014 Ram 1500 both are offered with a 3.0-liter "EcoDiesel" V-6 rated for 420 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic, it is expected to return 21/30 mpg in the Grand Cherokee and as much as 22/30 mpg in the Ram. That means the diesel offers better fuel economy than the cars' standard 3.6-liter gasoline V-6, yet with the towing and hauling performance of a Hemi V-8. Now that's what we call an engine. Side note: although officials admit the engine would fit, there are no plans to install the EcoDiesel in the U.S.-market Chrysler 300 or Dodge Charger.
The latest version of the Mazda 6 also heralds a new diesel engine from the Zoom-Zoom brand. Mazda revealed at last year's Los Angeles auto show that it would offer a 2.2-liter inline-four turbodiesel in the American-market 6 sedan. It is expected to produce about 173 hp and 310 lb-ft, and should easily beat the 40 mpg mark on the highway. The diesel 6 will likely be a compelling combination of nimble handling, stunning design, and fuel efficiency. Not that the gasoline-powered Mazda 6 is an oil hog: it's rated at 26/38 mpg with a six-speed automatic transmission.
OK, so this one deserves an asterisk next to it. Although we know for certain that the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf, Golf TDI, and GTI will bow later this month at the New York auto show, VW hasn't yet said whether the GTD is on the way. A halfway point between the GTI and Golf TDI, the Volkswagen GTD (European model shown) melds the performance fun of the famous hot hatch and the TDI's stellar fuel economy. The fact that the company let us drive a European-spec GTD last fall hints at interest in bringing the car to the U.S. market. To which we say: yes, please.