New diesel smart car gets 85 mpg in UK

New 85 mpg Smart Car

smart fortwo cdi coupe begins shipping in March 2009

I saw a television ad last night, while watching Jack Bauer save the world, about a new diesel smart car being offered that gets an estimated 85.6 mpg combined city/highway driving. That’s incredible! You can check the details on smart’s UK site for this vehicle that has begun shipping this month (March 2009).

Strange thing, though. The manufacturer’s site for a similar model—gasoline, not diesel—in the United States only boasts 33 mpg (city)/41 mpg (highway): an economical car, but nothing to jump up and down over. At $13,905 USD for the entry level coupe, it’s also relatively inexpensive, but not enough to tempt most Americans into its tiny (but extremely safe) cabin. One can purchase a Toyota Yaris for $12,205 that gets an impressive 29/36 mpg or a Honda Civic Coupe for $15,305 with a fuel economy of 25/36 mpg.

The TV spot for the UK smart car can be viewed HERE: just click on “Fuel Economy” after the brief intro clip. It shows the driver at the petrol pump on a snowy winter day, then fast-forwards at high speed—the impression of hundreds of cars filling their tanks—until Spring when the smart car appears once again at the pumps. Clever!

The million dollar question is: Why does the American version, even though it’s not the more fuel-efficient diesel engine, get such pitiful gas mileage compared to the UK version? Unless I’m missing something, it’s a puzzler considering the overall fuel efficiency of most British cars versus their American counterparts, manufactured by the same automakers. Do I smell a rat? I mean, really, what’s going on here?

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18 thoughts on “New diesel smart car gets 85 mpg in UK

  1. Its not a rat.
    1. Petrol gets much less mpg vs. diesel. It’s a really big difference. Check out the variance on i.e. VW Passat Petrol vs Diesel diff.
    2. Increased safety requirements in the U.S. adds weight to the car.

  2. I don’t know about that, Fox. According to the AA, diesel and petrol are very similar when it comes to fuel consumption. I thought that diesel engines were more fuel efficient, since the big trucks (lorries) on the motorways are almost exclusively diesel, but it may have more to do with torque or pulling ability.

    But there’s no weight difference between the U.S. and U.K. entry-level coupé: the U.S. model is listed as 1653 pounds at Car Data and the U.K. hits the meter at 750 kg, according to Car Pages. Those are identical numbers, for our American friends who may not be metric-savvy.

    I still think there’s a rat prowling around. :)

    • My Diesel Jetta gets 50mpg (all the time). The gas Jettas get about 1/2 of that. Diesel does get much better milage. I’ll be buying a Diesel Smartcar the first day they are available.

  3. The difference in fuel economy is really a much simpler matter than gas/diesel. Compare American manufactured cars built for foreign markets and you will see the same differences you see in foreign manufactured cars built for the American market–cars built for our market ALWAYS underperform in fuel economy. Even a larger American car manufactured for sale in Europe or China will get 50%–100% better mileage than if manufactured for sale here.

    Congressionally imposed fuel emission standards for cars sold in the U.S. result in HALF to 2/3 the fuel economy that the same engine in the same car would get without those restrictions.

    Unfortunately, for a number of years foreign cars imported into the U.S. did not have to meet the same emission standards that American cars did and they got a huge market advantage that has been sustained even when it is no longer justified.

    Another funny thing… I have a Toyota manufactured in America with American labor and a Ford manufactured in Mexico by Mexicans… would someone explain how you BUY AMERICAN with a system like this?!?!

  4. You do know that the UK (imperial) gallon and the US gallon are different volumes, right? So UK mileage figures will always differ from US ones, even on the exact same car. The imperial gallon is roughly 4.5 liters and the US gallon is only 3.8. Any car will go more miles when the “gallon” is nearly 20% larger.

  5. 1..A gallon of diesel has more energy than a gallon of gasoline. That is why they get such good mileage.

    2. Americans had a really bad experience with diesels in the late 70s and early 80s (The GM diesel was a regular 350 with different heads on it and it was a disaster) and those diesels had a huge difference in driving performance and noise from the gas motors. This is not so much the case anymore with direct injection and better turbos, but there is still resistance in the American market to diesels.

    3. The United States has higher particulate standards than Europe and VW had to take their diesels out of the US market for 2 years because of it. Now they reintroduced them when they modified them.

    It all comes down to marketing and the car companies do not think that they can sell enough diesels in the United States to make it worth it. I cost more to make diesels than gas motors. For example the Ford Fiesta is coming to the United States next year, but the diesel motors are made in England and are too expensive to be viable in the US.

    I would buy a Diesel Fiesta in a heartbeat and I don’t really believe that they would not sell. It is frustrating.

  6. Great discussion, everyone!

    I would agree that diesel provides more torque and it might offer a slight advantage in fuel economy (depending entirely on the engine); and we should allow for the 20% differential between the Imperial Gallon and the U. S. Gallon, which would reduce the UK Smart Car’s fuel economy to 68 mpg in the United States. That being the case, does anyone know of a car sold in the American market that even comes close to 68 miles per gallon?

  7. …… hmmm….
    (to paraphrase what Jack said) you would then need to subtract fuel economy for the U.S. *bleepin* emissions control components and standards.

    85 UK mpg minus 20%[ or 17] = 68
    and 2/3 times of 68 = 45.333333

    So the true american fuel economy would be 45.33MPG
    Still, thats much better than most american vehicles…

    What is needed though, is for some one who engineers UK autos to take an american (U.S.) vehicle with all the emissions stuff and make it have greatly improved fuel economy in the UK while meeting the U.S. standards.
    Anyways. Peace, Yo! From:JJdaCool

  8. I agree great discussion. My father just bought a smart car and I am driving it now, so I am very vexed about this MPG issue.

    However, I’m still not sure the question has been answered outright. Many comments debated the efficiency difference of diesel. Some say there is no difference or a very slight one. Others say it is a big difference. even if we compromised to say there was a notable difference, there is still not enough to explain the gigantic change in MPG we are talking about.

    As far as emission standards and US car companies getting hammered, I think Jack may be misinformed. As far as I knew it, America’s emissions standards were embarrassingly behind almost all other industrialized countries, even China. And the weight question has already been answered.

    I think J Kent hit on a good point of different marketing obstacles in America for diesel cars. If they can’t sell the diesel version, they won’t import it. Makes sense… Only this does not answer the question if, as what some other said, the difference between diesel and gas is nominal. A gas version should have at least comparable MPG.

    I agree that it does sound like a rat is in the building. No on has said it yet, so I will throw it out there—maybe the forces at work do not WANT a car coming into the US that makes our other cars look so…well stupid. They say there is a psychological pattern in the work place, wherein the people who have been there a long time always push the new guy “not to work so hard” because it makes them look bad. Maybe that is what is going on here. Maybe the US automakers or government, do not want the new foreign guy to come in and shake things up, or show up the competition so quickly, so they force him to dull down his MPG over here so it is comparable to their other US cars…unfortunately at the expense of the people.

    I have heard crazier ideas.

    • there are actually three rats running around in the house.

      rat #1 is the oil industry they do not want cars that can get outstanding milage they would loose money. The diesel smart car in canada has been seen to get about can not even ship one acrost the boarder. and deisel dose produce more hp/tq per a gallon,there is also a question of low sulfer diesel fuel which suposedly we do not have the infrastructure or the refining capacity for.

      rat # 2 is the auto industry its self. there have been cars that achieved mpg of 45-50 the geo metro was one,but again many top brass in the big three also have there hands in oil. so money is gain the primary reason

      rat #3 members of congress same old reason they have there hands in the oil cookie jar and have for decades. why would they want to pass any legislation that would require better mpg,or better fuel quality because the more you have to refine the fuel the more profit you why would you push the oil industry into the corner of haveing to change the infrastructure or the deisel so it was better then gas?

  9. 1. Diesel fuel has much more energy than gasoline (petrol) and costs less to refine. There’s a bit more to refining, though. Refining produces *both* petrol and diesel but there are a couple of ways to refine and some processes are optimized to produce petrol, others distillates (diesel). European gov policies have supported diesel use and refining for some time. Excess european petrol production is shipped to the US and excess US diesel production is shipped to europe (since 2004, which caused the spike in cost for diesel in the US – less supply).

    2. Diesel cars are about 30% more effiecient (MPG) than petrol. Check the US MGP for VW Jetta TDI vs. the US petrol versions for confirmation.

    It can be claimed that europe has legislated diesel use and the US has ignored strategic planning in this arena (no diesel fuel incentives or price regulation), allowing HP/power over economy. Cheap petrol and a refining infrastructure ‘bolted’ to petrol production (no new refinery has been built in the US since the ’70s), plus the petrol/distillate refining ratio has made petrol the fuel of the US (hence the emphasis on petrol hybrids). Petrol yields snappier performance, which also lends itself to the US market (power!).

    3. The US has tougher emission controls than europe. Diesels in the US must now produce the same emissions as petrol engines. These emission controls degrade diesel performance ~10% and cost quite a bit, particularly since the US is the only market with them. You won’t find this exhaust/emission system on the euro TDI’s:

    Further damaging diesel sales has been the 20% greater per gallon cost of diesel in the US recently (since excess production has been exported). But, it has reached parity now, running a few cents cheaper than petrol (due to supply increase of diesel due to worldwide recession), but the refining issues still cloud the future, “Will diesel in the US remain cheaper?

    So, with the cost of fuel cloudy and the unique ‘pioneer’ market emissions certifications require great effort (cost). So, diesel sales in the US are tough to predict.

    Which is unfortunate. There are some terrific cars we are missing out on. This Smart, Volvo C30 D5, Mini D and Ford models would be wonderful here. If we can be more sure that the cost of diesel will remain stable and at par with petrol (it should even out, in the long term?) then diesel sales will increase and models will become available. But, manufacturers are hedging that diesel supply may get tight with an worldwide economic upturn blowing the cost up again relative to petrol, so they are only conservatively bringing the models to the US.

    Unification of emissions policies would solve the problem, but there is nothing to indicate that will happen.

    So, Europe and most of the world will stress diesel and the US will head toward more expensive technological solutions like petrol hybrids and EV for high mileage models, for better or worse.

  10. Regarding my sSmartcar, I am interested in swapping my gas-powered engine for a diesel. Any insight on how difficult this might be? Potential problems?

  11. Because the US Enviromental Protection Agency (EPA for short) has unknowingly attempted to change the rules of thermodynamics by lowering combustion chamber temperatures so as to reduce NOX for the global warming debate. Therefore they have lowered the overall efficiency of the engine according to the simplified heat theory of Carnot.

  12. I’ve watched this discussion over 4 months now and several have confirmed in different ways some of the things I stated earlier about the EPA regulations adversely impacting fuel efficiency here.

    Now, I’d like to share an observation any of you would be able to test on your own diesel vehicles. For many years, raising a family and hauling students to many types of events (our school didn’t use busses) I drove Suburbans. My first diesel Suburban was a dog, just like all the other 6.2L diesels they put in those during the 80’s and early 90’s. That is, if you were going down the highway at 65 and gradually caught someone traveling 64 you had better have a long flat stretch because this thing could not accelerate rapidly at all. A simple little switch out from the factory exhaust manifolds to a set of tuned headers and from the factory muffler to straight-through glass packs and everything changed. With no back pressure on the engine, power, performance and efficiency jumped off the charts. Now if I came up behind that other vehicle I would just step on it and be running 90 as I zipped past him. Oh yes, there was a deep mellow bass roar to it so I would know where my teenage son was anywhere in our small town if he stuck his foot in it. The other thing I experienced though was a radical mileage change; here I am driving one of the largest SUVs on the road, remember, and now I was getting 23-25mpg while driving this thing even with my lead foot. Suddenly, it had gone from a dog to a muscle machine that could run without hesitation well above the 100 mph mark. I’m sure with a turbocharger my mileage would have been even better.

    So, I am convinced there are engineering decisions made for multiple reasons, many political, which rob us of the performance we could be getting. I had a vehicle go from 15-16 mpg up to 23-25 mpg with just an exchange of the exhaust system and know I could have compounded that by changing the intake system.

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  14. WHAT?

    The OIL companies have NOTHING to do with diesel vehicles,

    the OIL companies have NOTHING to do with the high fuel prices,

    and the OIL companies are not making any more money than they ever were.

    When the Liberal government taxes the living shit out of the oil companies like 80-90%. The oil companies aren’t going to pay for those government taxes, government additive crap and shit, they are going to make us pay it. I dont care how much money the oil companies are making otherwise.

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