Diesel-powered engines became public enemy number one the minute Volkswagen Group admitted to programming illegal software into many of its TDI engines. The so-called defeat device turned off the car’s emissions control equipment (such as the urea injection system) under normal driving conditions, and turned them on only when the car was undergoing an emissions test.
Volkswagen’s announcement spurred a veritable witch-hunt against diesels on both sides of the pond, often in favor of other types of fuels like gasoline, electricity, and hydrogen. But when the cameras stop rolling and the mics are turned off, a majority of executives in the automotive industry admit diesel is key to meeting looming emissions targets. Modern diesel technology done the honest way “is better for the environment than [an equivalent] gasoline engine,” according to Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralph Speth.
The United States hasn’t been a big diesel market since the 1980s, but luckily not every automaker has abandoned the technology and jumped on the demonization bandwagon. A diesel-powered car, truck, or SUV is worth checking out if you’re looking for a clean, fuel-efficient vehicle capable of driving hundreds and hundreds of miles between fill-ups. Here are the best diesel cars on the American market.
Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
Why should you buy this: It’s an efficient, fun-to-drive compact that won’t break the bank.
Who’s it for: Commuters looking to save cash at the pump.
How much will it cost: $24,170+
Why we picked the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel:
Chevrolet openly wants to lure former TDI owners into showrooms, and it made sizable investments in clean diesel technology to reach its goal. The most affordable oil-burning Chevy is the compact Cruze, available as a hatchback or as a sedan.
Both models use the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, a unit rated at 137 horsepower and a stout 240 pound-feet of torque. Transmission options include a six-speed manual and a nine-speed automatic. Properly equipped, the diesel-slurping Cruze Sedan returns up to 52 mpg on the highway, meaning it’s more efficient than the Prius hybrid, the poster child of fuel efficiency.
Chevy estimates the Cruze Diesel offers a 700-mile range. You could drive from New York City to Indianapolis on one tank if your foot is light enough. And, at under $25,000, the Cruze is certainly more of a mass-market car than the electric Bolt. Of course, don’t expect the federal government to thank you for your purchase with a big ol’ tax break.
The best diesel SUV
Land Rover Range Rover Sport Td6
Why should you buy this: 443 lb-ft. of torque – ‘nuff said.
Who’s it for: Adventurers with something to tow.
How much will it cost: $68,750+
Why we picked the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Td6:
If you haven’t driven a diesel since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Td6 will leave you totally flabbergasted. It’s everything a modern diesel six-cylinder should be — quiet, smooth, powerful, and efficient. Land Rover went to great lengths to design an oil-burning engine it can market to discerning luxury buyers.
The 3.0-liter Td6 V6 develops 254 hp and a massive 443 lb-ft. It propels the SUV from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, which is comparable to the supercharged, gasoline-burning V6 also available on the entry-level Range Rover Sport. Land Rover estimates the diesel’s fuel economy is 32-percent better, however.
It’s not all about fuel mileage figures. The V6 generates peak torque at 1,750 rpm, so the Td6-powered Sport is well-suited to towing heavy loads and going far off the beaten path. Listen up, adventurers — this is the engine to order if you don’t want to step up to a more expensive V8-powered model.
The best diesel truck
Chevrolet Colorado Diesel
Why should you buy this: The Chevrolet Colorado Diesel is all the truck you’ll ever need.
Who’s it for: Buyers seeking a daily-drivable workhorse.
How much will it cost: $36,495+
Why we picked the Chevrolet Colorado Diesel:
Dropping a diesel engine in a compact pickup truck makes a lot of sense, especially for customers who need a reliable workhorse to drive daily. The oil-burner’s low-end torque makes towing and hauling a breeze, and the truck segment is one where any mpg improvement is welcomed with open arms.
Like the identical GMC Canyon, the Chevrolet Colorado benefits from a 2.8-liter four-cylinder developed by Duramax, the same company who designs the diesel engines used by Chevy’s heavy-duty trucks. It’s tuned to generate 181 hp and 369 lb-ft, and it returns up to 31 mpg on the highway. Additionally, Chevrolet notes the Colorado Diesel can tow up to 7,700 pounds when it’s properly equipped.
The Colorado Diesel is available in several configurations. The base truck comes with four doors and 61-inch long cargo bed. Buyers who need to put more junk in the trunk can order a 74-inch long bed, and those who want to hit the trail can select the ZR2 package. It adds serious off-road goodies like a special suspension with additional ground clearance, all-terrain tires, and skid plates.
The best diesel luxury car
Why should you buy this: Efficiency, performance, and luxury come together in the 328d.
Who’s it for: Luxury car shoppers who drive a lot.
How much will it cost: $41,750+
Why we picked the BMW 328d:
BMW demonstrated diesel and performance aren’t mutually exclusive when it introduced the first oil-burning 3 Series in Europe in the 1980s. That idea of a sporty, efficient sedan with a diesel engine under the hood lives on in the current 328d.
It offers what enthusiasts love about the 3 Series, including taut handling, responsive steering, and the upmarket interior. It’s not as quick to 60 mph as the gasoline-burning variants, but the bottom-end torque provides another way to have fun behind the wheel of Bimmer’s bread-and-butter model.
The 328d’s heart is a 2.0-liter turbo four rated at 180 hp and 280 lb-f. An eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive come standard, while BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system is offered at an extra cost. With this car, buyers don’t need to choose between efficiency and winter traction.
Fuel economy checks in at 31 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. To put those figures into perspective, the EPA states it costs $1.93 to drive the 328d for 25 miles, versus $2.71 for the comparable, gasoline-powered 320i. That may not sound like much – it’s not even the price of an espresso at Starbucks – but it adds up over weeks, months, and years of driving.
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The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.