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Clean Break From Diesels of Past

The Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC is cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient than previous diesels. Illustrates WHEELS-MERCEDES (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Mercedes)

The Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC is cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient than previous diesels. Illustrates WHEELS-MERCEDES (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Mercedes)

And here is the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 Bluetec. It, too, is a diesel-fueled vehicle, one of 25 the Germans are selling in the United States this year.

Diesel numbers will grow as U.S. and Asian automobile manufacturers slowly, but surely, begin introducing diesel vehicles of their own. A total of 31 diesel passenger-commercial models are on sale in this country. For a more detailed list of diesel offerings, check edmunds.com/diesel.

The very existence of such a list indicates the resurgence of diesel power in the U.S. auto market. It has been a long time coming.

The growth of diesel technology in this country had been hampered by environmental politics, manufacturer miscues — especially on the part of General Motors in the mid-1980s — and a generally bad public image. The American public’s view of diesel vehicles had been distorted by too many instances of being stuck behind dirty, rumbling, soot-belching diesel trucks and buses. It was once easy to spot a diesel automobile, even without seeing its nameplate. All you had to do was look at the crusty soot build-up around its tailpipe. The deep-throated gurgling noise emitted by a diesel engine was also a giveaway.

Modern diesel technology is substantially different, as evidenced by the 2014 Audi 3.0 Q5 TDI Premium Plus Quattro crossover-utility vehicle reviewed here last week; and by the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 Bluetec crossover (a.k.a., wagon), which is the subject of this week’s column.

Both the Q5 TDI and the GLK 250 Bluetec are cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient than previous diesels. Both are elegant, entry-level luxury (base prices of $40,000 to $55,000) vehicles. Both offer fun on the drive and ample utility in homage to practicality and common sense.

Of the two, I prefer the GLK 250 Bluetec. It is more reasonably priced — a $38,980 base price, as opposed to $46,629 for the Q5 TDI Premium Plus Quattro. Although both models are labeled “compacts” by the Environmental Protection Agency, the GLK 250 Bluetec looks, feels and handles smaller.

“Looks, feels … smaller” is verified by one significant measurement: cargo space. With its rear seats up, the Q5 TDI has 29.1 cubic feet of cargo space. The GLK 250 Bluetec has 23.3.

The Q5 TDI also offers more power — 240 horsepower and a stupendous 428 pound-feet of torque from a 3-liter, turbocharged (forced air) diesel V-6, compared with 200 horsepower and a quite respectable 369 pound-feet of torque generated by the GLK 250 Bluetec’s turbocharged, 2-liter, inline four-cylinder engine.

Still, I prefer the GLK 250 Bluetec. Financially and operationally, it fits more easily into my life, although it is a tad noisier than the Q5 TDI. I can live with that difference, and all of the other differences between the GLK 250 Bluetec and its Audi rival. The GLK 250 Bluetec simply makes more sense for how I live.

In terms of vehicles, that lifestyle is tilted toward smaller and more fuel-efficient. Yet, it does not eschew elegance. In fact, it requires it. The GLK 250 Bluetec meets those needs.

For the week I had it, I anxiously looked forward to driving it, which I did all over central Virginia. It is a crossover-utility vehicle easy on the nerves in weather good and foul. It is also relatively easy on fuel consumption — 24 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, compared with 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg in the city for the Q5 TDI.

Diesel engines generally are 30 percent more efficient than gasoline models. I applaud the German manufacturers for taking them seriously in the U.S. market. Here’s hoping that the Americans and Asians will embrace the technology with a similar passion.