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  • Detonation: Small Diesel Engines are Thriving

Detonation: Small Diesel Engines are Thriving

Detonation

John Lehenbauer
Oct 6, 2017
Photographers: John Lehenbauer
In the wake of the Volkswagen diesel-emissions cheating scandal, scrutiny of diesel engines is definitely a lot more intense. Immediately after it was disclosed that the automaker manipulated ECMs in its TDI-powered vehicles to produce false emissions readings, many manufacturers took a big step backward and reevaluated what they were doing with their diesel engines. But now, as the issue has become more of a memory, some manufacturers are continuing to embrace diesel as a viable powerplant here in the U.S.
Diesel’s reputation and sales in 1-ton and ¾-ton trucks have been strong for more than a decade. The Duramax, Power Stroke, and Cummins names are all well established. But smaller diesel engines have been harder-pressed to make lasting names for themselves. Many people still think of small oil-burners as being loud, smoky, and gutless. Much of this way of thinking comes from the old diesel-powered cars we used to see on the road (think Mercedes-Benz). The scandal just further affirmed the public’s less-than-ideal opinion of them.
Several major U.S. automakers are working to change that image by increasing the number of vehicles they offer with diesel powerplants. General Motors seems to be headed in the right direction with the use of smaller oil-burners. The 2.8L Duramax in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon is doing well, and the 1.6L EcoTec in the GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Equinox, and Chevrolet Cruze seems to be gaining popularity. There are rumors that GM is also exploring the idea of outfitting more vehicles with the small-displacement diesel.
Photo 2/2   |   The GM’s turbocharged, 1.6L EcoTec diesel engine is a nice fit in smaller vehicles like the ’18 GMC Terrain. The little oil-burner makes a respectable 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque.
Another automaker is using smaller diesels in its lineup is FCA. Currently, the company is putting its turbocharged V-6 EcoDiesel engine in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee, making FCA one of the first companies here in the U.S. to put an oil-burner in a ½-ton pickup and a midsize SUV. And, in 2018, FCA is releasing a new Jeep Wrangler (codenamed JL), which is slated to offer the same 3.0L V-6 diesel under the hood.
GM and FCA are not the only manufacturers moving forward with small compression-ignition diesel engines in new vehicles. Such companies as BMW, Range Rover, and Jaguar currently have diesel cars and SUVs in U.S. showrooms, and they continue to expand their lineups with new models and diesel-engine choices. Other automakers, like Ford and Mazda, have vehicles in the works, too, with some slated to debut in 2018.
One of the reasons for the increased interest in these small powerplants is their ability to produce good horsepower and torque while getting excellent fuel economy, especially compared to their gasoline counterparts. Many of these engines are able to provide more than 30 mpg on the highway, while others have claims of more than 40 mpg. Of course, fuel mileage depends partially on the size of the vehicle. The large size and increased drag of an SUV usually equates to slightly poorer mileage. Other factors, like low emissions, great durability, and low noise help increase small diesels’ popularity.
I like the influx of the smaller diesel engines; they are great alternatives for people looking for vehicles with good fuel economy and driveability. In places like Southern California, where commuting is a way of life for many people, these smaller high-mpg vehicles are definite plusses for the daily grind. Not everyone is onboard with hybrid or electric vehicles. Many people still need and want traditional piston-driven transportation.
In September 2017, I was fortunate enough to check out and even drive a couple of these newer oil-burners. One that I got to testdrive is the ’18 GMC Terrain. It’s a nice, comfortable little SUV that handles and preforms well, and the 1.6L EcoTec diesel engine is great on the highway and backroads (for more on the Terrain and other new vehicles, please see our 2018 Diesel Cars and SUVs Buyer’s Guide, on page 48 of this issue).
I hope to have an opportunity to drive more diesel-powered cars and SUVs in the future. I’ve always wanted to drive a Jaguar (hint, hint). With an increasing number of options for enthusiasts to choose from, the next few years look good. I know some of you are heavy-duty truck or nothing, but as a fan of all types of spark-less engines, I will not be opposed to having a smaller one in my personal fleet.
John
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