It's tough for diesel engines to earn a place as one of our annual Ten Best Engines. For one thing, there aren't that many available in the U.S.; just two in passenger car applications and two in light trucks.
And although modern technology gradually is yanking diesels into competitive sight of gasoline engines, even the hardiest pro-dieselist has to admit there still are some drawbacks to life with compression ignition.
But darn it all, in many ways diesels are great. Unless your daily commuter is a long-haul rig, here's a brief summary of the only four diesels regular folks can buy:
Corp./Cummins Engine Co. 5.9L OHV turbodiesel I-6
Want to be an instant success wherever you go? Outfit yourself with a Dodge Ram 2500 Heavy Duty with the optional Cummins-made turbodiesel.
This is a first for Cummins and: a 24-valve head for this massive inline-six, indirect-injection thumper. The 5-speed's 460 ft.-lbs. (624 Nm) of torque will pull planets out of alignment, while the 235 hp is critical to keep pace with Chrysler/Cummins' only true rival, the /Navistar package below.
Motor Co./Navistar 7.3L OHV turbodiesel V-8
Ford and Navistar have grabbed the technology lead in this segment by fitting a sophisticated direct-injection system to this hulking overhead-valve "Powerstroke" V-8. This year's 235 hp for F-Series 250 through 550 Super Duty models is the same as Chrysler's new 5.9L turbodiesel - but ponies are the secondary selling point for this buyer. The torque's the thing, and Ford whips Chrysler by churning up nothing less than an even 500 ft.-lbs. (678 Nm).
Mercedes 3L DOHC turbo-diesel I-6
This engine's increased horsepower (174 hp) is a 30% improvement over last year's 134 measly hosses, and torque is up a remarkable 57% to 244 ft.-lbs. (331 Nm). It's the torque that shoots the E300 Diesel down the road - it's just that there's some waiting when accelerating from low speeds.
VW 1.9L SOHC turbodiesel I-4
A Best Engines winner from last year, the diminutive TDI (turbocharged direct injection) simply was outgunned by an onslaught of great new engines for 1998. The fascinating TDI may not have made this year's cut, but make no mistake: We truly appreciate this engine.
In the nine months WAW's been engaged with our long-term TDI-equipped Passat, it has averaged better than 42 mpg (5.6L/100 km). That's real-world mileage, not some nonsense window sticker. Yeah, the TDI might only have 90 hp, but once one learns to use the diesel's torque advantage, the TDI keeps up with vehicles packing twice its power.