SUV options: Diesel or gasoline?

Help our letter sender decide
by Botchi Santos | Nov 6, 2011

Hi, Botchi!

I'm planning to buy my first sport-utility vehicle in early 2012. I'm now conducting my own research to help me choose between a gasoline-fed engine or a diesel-powered engine.

I drive 40 kilometers every day, mainly on highways. I drive out of town quarterly. I don't hit the accelerator that much and my speed range is normally between 90kph and 120kph.

I'm not really much into cars but I have read several articles comparing the current diesel and gasoline engines. I'm confused everytime bloggers argue about horsepower, torque and all that stuff. I'm not into racing either so I don't think I need much of the speed or power or torque.

My considerations are as simple as the following, though they are not listed according to priority:

1. Engine durability. I want my SUV to stay with me for the next 10 years.
2. Riding comfort. I want to enjoy the ride, be it a short trip or a long-distance drive.
3. Maintenance cost. I want something that will cost less in terms of maintenance over a span of 10 years.

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Given my driving style, environment and considerations, which engine type would you recommend?

Thanks a lot!


Hi, Nelson!

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Thank you very much for your e-mail. We appreciate it and we respect the fact that vehicles owners are not always as crazy about cars as we are (or maybe I'm the only one who's this crazy about cars!).

First off, diesel-powered vehicles are much more efficient--we're talking about a 25 percent to 30 percent efficiency advantage over their gasoline-powered counterparts. Diesel fuel, even the premium ones, are also about 15 percent to 20 percent cheaper than the cheapest unleaded fuel. The vast majority in engine advancements have been in diesel engines in the last decade. The running cost for diesel engines tend to be cheaper because they are inherently  more efficient, and fuel is also cheaper to begin with.

Since most mass-market passenger vehicles, particularly SUVs and pickup trucks, use common-rain direct injection and turbo charging, these engines offer far more power and torque compared to gasoline engines. You will really appreciate the increase in torque output when cruising out on the highway as it allows the engine speed (rpm) to be low at a high gear. This results in getting the best fuel efficiency. The added torque? It makes driving easier and more enjoyable.

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I feel that the best SUVs with the best powertrain combination (engine and transmission) are the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, the Hyundai Santa Fe R-eVGT and the Kia Sorento Premium--all in diesel variant. The Montero Sport has a five-speed automatic transmission and a 178hp engine with 380nm of torque, while the two Koreans have a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.2-liter engine producing close to 200hp and 400+Nm of torque. The Mitsubishi SUV has a ladder-frame-design chassis built like a pickup truck so it will inherently be more robust and better off-road. The two Koreans, on the other hand, utilize a uni-body design similar to that of a car. The two will feel more car-like to drive, and they are also more responsive and probably more enjoyable out on the highway at the expense of limited off-road ability. When I say off-road, I don't mean unpaved road, I mean really deep mud trails and knee-high rocks to clear.

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Diesel engines are, for the most part, the way of the future. The only downsides to modern CRDi diesel engines are their sensitivity to poor diesel-fuel quality and the rather expensive servicing cost. A bad or dirty batch of diesel fuel can wreak havoc in your vehicle's CRDi system, which is very costly to repair. And since diesel fuels are generally of below-average quality here in the Philippines, the engine needs special lubricants and additives to keep it spinning happily. I believe my mom's Montero Sport's last oil change was in the region of P7,000--probably more. A typical gasoline-powered car, which can use mineral-based oils, will probably cost a third to service, especially small passenger cars.

Hope this helps and good luck!

Botchi Santos
Consumer editor

Lost in a sea of cars and not quite sure which one to get? Click here to email your car query so Botchi can help you pick the right vehicle!

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