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November 2007 4X Forward - Diesel Vehicles

Posted in Features on November 1, 2007
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Two issues ago (Sept. '07) we ran our first diesel-dedicated issue of 4-Wheel & Off Road magazine, and by all accounts it was well received from our subscribers as well as the newsstand buyers. And for good reason, asdiesel-powered vehicles will continue to be an important trend in our sport as well as the automotive industry in general. Take a look at Europe, where they have been pushing diesel for years, and the fact that you can almost always find diesel in the farthest reaches of the third world, while gasoline may be in short supply. Biodiesel will also play an important role, but it, like hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles, will not be the panacea to our dependence on foreign oil or saving a buck or two at the pump.

The fact remains that diesel is popular because of better fuel efficiency, generally less cost to produce than other petrochemicals, and somewhat safer in the volatility department. It has a better record in emissions even though it produces more so-called greenhouse gases, but offsets that by its increased efficiency. The higher energy output compared to gasoline is effective in everything from one-cylinder whump-whump generators to over-the-road truckers and everything in between. However, the U.S. has been slow to accept diesel from the consumer standpoint due to the perceived smell, soot, and a few old-timers who remember the diesel cars and trucks that GM tried in the '80s which were pretty much a disaster. And as far as government regulation, the increasing popularity has taken the industry by storm to produce the new Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel (ULSD) required to make our new engines.

No, this doesn't mean we are going to be the next diesel-only magazine. It's just that we recognize the popularity of the trend, even though we have been with it from the start. That's right, our diesel roots include Tech Editor Fred Williams' three-cylinder Diesel Cerlist in his '64 FC, as well as the new guy Ali Mansour's diesel-powered Isuzu Trooper. Then again I've always lusted after a '60s CJ-5 with a Perkins diesel if that counts, and Jerrod Jones is still looking for a diesel rig to drool on. Art Director Alan Huber set his brother's truck up with a load of Banks goodies, so we know he's scratched the itch. But our glory is, of course, slipping the 5.9L Cummins diesel into our new JK Jeep Wrangler. As seen in our Ultimate Adventure coverage in this issue as well as Part 4 of the UAJK buildup, the big, heavy, and powerful motor from a 1-ton Dodge Mega Cab proved to be a potent powerplant for daily driving and wheeling around the great state of Texas.

After driving the beast for a few thousand miles of road trip and wheeling venues, I have to admit that it simply rules the road and trail. While sometimes difficult to figure out what gear will give maximum tire spin for sand and mud (which is my fault, not the engine's), the torque and driveability is phenomenal, as is the ability to tow a house behind the Jeep without a whimper. We never saw a single trace of black smoke, and we smelled more diesel fumes filling it up than from the tailpipe the whole trip. Couple that with average fuel economy of 15.6 mpg and a top speed around 90 mph, and who could complain? This rig weighs in at over 3 tons and has 4.56 gears and 42-inch-diameter tires! Show me a 460- or 454-powered ride with similar features and I'll bet they get fuel economy figures no better than high single digits. I'm not saying that we're great and make awesome rides (although we do!), but the fact is that many more options and variants are available for these engine/vehicle combos, and we hope the aftermarket and our auto manufacturers can see the light. Diesels won't replace gas power in one swoop, but it has its place in many forms of our hobby as well as that other world, so give it a chance and hook our wagon to a diesel dualie.

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