I figured out why Germans love diesel engines when I pulled out to pass a V8 BMW 740i on the autobahn in a four-cylinder Jeep Liberty diesel.
Press the accelerator, watch the speedometer move smoothly from 70 m.p.h. to just over 100 m.p.h., then watch the 7-series recede in the rearview mirror.
A Liberty with what promises to be a more powerful and sophisticated diesel engine will go on sale in the United States next year as a 2005 model.
The 2.8-liter 4-cylinder diesel Liberty I drove may only produce 148 horsepower, but it packs 266 pound-feet of torque -- nearly as much as the acclaimed 4.2-liter six-cylinder that powers the considerably heavier Chevrolet Trailblazer -- and torque is the number that matters for acceleration and towing.
Even more impressive, the Liberty generates that torque at engine speeds as low as 2,000 r.p.m., making the power available in regular driving, not just during heavy acceleration.
Germans cherish their right to drive fast with an ardor Americans usually reserve for things like freedom of speech, and the Mercedes-built diesel under the Liberty's hood is the equivalent of a megaphone.
Germans also cherish quaint concepts like paid maternity leave and functioning mass transit, and their sky-high fuel prices reflect the taxes that finance such public goods. A liter -- just over a quart -- of gasoline cost 1.129 euros -- about $1.23 -- at the service station where I topped off the Liberty. That works out to $4.66 a gallon. Diesel cost 0.899 euros a liter, about 98 cents, a 20 percent savings. The Liberty's $38,586 price also includes substantial German taxes.