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Which is a better premium crossover buy, diesel or hybrid

Both diesel and gasoline hybrid crossovers get excellent mileage, but excell in different ways. Which would you choose?


The 2013 Audi QS5 and the 2013 RX450h both offer incredible fuel efficiency for vehicles of their size and weight. Fuel efficiency comes with an initial purchase price penalty. There is no debate on that fact. It can be argued that over time, factoring in resale values, and guesstimating the price of gasoline over time, that a vehicle with a hybrid drivetrain, or a diesel engine, will pay the owner back. In the mainstream mid-size sedan segment each manufacturer now offers a hybrid. Without exception, each is slow. Without exception, the price premium is a significant percentage of the overall cost of the vehicle. However, if one moves up to the premium mid-size crossover market, the price premium is less important to the buyer, and the vehicles are not slow. In fact, they may even be the fastest available models from that line-up. There are two technologies that have matured to the point where they can now be considered ready for prime time. Let’s take a look at the benefits of each using the 2013 Audi SQ5 and the 2013 Lexus RX450h as our examples.

2013 Audi QS5 Diesel Torque
Some owners of a premium mid-size crossover like the 2013 Audi QS5 are owners of fun toys. Toys like medium sized boats, or side-by-side off-road quads. Boat owners often find themselves backing their vehicles down a steep, slippery ramp until the back wheels are in the water. They then load a heavy boat onto a heavy trailer and pull it all up that steep ramp. The lake that boat just came from may be in the mountains. On the ride home the 2013 Audi QS5 driver may decide to show off to his buddy and pass a tractor up a hill. A torque-monster, twin-turbo diesel can actually do that. The Audi pilot wants to hear his buddy say “Wow, this thing is pulls like my F-150.” So that he can reply “F’n A Bubba. And she gets 30 mpg” Or maybe something a bit more cultured.

2013 Lexus RX450h Buttery Smooth Refinement
There are also owners of premium mid-sized crossovers who want a sporty, super-refined vehicle that is absolutely silent when operating; quick to the point of being fast, but that gets better fuel economy than a sport-sedan. Owners of a 2013 Lexus RX450h have all of this. Frankly, they too can pull a good sized boat, but a CVT transmission and a gas engine will have to work hard to do it. The sounds and feelings won’t exude confidence, just capability. In truth, 95% of all premium crossover drivers would never need more torque than this Lexus machine can crank out. The fact that this vehicle can get better mileage than a sports sedan is just icing on the cake.

Why Not a Diesel Hybrid
Have you ever wondered why no US vehicle combines the benefits of both technologies listed here? Simply put, the reason that the US has not seen any diesel hybrids yet is political. As each manufacturer plays the game of push and pull with the US government over CAFE standards, they are hesitant to put all of their technology into a vehicle and show that 50mpg without compromise is actually doable. There is also the fact that if all the fuel saving technology available goes into a vehicle, the price could go well beyond reasonable.

What is clear is that if the benefits of both the electric hybrid system and also the diesel engine system were combined a premium crossover could be fast, torquey, refined, and easily achieve Prius levels of fuel efficiency. What would you pay for this combination?


Nicolas Zart    June 22, 2012 - 4:08PM

It would be good to see a Diesel Plug-in Hybrid, and even better a turbine plug-in hybrid. This way, you could throw at it gasoline, diesel, cooking oil and heck, even hydrogen if it was available. But we won't see that any time soon unfortunately.