Remember the old Mercedes-Benz diesels that sounded like the title car from the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?" They were loud, slow and spewed black, sooty smoke that would make a career smoker gag.

Those clanking old diesels had two big advantages: They returned excellent MPGs and were nearly indestructible.

Fast forward a few decades. Diesels are quiet, clean-burning and refined. They are also quite powerful thanks to efficient turbochargers and provide gobs or torque. They also still provide great MPGs and are still nearly indestructible.

While Europeans have embraced these ultra-powerful, long-lasting engines, Americans are just starting to catch on.

Clean-diesel sales were up 35 percent in the first quarter of 2012 year over year, an encouraging sign, considering that diesel sales were up 27 percent year over year in 2011.

Experts say higher fuel prices across the board are leading consumers toward the fuel-efficient vehicles. Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, says, "I expect clean-diesel sales to increase further as several new diesel cars are introduced in the U.S. market in the next year."

It's about time. Modern diesel engines are on par with hybrids in terms of fuel efficiency but are more powerful. They last a long time. Many consumers expect to get more than 200,000 miles out of their diesel engines.

Efficiency and longevity are just a few of the reasons why owning a diesel may be a smart move. Here's a few more: You can tow with a diesel engine; you can't with most hybrids.

Diesel technology has been around for decades, and is tried and true. There's nothing that stops many diesel drivers from going 600 miles or more on a single tank of gas.

If gasoline prices remain high, we could see the beginning of a golden age of diesel in America.