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Everybody wants more for less these days, and that premise is the key to the success of Drive’s Car of Year for 2011, the Mercedes-Benz C250 CDI.

The family-sized Benz has more torque, or pulling power, than a lot of petrol-guzzling V8s, yet it uses less fuel than the average city runabout.

The secret to this impressive balancing act is the diesel engine that lurks beneath its stately bonnet. 

So what makes diesel cars, and our Car of the Year, the Mercedes-Benz C250 CDI, a winning formula?

Well, for a start the C250CDI can accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in just a tick over seven seconds, which is similar performance to a big six-cylinder petrol engine. Take it out on the freeway and its rolling acceleration will be the equal of many V8s, which makes long-distance cruising and overtaking an effortless exercise.

That is impressive in itself, but when you add the fact that it uses a claimed average of 5.1 litres per 100km – less than the tiny Volkswagen Polo – it is outstanding. The figures help explain why 20 of the 46 vehicles in this year’s awards are diesel powered.

Fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions have become a top priority for every car maker and modern common-rail diesel engines, matched to the latest fuel-saving techno-trickery, are one of the easiest paths to greener motoring.

The Mercedes, and nine other finalists, use stop-start technology to improve fuel consumption in congested cities. When the car is stopped at the lights, the engine switches off to save fuel.

The 2012 Volkswagen Diesel Line-Up

If you’re considering purchasing a diesel auto, Volkswagen is your one-stop shop option for affordable cars this side of Europe. Offering a full line of diesel-powered options, their lineup has something for just about every driver looking for an alternative to gas-powered transportation.

Beetle TDI – Beginning in 2012, the beloved Beetle will be offered with a TDI diesel engine that will make 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The 4-cylinder turbo-charged bug promises to be a beefier Beetle than past versions.

Golf TDI – Boasting an estimated 30/42mpg, it’s no wonder the Golf has been such a popular model for years. Offered with an optional 6-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, this is one nimble little hatchback.

Jetta TDI / Sportwagen TDI – The most affordable diesel option with a starting price tag of $22,995, the 2012 Jetta is powered by the same 140 hp TDI engine as the Beetle, with an eye toward economy and utility in its design. The Sportwagen incarnation actually is more closely related to the Golf, and with a broader range of options for a slightly more upscale taste.

Passat TDI – The full-size entry, its turbocharged drive-train promises 43 mpg, with a driving range of nearly 800 miles. The Passat will not be offered in its wagon form for 2012.

Touareg V-6 TDI – The Touareg comes with the same 3.0 liter TDI diesel engine that powers the Porsche Cayenne diesel as well as Audi’s A4 and A6. This SUV, also available in 2012 in a hybrid version, will get 19/28 mpg from its diesel variant.

Volkswagen’s line of TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) diesels make use of a fuel delivery system that results in more efficient and cleaner fuel combustion.

Mazda Brings SkyActiv-D Diesel to Canada 2012

The much anticipated SkyActiv-D Diesel from Mazda for 2012 has arrived in Canada, and it was well worth the wait. Born of a revolutionary design that gives it some rather non-diesel-like specs.

To begin with, Mazda claims that the SkyActiv-D engine will boost fuel economy by 20% over the 2.2-liter diesel version currently in service in Europe. Perhaps more significant are its power numbers. The SkyActiv-D diesel makes 165 hp at 4500 rpm, and nearly 340 lb-ft. of torque at only 2000 rpm. Very impressive indeed. Such low compression and high revs were previously unheard of in a production automotive diesel engine.

The upshot of all this is a power curve that brings torque to the wheels throughout the rpm range, whereas traditional diesel-provided torque would typically drop off beyond about 3000 rpm. This lower compression (at 14:1, the lowest of any production diesel currently available) means lower combustion temperatures, which mean more complete, hence cleaner, combustion. In this way, the Mazda SkyActiv-D diesel engine is set to meet North American emissions standards without benefit of a NOx after-treatment system.

Not content to merely re-make their engines, Mazda opted to revamp their transmissions as well. The 6-speed manual transmission has been improved with a shorter throw, for quicker shifts that take full advantage of the SkyActiv-D power band. Technology that provides low-compression, high-rev, economical and clean power is a pretty unbeatable combination.