Hooniverse Asks- Would You Consider Buying a Diesel Sports Car?


 
So last year I got the chance to bomb around in Volkswagen’s Golf GDI. Not GTi, as you might be familiar, but GDI, as in compression ignition, fill it up at a truck stop. I drove the piss out of that little three door, and I couldn’t get it under 32 MPG. That got me thinking – which is no small feat – that the 2.0 turbo oil burner in that Golf would make a mean engine for a budget sportscar – say a Miata competitor. VW must have had the same idea as they came out with a Porsche Boxster-like show car that featured that very same diesel powerplant – albeit  amidships.
Of course, something that gets 40 MPG and comes in under 30 grand couldn’t possibly sell. I mean, that had to be the reason why Volkswagen didn’t put the drop top diesel into production, am I right? With gas prices jumping over $4, on their way to 5, getting the most out of each precious gallon is more important now than ever before. Well, maybe during WWII, but that was a different story. And while the goopy stuff that you typically have to pump from that lone, greasy standard out at the edge of the station might be even more expensive than the regular you’re putting in your car today, it typically lets you go twice as far per viscous gallon than the good stuff.
But is an appropriate fuel for a sporting conveyance? After all, diesels are known for Hulk-like torque, not Dremel rev levels. And the noises they make are not typically conducive to open air motoring – the coffee can of marbles being the usual comparative. Those foibles are very real, but are the insurmountable? In Europe, more of the cars they drive are diesel engined, but you don’t see Lotus dropping a smoker in the Elise, now do you? What do you think, are diesel engines and sports cars a match as perfect as peanut butter and dark chocolate? Or are they more like oil-fuel and water? What do you think?
Image source: [Gas2.org]

0 Comments

    1. Yeah, the diesels were very impressive in Le Mans, amazingly so. So after seeing that, yeah, I'd consider buying one, especially if it wasn't outrageously expensive.

  1. I've seen enough 12-second duallies to know that diesels can be tuned for more than just moving heavy loads.

  2. The reasons that a 40-mpg Golf doesn't sell has less to do with the gas vs. diesel argument than the company who makes it and their reputation.
    I have no problem with the concept of a diesel sportster. I would think a mongo-torque diesel would be a ponycar dream.

    1. I think you've hit the nail right on the head. Would I buy a diesel sports car? In an instant. Would I buy a VW? Not a chance.

  3. Sure, as long as I got the fuel economy I wanted. If I am looking at a diesel, my priority is probably more fuel economy than anything else, and it would take more than a few sports cars to change that interpretation.

  4. I have a wider question: Why aren't diesels more popular and more available here in the U.S.? Possible reasons:
    1. Poor reputation from the 70's.
    2. Diesel costs more & isn't widely available.
    3. U.S. diesel fuel is poorly formulated due to some regulations I don't understand.
    4. Some little-discussed, low visibility regulation (such as how diesels are included in CAFE) that makes them a poor business case.

    1. It's actually #4, and #2 is because #3 used to be true. (I'll explain.)
      #4. It's much harder to bring a diesel to the U.S. because of our much more stringent NOx regulations, i.e. urea aftertreatments are necessary.
      #2. U.S. diesel became much more expensive when we switched to ultra-low sulfer blends a couple of years ago. The rest of the world has had it for some time, and (#3) the old high-sulfur fuel would have destroyed many of the Euro engines. Thus, they were never brought here. Now, even with plant costs amortized, the extra processing costs aren't going away, and a diesel engine is still a hard sell.

      1. #2 is also a function of refining technology. Crude oil used to be refined by fractional distillation, where the various hydrocarbon chains would be refined out at percentages based on the makeup of the crude oil. If the crude stock is made up of X% Diesel and Y% Gasoline (plus the other various components), that's what you get, and if the market isn't buying diesel at the time, the oil companies either stockpiled it or reduced the price.
        Newer refining techniques use chemical processes so that diesel, for example, can be further converted into more gasoline. The refiners make less "byproduct" diesel, which means they don't have to dump it on the market, and the prices have risen.
        http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/en

        1. Ah, that explains a lot. I was wondering what had happened to keep the price of diesel so high (other than the fact that the oil companies can get away with it if they feel like it). The price took a jump a few years back and never came down and I never knew if there was a real reason.

        2. Between you and skitter, that has got to be one of the best answers I've seen. You guys are solid evidence of the reasons I fuckin' love this place.

      2. The biggest effect from the sulfur is on the aftertreatment system. SCR catalysts don't care quite so much, but sulfur can 'poison' a lean NOx trap catalyst and reduce its effectiveness, and it reacts with a diesel oxidation catalyst in a way that creates more particulate matter.

  5. I have no problems at all with a diesel sportster. In fact, one of my dreams is to build a diesel powered Locost. My daily driver is a well modified TDI Jetta. Its quite efficient and sporting. Actually, something interesting that I haven't thought about in a while is some experimental engines that Banks was working on a few years ago. He was shortening the stroke on them. Yes, it would reduce the torque output, but the massively lowered compression and lower rotating mass would yield a quicker, higher revving engine even more capable of swallowing tons of air and fuel. I wonder what became of that. Sounds like its time for some reading.
    Incidentally, I just found and tried some biodiesel in the car this week. Quite interesting. No real difference in the power delivery. It's noticeably quieter, though, and regrettably less stinky and smoky. Except when I induce massive overfuel. Joggers beware!

    1. Making the engine rev faster would produce more HP, but you would lose the torque and fuel efficiency.
      The fact that the diesel can make gobs of power at low RPMS is what makes them efficient, and long lasting.
      Speed it up though (with a shorter stroke) and it becomes not so much fun.
      (I proposed the Idea of a 2 liter straight six on diesel bombers, similar idea to what you mention banks testing, and that was the answer I got more or less)

  6. I find the Smyth Performance kit car more than a little intriguing. At the same time, I get 35mpg out of my conventional gasser, but hey, I'm all to glad to try a diesel sportscar.

      1. Build a "Smyth"? Sure, in an ideal world everyone would build their own Diesel converted car. But not everyone has the time or know-how to do so. And that car also relies on a 2000ish TDi Jetta being available, so it's not exactly the easiest answer.
        To be honest, the biggest reason I didn't buy a diesel with my most recent car was the availability for the models (Touaregs and and Q7s), and the costs of the models often wipeout fuel costs savings for the first 3+ years.
        Bring the Diesels though, Especially the Volvo Diesels!

        1. Yeah, in Europe the D5 version of the Volvo C30 is considered the better-handling, cheaper, and better alternative to the T5 we get here. Totally competitive with the Golf TDI, where the T5 isn't quite as cheap or good as the GTI.

  7. We all say "Sure I'd buy a diesel sports car" but when it comes time to put our money where our mouth is, I doubt any of us would pony up the extra coin for a diesel.
    Yes diesels have lower operating costs, but they also cost more initially. It usually takes around 100K miles to break even against it's gasoline powered counterpart.
    I doubt it would succeed as a stand-alone model offered in diesel only, priced near/at $30k. It would be competing against the $22K Mazda MX-5.

    1. Based on the math up here in Canadia, at the current fuel prices, with the real-world differences in price between a gas and diesel Golf, just as an example, it would take you about 78,000 kms to break even. HOWEVER. In real-world terms, and average driving, that is less than the length of time of your loan. So that extra $2200 for the TDI is in your loan, and equates to around an extra $38/mo on your loan payment, roughly speaking.

    2. Comment too long? You fucking serious? Fuck you, Nibbles!
      Continued…
      On a month-to-month basis, that diesel will, yes, cost you $38/month extra for the loan payment. But on a month-to-month basis, with the "average" driving figures of 1700 kms/month (Americans, sorry, I have Canadian figures) (that's what we use as "average" for a vehicle being traded in, all of this is YMMV), a TDI will cost you about $92/mo in fuel at current prices, while a gas Golf will cost you $134. That's $42/mo cheaper, on the averages, or a $4 savings. Not a big deal now… but the longer you drive it, the more worthwhile it becomes. Now ALL of this is completely variable. Basically, if you're someone who drives a lot, the TDI is the smarter move. If you only put on 10,000 kms a year, I'd tell you not to bother with a diesel. If you put on 75,000 kms or more like many of my customers, it's absolutely worth it.

      1. I've never looked at the math that way, but it further illustrates my point. You have to drive diesels a really long time before it pays for itself and becomes more cost effective.
        I don't know the Canadian premium for the TDI but down here its a $5230 premium for the oil-burner. According to VW US website.

        1. WOW.
          It's just under $2200 here, which is a bit more than the price of the upgraded stereo. So all that math I said certainly doesn't apply down there.
          That also probably explains why diesel is so much more popular in Canada than in the 'States.

      2. Other thing to be considered in you math is that, from experience from the Netherlands where diesel is long time popular, is that diesel can get much closer to the promised numbers claimed in sales literature than there gasoline brethren.

  8. I've spewed my bile about diesels around here before, so it's no secret that I'm definitely not a fan. Until they a) cost the same or less than their gasoline counterparts, b) spin to 6,500 and c) no longer sound like Charlie Buckett after drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drinks, or until gas/cng/alcohol/hydrogen is outlawed altogether, my answer is a resounding "hell no."

    1. My cars have an inexpensive, torquey motor with a 6,500 RPM redline… but it sounds like a damn tractor, no question about that. (Actually, it's more of a WWII-fighter-plane sound at cruising speed.) They do fine on 87 and 89 octane, though.

  9. Most of the later sports cars had an anti-run on circuit that by & large cured the problem. Just make sure the valve or solenoid is function….
    Oh wait, I thought you said "Dieseling". You mean actually running diesel? Whoo-hoo! You crazy!!
    In that case it better have a @#$% Detroid 2-stroke. If it can't go like a banshee, it may as well sound like one.

    1. Come try our chipped-out TDI Golf. It might just change your mind. 380 lb-ft is a whole lot of fun in a tupperware container.

  10. I'd say yes to the general concept of owning a diesel sports car, but no to the specific example. I don't really want to buy a new car in general, or a new VW in particular. Owning a modern VW out of warranty isn't a more attractive proposition, either.
    Now, if someone were to make a kit car that used proven decades-old Mercedes diesel engines… Or, I guess one of those MKIV Jetta-based ones…

  11. Somewhat related, I got a chuckle today from a flier from my local Dodge dealership. Their records apparently say that I bought a fuel efficient car from them, and they're so desperate for late-model used cars they're offering "$500 over book Kelley Blue Book" [sic] if I trade in this alleged fuel efficient car toward something new. After I fretted for a while, wondering how my identity had been stolen years ago for an illicit Neon purchase, I realized they might just mean the Challenger since I can get 25 highway MPG's out of it.

    1. Little did you know you're a champion of the environment. Maybe you could paint the exhaust tips green in honor of this? I know a guy who wants to start a business doing this.

      1. I am a little weird on environmental matters, actually. On the one hand I've never owned a car that didn't have a V8 engine, and my average engine size is 5.2 liters. But on the other hand I've spent the last 2.5 years of my career helping to integrate urea-SCR aftertreatment systems onto diesel-engined construction equipment for the EPA Tier 4 emissions standard.

  12. For anyone who's bitching about modern diesels being noisy? You've OBVIOUSLY never heard the 3.0TDI in the Touareg or the 2.0TDI in a Golf/Jetta/Audi A3. The new TDIs are quiet as can be.
    As for the Blue Sport pictured above? It's already been semi green lighted for production. It will first show up with VW/Audi's award winning 2.0 TSI Turbo Gas engine and later potentially as a TDI. Porsche will get a version of it and so will Audi. Audi will probably call theirs the R4, Porsche probably 914 if they are smart, and VW will probably rename theirs the Carmen seeing as they bought Carmen coach builders last year, might as well take advantage of the name.
    If you want a GREAT ride right now, buy a 2011 Golf TDI. The US spec car is effectively what they sell in the UK as a Golf GTD. It has the lowered suspension and amazing interior (minus the plaid) of the GTI, 17" Wheels, DSG or 6 speed manual, and is an absolutely amazing performer.

    1. Yeah, the 1.9 TDI is definitely a diesel, but it's a quiet one. (You can tell those apart by the idle and the soot on the tailpipe, but they're by no means obnoxious.) The 2.0 that replaced it is almost invisible – it just sounds a little rumblier than the awkward 2.5. Most of the time these days when I think I hear a Volkswagen TDI behind me, it's actually a beater Taurus or Lumina with a rod knock.
      And if I had to buy a new car today, gun-to-head, it'd be a TDI Golf or Sportwagen with a six-speed manual. My redblock Volvos already sound like diesels, but the best I've done in either was 24 US MPG (the automatics don't help).

  13. The problem with diesel is the increasing awesomeness of gas cars. Turbo direct-injected mills are now offering diesel-like mileage numbers and high-revving performance.
    Looking at a GDI Vs GTI…here in the States, the marginal month-to-month savings in fuel isn't worth it to have the difference between a fast and non-fast car. This is particularly problematic if we're not just talking about the sportiness of regular cars, but actual sports cars.

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