Here in the United States, the diesel is a workhorse. Most diesel engines in America are relegated to commercial use (think duallies and semis). For years, though, Americans have been largely missing out on diesel power in passenger cars.
A change is under way. We love our trucks and SUVs, and now, thanks to advances in diesel-engine technology and consumer demand, car manufacturers have begun rolling out a slew of diesel options unimaginable in years past. Here's why the diesel revival is starting with the pickup truck.
Coming to America
The market for diesel passengers cars is , and the rest of the world has enjoyed excellent diesel engines for years. Nearly 50 percent of sales by European manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Range Rover, Jaguar, and Peugeot, are diesel-optioned.
In the U.S., we outfit our big rigs with diesel engines because the torque advantage of diesel engines makes them ideal for hauling heavy loads. The other reason: commercial trucks don’t have to meet the same emissions standards as passenger vehicles.
American emissions laws also focus on removing greater amounts of nitrous oxide than the European and Asian markets. This fact requires manufactures to produce unique engines specific to the American market, including the addition of awkward urea tanks for trapping nitrous oxide. Our federal government also taxes diesel fuel at a rate about 25 percent higher than gasoline. (In Europe, it’s the reverse, so diesel drivers are rewarded, because diesels are also more fuel efficient.)
As a result of all this—and leftover stigma from the —manufacturers have been reluctant to offer diesel engine options in new cars and trucks in the U.S.
It's been three decades since the Big Three offered Americans diesel options in each pickup truck category: 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton, and 1-ton. That's finally changing, and the reason really comes down to price. Diesel engines are stronger, more quiet, and , therefore better suited now to overcome the higher diesel-fuel taxes in the US. Demand has changed, too. Off-road enthusiasts want the low-end torque of compression engines to power over obstacles. Regular SUV-driving consumers want better mileage. Diesel delivers on both counts.
Dodge was first to market in 2014 with the diesel-optioned 1/2-ton Ram 1500. It was joined in 2017 by the fuel-sipping Chevy Colorado and Nissan’s Titan XD and in 2018 by the , which brought diesel to the best-selling vehicle in America.
These four-, six-cylinder, and eight-cylinder oil-burners feature new innovations including high-pressure common-rail injection, variable geometry turbocharging, and emissions control systems that don’t blow black smoke—but do burn tires, thanks to more horsepower and torque than ever before. Automatic transmissions have evolved, too, with many models offering eight and sometimes ten gears to maximize engine strength and improve mileage.
The new Jeep JT Wrangler Pickup will offer an optional a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 with auto start/stop. Ford just announced production of the new Ranger Raptor (a smaller version of the high-performance F-150 Raptor) with a 2.0-liter twin-turbo diesel engine option. Only sold in Thailand, where it’s produced—for now—Ranger Raptor’s new diesel engine option has an innovative dual turbo setup with one smaller, high-pressure turbo for higher engine speeds (more horsepower) and a second larger, low-pressure turbo for lower engine speeds (more torque) that work in series to ensure a smoother power band.
Up and Down
Of course, you can't talk about diesel without talking about the Volkswagen emissions-cheating fiasco, which seems to have scared manufacturers from putting more diesels into actual cars and just when it seemed possible. Big automakers including Fiat and Volvo are committing to a diesel-free future as car companies see electric cars as the future. The city of Rome plans to ban them altogether.
But diesel engines burn dirtier in Europe (and damage more ancient statues) than they do here. And at least for now, and for pickup trucks in particular, the diesel renaissance in the U.S. is picking up speed.
“People love the power,” says Kent Sundling of , a popular website that reviews new trucks and trailers. “It’s a simple as that. It’s emotional. And over time, these smaller diesel engines pay for themselves in fuel-cost savings.”