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Power plant options for the Sporty... Diesel conversion?!?

Posted By: Peabody

Power plant options for the Sporty... Diesel conversion?!? - 04/27/15 07:13 PM

I've been looking into options for replacing the engine in my '97 Sporty. I have 160K miles on the vehicle as it sits and it's running very well for the age/mileage. I know one day I'll be in the position of dealing with a dead engine... or transmission... or both. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/zombie.gif" alt="" /> Fortunately, that day seems far over the horizon. But I decided to look into the options of dealing with the situation when it comes. And that's when I got to thinking about the costs and benefits of staying with the stock 2.0L DOHC... or converting to a VW 1.9L diesel (or the like). <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/scared.gif" alt="" />

Before I get into the stock vs. "sportenstein" debate, I want to bring my situation into perspective. I live in the Nanny State of California (aka "Commie-fornia"). And everything related to vehicle emissions is highly regulated - more so than any other state in the US. Thus, there are many restrictions and requirements imposed by the state at present... and likely getting more restrictive and ridiculous in the future. Here's an example: I took my Sporty in to get the required smog certification for my registration renewal. It had passed with flying colors 2 years before. And I had made no mods to the system in the time after. But it failed the test 2 years later because the catalytic converter wasn't the right one for the Sportage. It failed the "visual inspection" because the state had imposed a new requirement that every piece of equipment associated with the emissions system must be designed for that specific system (i.e. dealer part cataloged for that make/model or an aftermarket meeting the same specs <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/baby.gif" alt="" />). Somewhere before my purchase of the vehicle, someone had replaced the catalytic converter with GM/Pontiac-spec'd unit. And though the emissions values were excellent, I had to spend a few hundred bucks to get the perfectly-good cat replaced with the "approved" part. Nanny State. And it just keeps getting worse... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shame.gif" alt="" />

Staying stock is pretty straight forward. It would involve the cost of rebuilding my engine, finding a used-but-working replacement (they're all pretty high-mileage from what I've seen) or already-rebuilt engine (not so common)... or a new production unit (way over priced, if available).

The other option I've been considering is a diesel conversion. But that's not a simple undertaking, as the ECU is not programmable in the Sporty. So getting the electronics and parts to jive will require a bit of work. The advantage of going diesel in Cali, at present, is that diesels are "exempt" from emissions testing. The only requirements I've found are that the engine is same year or newer than the recipient vehicle ('97 in my case) and the emissions components are on par with the donor vehicle (i.e. the cat and sensors are configured as those from the donor ride, where applicable). Once those requirements are met, it's "no more smog for me, Mom!!!" <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shiner.gif" alt="" /> And then there's the added benefit of improved fuel economy, lower cost of diesel fuel (at the moment) and better low-end torque with the diesel.

So lets look at going diesel. I did some searching and found some interesting bits of trivia regarding the automatic transmission in the first gen Sportage here on this forum, much of which was investigated by Dave Scott. In a nutshell, there is a degree of commonality between the Sporty's AW 03-72LE tranny and those run in some Toyota, Volvo, Suzuki and Geo vehicles - enough commonality to support the potential for swapping bell housings to allow some degree of mix-and-match engine/trans/transfer case systems. That is a very simple explanation of the similarities. There's a lot more involved. So don't walk away from this thinking it's a plug-n-play arrangement. Here's the link: Sporty auto trans thread . The discussion is long, heated, conflicting, but very informative, though not concluded. But it indicates options are possible.

From reading it and other Suzuki-focused threads on other forums, I came away with the idea that the simplest way to convert my Sporty to diesel would involve a VW TD/TDI engine mated to a Volvo AW 03-71/72/71L/72L trans (possible bell housing swap) OR a Toyota auto trans (mechanical controlled, if available) and a 23 spline Toyota transfer case. There are mating kits for the VW to Toy and Suzuki trannies. The Volvo version of trans has vacuum/mechanical controlled shifting, thus eliminating the need for any ECU interface. And it has a 23 spline output shaft that will mate with one of the Toyota t-cases. I'm not sure about the orientation of the output shafts on the t-case, which is important. Going VW-Toy-Toy (engine-trans-t-case) would likely be simplest, as it would probably involve the most off-the-shelf parts/kit(s)/wiring/controls used in the already-proven Toy-TDI conversion. But going with a manual controlled auto trans (my pref) simplifies the ECU control requirements for a functional system. And I'm all about simplicity, even though a diesel swap is not simple compared to keeping with stock. I'll stop there and open the discussion on the concept.

Note: I'm focused on converting "my" Sporty to diesel in the context of finding a realistic configuration that will satisfy the Nanny State, but would also serve as a template for others in the US or other parts of the world where the factory diesel versions of the Sportage were not imported and where the Mazda R2/RF diesel engines are not available (like the US, to the best of my knowledge). That's why I'm looking and the VW conversion, in addition to the number of HP-gaining mods that are available for that engine... which aren't an issue in Commie-fornia because once exempt, always exempt! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/evil.gif" alt="" />

... For the time being... <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/baby.gif" alt="" />

Let the chatter begin!!! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/patriot.gif" alt="" />
Posted By: Tommychu

Re: Power plant options for the Sporty... Diesel conversion?!? - 06/08/15 06:30 PM

I've researched doing something similar. I ended up rebuilding my FE for the simplicity, but the emissions thing isn't a factor here in Alberta where straight pipes and cat deletes are the rule rather than the exception (it's basically Mad Max but with snow up here :P).
We did indeed get diesel F-motors here. Any 4cyl Diesel Ford (Bricknose Ranger, Tempo/Topaz, Escort, one or two others) or B-truck (from before they were a Ranger with upside-down taillights) from the late '80s or early '90s has one. You'd likely need one from a Ranger/Btruck because of the thermostat location, Mazda moved the stat to the back of the head on FWD applications (that's why our FE3 heads have that little plate at the back of the head, they didn't eleminate the rear thermostat boss when they adapted our head castings to a longitudinal application).
Only issue is they were IDI non-turbo engines with something like 60hp- and LESS torque than the gas FE3. But they are bell-compatible with our transmissions and because they use a mechanical injection pump you can delete all of the EFI components in the Kia- a mechanical diesel only needs 3 wires and a fuel supply to run (plus sensors to run the gauges). And you could bump the output to a reasonable level if you find the injection pump and turbo manifold from a newer, overseas RF-T. There are lots of JDM parts suppliers around thanks to the Fast-n-Furious crowd, and I'm willing to bet they could get you a whole modern RF-T out of a Bongo (the van the Sportage shares its chassis with) if you're willing to wait for them to find one. And JDM stuff is crazy cheap, since older vehicles are taxed out the wazoo people just toss perfectly good low-mileage vehicles and parts because it's actually cheaper to get a new car. Then it all gets thrown in a can and shipped across the Pacific.
Also you mention a vacuum controlled transmission, I hope you're aware that Diesels don't pull a vacuum since there's no throttle (your right foot controls fuel flow only, diesels take a full 'gulp' of air every cycle whether you're at idle or your foot's on the floor). Brake boosters are a concern too because of this, you'll either be fitting a vacuum pump or switching to hydroboost. And I'm not sure that a vacuum pump would be a good fit fore a vacuum controlled tranny either since a pump's vacuum depends on RPM only, whereas a gas engine's vacuum level depends on engine load, throttle position AND RPM. Basically if you go diesel you're best off with a manual.
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