Tuesday, July 23, 2024

This is why you'd pick a diesel in 2024

Edmunds reports that, according to the EPA, diesel fuel is cleaner than ever and the low-torque power is great for towing.


Grey 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X AEV Edition driving on a rocky hillside.


  • GMC and Chevrolet offer diesel engines as an option under the hood of their pickup trucks.
  • Diesel engines are known for powerful torque, providing impressive towing and hauling capabilities.
  • While they may have waned in popularity, diesel engines are still a good option, especially if you have a boat or camper.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), diesel engines and vehicles make up about a third of the entire transportation fleet in the U.S. Diesel is a big name in shipping and freight, and there are several new SUVs and pickup trucks in the market powered by diesel as well. Volkswagen no longer sells diesel cars in America (see: Dieselgate), but once upon a time VW diesels held their own in popularity.

Edmunds tested out the GMC Sierra 1500 and the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, each with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel under the hood with a camper attached. While the diesel engine offers slightly less towing capacity than the same trucks with a larger gas-powered 6.2-liter V8, we found the diesel's higher torque numbers make for even, effortless acceleration. Plus, the diesel versions often get better fuel economy than their solely gas-powered counterparts. Let's talk about what diesel even is and get into some of the pros and cons of diesel ownership to help you decide if it's right for you.

What is diesel fuel?

Diesel is thicker in density than gasoline and requires less volume to create the same amount of energy. As a result, diesel-powered vehicles have access to more torque; thus, high towing and hauling numbers.

For example, GMC's Sierra 1500 Duramax turbodiesel kicks out 305 horsepower and 495 lb-ft of torque, which is the highest amount of torque in the Sierra 1500 lineup. Notably, the brand also made the diesel engine standard for the off-road-focused Sierra 1500 AT4X. When it comes to rock crawling, that torque sure is helpful. With the rise in overlanding and camping over the past several years, we'd take the ATX4 model and an RV and tow it out to some gorgeous campsite, then detach and head out for some off-roading fun.

Capable of towing 13,000-plus pounds, the diesel versions of the GMC Sierra 1500 and the Chevy Silverado are towing workhorses when it comes to trailering ponies, recreational vehicles, and other motorsport toys or even larger campers and boats. The diesel can tow 2,000 pounds more than the same truck with the 5.3L V8 under the hood.

Can diesel engines be clean?

Let's get granular about carbon dioxide emissions. By breaking it down with the help of the U.S. Department of Energy's fueleconomy.gov site, we can show you a side-by-side comparison of the Sierra's tailpipe CO2 impact:

  • 2024 Sierra 1500 with Duramax diesel: 416 grams per mile
  • 2024 Sierra 1500 with 6.2-liter V8: 539 grams per mile
  • 2024 Sierra 1500 with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder: 488 grams per mile

On paper, the diesel engine offers a smaller footprint for its emissions. That's just CO2, however, and doesn't include nitrogen oxide or others.

If you've never had a diesel-powered vehicle, note that you'll want to keep a close eye on your particulate filter and diesel exhaust fluid (like AdBlue, for example) to make sure they're keeping their clean-ride promises. Your filter should last you 100,000 miles or more, depending on the type of filter you have, the kind of environment where you drive, and the amount of towing you're doing.

Diesel pros and cons

Pro: Along with power and torque, diesel engines are known to last a long time. Take, for example, the famed 1976 240D driven by a Greek taxi driver for nearly 3 million miles before it was donated to the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Con: Diesel longevity can be a double-edged sword, as diesel engines can run for 30-plus years — that means there are millions of these engines still on the road that aren't nearly as clean. That includes thousands of used vehicles, so check out the emissions before you buy.

Pro: Diesel is also very efficient; even the U.S. Department of Energy says some diesel engines can go 20% to 35% farther on a gallon of fuel than their gasoline-powered counterparts. For example, my test 2024 GMC Sierra 1500 diesel gets a combined 24 miles per gallon (as estimated by the EPA), while the same truck powered by a 6.2-liter V8 is good for only about 16 mpg.

Con: On the downside, diesel exhaust contains several gases that cause less-than-desirable emissions, as does gasoline. To offset that issue, the government launched the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, funding grants and rebates to improve air quality by reducing harmful emissions from diesel engines.

Pro: If you're looking at a new GMC or Chevrolet diesel, EPA regulations have evened out the playing field, and you'll get that efficiency, longevity and capability you're looking for without the side effects of the past.

Edmunds says

With EVs front and center, diesel may not be as popular as it was in the past, but it certainly still has its benefits.


This story was produced by Edmunds and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.