There's a whole cult of diesel enthusiasts here in the US, and it's a common refrain that the country would be better off if we got the forbidden fruit of Europe's many oil burners not sold Stateside. Is it possible we're better off without them?
Small, fuel-sipping diesels, have been popular in Europe ever since punitive gasoline-related regulations in the '80s made diesels comparatively easy to build, buy, fuel, and register as company vehicles.
What's always been true about diesels, ever since they were introduced specifically for use in taxi cabs by Mercedes Benz back in 1936, is that they are typically more economical than gas motors and more durable as well.
If you've ever flown over to Europe-land and sampled their diesels, you might not think they're so great. Matt Farah of The Smoked Out Tire provided a rebuttal to one American tourist's glowing review of an old diesel rental car over on the Continent.
Just got back from a week in Europe, where I spent much of that time behind the wheel of what you might call a "journalist special": a Ford Focus Wagon with a Diesel engine and a manual transmission. Journalists would practically sell their first born for such a car to be available in the states. And in all the ways that the Ford Focus we get here was good, this car was good. In all the other ways (read: the diesel engine), it was utterly terrible. It was one of the slowest, least sporting cars I've ever driven. It got great fuel economy when you kept your foot out of it, which was never, because it was comically underpowered, so you had to go absolutely flat everywhere. If Ford brought this car to the states, about six people would take it for a test drive, and about one person would buy one, and that would be Jason Torchinsky, because he's already used to going slow in that Beetle, and the only way a Focus diesel wagon is going to seem like a step up from anything is if you're coming out of a recently stolen beetle.
It would be even worse in America, because people would want it with an automatic, and the only saving grace of that car was the manual that would let you dump the clutch from 3,000 RPM (read: redline) and actually get the car off the line. it made so little torque that with an automatic, you couldn't stop on say, a San Francisco hill and get going again.
What a shitbox.
Duurtlang lives and breathes the European diesel lifestyle everyday because, well, he lives in Europe and drives a diesel. It's not that unusual over there. In any case, he figured that Matt is full of shit.
If you need to floor a new Focus diesel everywhere to keep up with traffic you simply can't drive. Or shift. It's you, not the car. I guess driving high horsepower (overpowered?) cars all the time does this to people.
Sure, we all like higher horsepower cars and I personally wouldn't choose the least powerful of the range (five I believe) of available diesel engines in the current Focus. The most powerful Focus diesel gets you to 62 mph in 8.6 seconds, the slowest in 12.7. The latter isn't fast at all, but easily enough to keep up without trying too hard. Excluding the left lane of the German Autobahn with no speed limit obviously.
Matt still wasn't convinced.
When a car does not have enough power to make a safe pass under good circumstance I would call it dangerously underpowered. And no, there is nothing wrong with my skills as many racing schools and sanctioning bodies will attest to.
Though that car may hit 60 in 12 seconds when only carrying a driver in a magazine test, with four people and a trunk full of luggage (which is why I got a wagon in the first place) I timed it at 19 seconds to sixty, just one second faster than my old Hummer H1 and yes, dangerously slow for unrestricted autobahn.
I myself love diesel engines, but my taste runs towards the huge V8s that you find in full size pickups and old SUVs. Those things are like land trains.
America's crop of upcoming clean diesels seem like a perfect kind of vehicle for low-effort, low-cost highway driving, but I still haven't driven a stereotypically slower, dirtier European diesel family car. Have you? Was it all that the Internet hype made it out to be? Would you really want one on America's interstates?
Photo Credit: Ford