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First Drive: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Ram’s big pickup gets a major boost from diesel power.

by on Sep.23, 2013

The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the first half-ton full-size pickup to offer a diesel option.

The Ram 1500 pickup truck has built a solid reputation for reliability, refinement and power – landing critical kudos earlier this year by winning North American Truck of the Year against a solid list of competitors. Add a favorable review from Consumer Reports, which has never been terribly impressed by vehicle built by the Chrysler Group, and the Ram pickup has plowed through the competition lately, picking up sales and market share seemingly every month.

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But the brass at the Chrysler Group also seemed to have learned that if you’re not moving forward, you’re actually standing still — or worse, losing ground. So this fall, they have elected to become the first full-line manufacturer to equip a full-size pickup truck with a diesel option — the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – something the competition is only just beginning to hint about.

The timing probably couldn’t be better considering the growing interest in this high-mileage, high-torque technology. Diesels, in general, have been gaining ground, though largely under the hoods of various German luxury imports. But “oil burners” offer some potentially significant advantages for truck buyers.

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First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec 4Matic

The mileage of an econocar, the look and feel of a Mercedes.

by on Sep.09, 2013

Mercedes intros a new four-cylinder diesel with the launch of the 2014 E250 BlueTec.

When it comes time to bring out an all-new version of the mid-range E-Class, the Mercedes-Benz product team doesn’t have much room for error, not when you consider the various sedans, coupes and wagons that make up the line account for a whopping 25% of the German maker’s U.S. volume.

The 2014 Mercedes E-Class is a deserving update, as we’ve previously reported, adding some welcome sporting touches to a nameplate traditional known as the more cushy of the midsize European luxury imports. With the addition of the E250, Mercedes goes a step further, proving that you can also deliver spirited performance out of a sedan that also manages to be surprisingly fuel-efficient, thanks to its new 2.1-liter inline-four BlueTec diesel.

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Better yet, with the addition of 4Matic all-wheel-drive, the new “oil burner” provides the sort of traction that not only grips the pavement firmly in snowy climes while also adding a bit more performance edge for those Sunbelt buyers likely to never see conditions worse than the occasional cloudburst.

Fire up the new diesel and what you notice – make that what you don’t notice – is the lack of the traditional clatter that has long haunted diesels, even at start-up or  when idling. On the open road you’d be hard-pressed to believe this is, in fact, a diesel.

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First Drive: Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

Great mileage, good performance – but is it worth the price?

by on May.24, 2013

At 46 mpg highway, the new Chevy Cruze Turbo Diesel gives even hybrids a run for their (gas) money.

It looks like your run-of-the-mill Chevrolet Cruze, albeit with a nicely loaded interior. But it only takes a second, after you slip behind the wheel and turn the key, to recognize something’s different.

There’s that chattering sound from under the hood that tells you this is the new 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel, the first time any of General Motors’ U.S. brands has put an “oil burner” under the hood of a passenger car since 1986. There’s good reason why it’s taken so long considering the disastrous diesels it produced in the mid-‘80s, models so bad they almost single-handedly destroyed the American diesel market.

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But it’s a new world. Technologies such as high-pressure injection and turbocharging have transformed the modern diesel, making them smooth, quiet, quick and clean.  Or, at least, that’s what we’ve experienced from other manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. So TheDetroitBureau.com went to Hell and back – Hell, Michigan, that is, to see if the new Cruze Turbo Diesel was anywhere near as good as the competition.

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First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 Turbodiesel

A powerful performer that also delivers great mileage.

by on Dec.09, 2011

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTec.

Let me get this out of the way: I’ve been a fan of Mercedes-Benz products for decades.  I remember my freshman year in college, when everyone still drove American cars, and my buddy Joe had a mint condition 230 sedan.  Yes, it was slow, but it still was a Benz, and I not only felt cool riding around in it, but I also felt incredibly safe, and for good reason, as Mercedes-Benz has long been a leader in safety technology.

Graduation in the early 80s saw diesel powered Benzes at their peak.  You could choose from entry level diesel sedans, to a cool coupe, to the top of the line S-Class diesel.  In fact, 80% of Mercedes-Benz sales during that time were diesel-powered models. But due to increasing diesel fuel prices, and a general dislike of the then smelly, slower accelerating process that was diesel, sales waned, and the last full-sized Benz diesel sold in the United States was the 1995 S350.

So, perhaps, it’s appropriate that the diesel new flagship of the German maker’s U.S. line-up is the new 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTec.

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Though Mercedes restarted U.S. production of diesel powered cars and SUVs several years ago, model year 2012 represents the return of the big S-Class diesel, and it is an incredibly fun car to drive.  Because high torque diesels make their power at low RPM, when you put you foot into the new S-Class, it moves out with startling authority (0-60 mph in seven seconds). And with new technology, very low sound levels accompany this powerful acceleration.  Take one on a test drive, and if you didn’t know going in you were driving a diesel model, I’d bet nine of ten drivers would not know they weren’t driving a gasoline powered car.

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GM Confirms Chevrolet Cruze Diesel for 2013; Could Get 51 MPG

Will other makers follow with diesels of their own?

by on Jul.22, 2011

Chevy will add a diesel to the Cruze line-up for 2013.

General Motors has formally confirmed it will add a high-mileage diesel to its Chevrolet Cruze line starting with the 2013 model-year.

The long-rumored diesel is likely to be an adaptation of the 2.0-liter VCDi direct-injection “oil-burner” already offered in Europe on their version of the Chevy compact.  Insiders report that the diesel could deliver as much as 51 miles per gallon – significantly more than the current Cruze Eco and in line with the Toyota Prius Hybrid.

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For its part, GM won’t do more than confirm plans to add the diesel, but that is a distinct reversal of the company’s long-standing opposition to the technology.  Former GM car czar Bob Lutz, in particular, had argued that the cost of meeting U.S. emissions standards was too high.

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First Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

A new look for the “Grand Sport Tourer.”

by on Jun.25, 2010

A new, more rugged look for the 2011 remake of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

What is it about American drivers?  They’ll pay a premium and sacrifice some everyday functionality to get an SUV that looks rugged but likely never sees an off-road trail.  Offer them a wagon, minivan or anything that looks more like a people mover and they go running.

That seems to have been the curse that kept the old Mercedes-Benz R-Class bound to the bottom of the U.S. sales charts.  It was a lavish and well-appointed vehicle that seemed to have a hard time finding a distinct niche and so was largely written off by American motorists – even though it received generally favorable reviews from both the media and those few buyers who actually drove one home.

So, the German maker is giving it one more try, and with the 2011 remake of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, it’s not making the same mistake.  For one thing, you likely won’t hear the maker’s marketing folk refer to the new model as a “Grand Sport Tourer,” whatever that means, anymore.

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Even more luxurious — and functional — than before, the critical update for the new model-year focuses on front and rear-end styling, giving the roomy people carrier a bit more of a crossover-ute look that should enhance its appeal.

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Audi A3 TDI Diesel Named “Green Car of the Year”

A clear message to diesel-phobic California regulators.

by on Dec.03, 2009

For the second year in a row a diesel, this time the 2010 Audi A3 TDI, has won the Green Car of the Year award, held here by Audi of America CEO Johann De Nysschen.

For the second year a diesel, this time the 2010 Audi A3 TDI, has won the Green Car of the Year award, held by the Audi of America CEO.

In a victory that carries clear political overtones, the Audi A3 TDI, a compact high-mileage diesel, was named Green Car of the Year during a ceremony at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The German offering was up against four other hybrids and diesels in its bid for the increasingly coveted award.  Jurors praised the Audi A3 not only for delivering high mileage and low-emissions but for its comfort, performance and features.

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The award is clearly useful for Audi, which now has two so-called “Clean Diesels” in its line-up and which hopes to expand that line-up significantly, said Audi of America CEO Johan De Nysschen.  Calling the award a “milestone,” the executive said the challenge Audi has faced is a “lack of awareness” of today’s diesels, which are vastly different from the slow, rough and smoke-belching oil burners” of decades past.

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