More and more Americans are finding the pros (and cons, but mostly pros) of diesel fuel, and in response, more and more manufacturers have been only too happy to satisfy that demand with new lines of engines that meet the U.S. emissions codes for passenger vehicles. Remember, these diesels aren’t the diesels of old — the black smoke-spewing, noisy power plants that many automatically associate with the term. Today’s diesels are far more refined, and for non-auto folks, it’s pretty difficult to tell a non-diesel from a diesel based on looks alone.
But diesels are often far more expensive than their comparative gasoline models, so what’s the point? For one, diesel cars and trucks offer far better fuel economy, but without a significant trade-off to performance, which is a key drawback for hybrids. They also offer more torque, which makes them ideal for towing or simply carrying large amounts of weight for whatever reason.
Now, from hatchbacks to pickups, there’s a diesel vehicle for just about everyone willing to part with the extra cash. The segment is still dominated by luxury brands like Audi, Mercedes and BMW, but with entries like the Chevrolet Cruze, diesels are catching on once again as an increasingly popular play on an efficient vehicle.
1. Pickup Truck: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
At 28 miles per gallon highway, the Ram (FIATY.PK) 1500 pickup doesn’t just sport the best mileage in its class, but it beats the mileage some midsize sedans can achieve. This puts the Ram at the top of its segment for fuel consumption, but it’s no slouch either, with 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. It can tow 9,200 pounds as a result, and all from Fiat’s handy 3.0 liter diesel V6. In its category, the Ram is without peers — it’s currently the only light-duty pickup available with the diesel option.
2. Hatchback: Volkswagen Golf TDI
A super efficient 2.0 liter diesel engine shoe-horned into a small and compact (yet highly versatile and capable) hatchback frame makes for one of the most efficient compacts on the road today. Though the Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) Golf is rated for 30 miles per gallon in the city and 42 on the highway, drivers often report that they exceed these numbers regularly, logging in excess of 50 on the highway and low 40s in urban driving. The Golf TDI also adds a premium-feeling interior and sport suspension, so it’s as fun as it is efficient.
3. Compact Sedan: Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
As far as diesels in the U.S. go, the Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Cruze might be the most efficient of all, rated for 27 miles per gallon in the city and 46 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s slightly more powerful than the Golf (of Jetta) with 151 horsepower, and also offers a healthy dose of torque, at 264 pound-feet. With a highway driving range of 717 miles, it also boasts the furthest in its class, and its starting price around $25,000 makes it relatively affordable for a car with its eco-minded performance.
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4. Midsize Sedan: Volkswagen Passat TDI
If it’s highway range you’re looking for, perhaps no car bests the VW Passat TDI, and its 795 mile driving range on a single tank. Astonishingly, this car set the record for highest average fuel economy, returning 77.9 miles per gallon over 8,122 miles. Though that’s far from typical, it demonstrates the Passat’s unreal ability to achieve class-leading fuel economy — an impressive feat for a car of its size.
5. Full-Size Sedan: Audi A8L TDI
Granted, there are few large sedans available outside the luxury sphere, and for diesels, that number decreases to zero, pretty much. However, if size and elegance are of concern and money isn’t, the Audi A8 TDI is a brilliant balance between driving dynamics, fuel efficiency, comfort, and elegance. Despite its yacht-like stature, the A8L can manage 26 miles per gallon in the city, and 36 on the highway — stuff seen by the likes of a gasoline-powered compact hatchback or sedan. Further, it produces a respectable 240 horsepower, which is decent, but 406 pound-feet of torque at under 2,000 RPM — which is in pickup truck territory.
6. Small SUV: Mercedes-Benz GLK Class
Despite its status as an SUV, the Mercedes (DDAIF.PK) GLK crossover manages 24 miles per gallon in the city, and 33 on the highway — numbers more in line with a gasoline-fueled compact crossover or sedan. It competes with the Audi Q5 TDI, which offers similar figures. It still musters 200 horsepower, even though the power comes from a small 2.1 liter inline-four. Perhaps best of all, it starts under $40,000, and for a Benz, that’s saying something.
7. Jeep Cherokee EcoDiesel
The Jeep Grand Cherokee uses the same 3.0 liter EcoDiesel V6 found in the Ram 1500, though in the Cherokee, you get all the creature comforts of a luxury SUV. You also get better fuel efficiency; the Cherokee manages 30 miles per gallon on the highway, and can tug or tow virtually any normal-sized load you throw at it. And, as with most Jeeps, its Trail-Rated for the times when asphalt seems unnecessary, but remains completely civilized when it is.
8. Large SUV: Mercedes-Benz GL Class
If you need to carry several people and lots of gear around, but want to do so in the swankiest of rides with the highest possible mileage, the Mercedes GL has you covered. It’s the biggest non-commercial vehicle that Mercedes makes, though it still returns 19 miles per gallon in urban areas and 26 on the highway from its 240 horsepower 3.0 liter turbo-diesel V6. Naturally, buyers are given all the normal Mercedes accouterments, and at the very Mercedes price of $63,000.
9. Station Wagon: BMW 328d Touring
Though station wagons have largely bowed out to make way for crossover SUVs, the BMW 328d Touring is very alive and kicking. It comes standard with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive, 180 horsepower, and a 43-mile-per-gallon rating for the highway, making it among the most efficient family haulers on the market. It’s all the luxury of a BMW, the efficiency of a diesel, and the capability and versatility of a wagon. What’s not to like?