Best diesel cars 2021

If you're in the market for an SUV, an executive saloon or something for towing, diesel cars still make a lot of financial sense. Here we count down our favourites...


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What Car? team

Diesel has received a lot of bad press in recent years, and while it's true that diesel engines – especially older ones – can be more polluting than petrols, a diesel-powered car still makes a great deal of sense for drivers who cover lots of miles.

Indeed, despite the negative headlines, our independent tests have shown that the latest diesel engines are, in some cases, cleaner than their petrol counterparts.

What's more, they're almost always more efficient. And, in larger cars, the strong low-down pulling power of a diesel engine usually makes it preferable to a higher revving petrol.

Here, we've rounded up our favourite diesel-powered cars. In each case, you can find out more about it or see how much our New Car Buying service could save you by clicking on the relevant link.

10

BMW X3 xDrive20d MHT

The X3 is a great choice if you're looking for a prestige SUV with five seats. Keen drivers will like its strong yet smooth 2.0-litre diesel engine and top-notch handling, while passengers can enjoy the plush and spacious interior. You also get BMW's iDrive infotainment system, which is the best around.

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Pros

  • Sharp handling
  • Class-leading infotainment
  • Strong engines

Cons

  • Slightly firm ride in M Sport trim
  • Popular 20d engine sounds relatively gruff
  • Comparatively pricey PCP finance
9

Audi A4 40 TDI quattro

Recently facelifted, the A4 is hard to fault, which is why we named it our overall Car of the Year back in 2016. As you'd expect, the ride is comfortable and the interior incredibly classy. Go for our recommended 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine (badged 40 TDI) and you'll also enjoy prodigious performance and good fuel economy.

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Pros

  • Class-leading interior quality
  • Smooth engines
  • Well-equipped

Cons

  • Entry-level engines are a touch weedy
  • A BMW 3 Series is more fun to drive
  • You can’t add many options
8

Range Rover Velar D180

If you want the luxury of a Range Rover, but can live without much of its prodigious off-road ability, then the Velar is for you. It's luxurious inside, has a massive boot and the D180 engine we recommend is also surprisingly economical. It might be the smallest engine in the range, but this 2.0-litre diesel still offers 187bhp – enough to haul the Velar to motorway speeds with impressive gusto.

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Pros

  • Decent economy with diesels and plug-in
  • Smooth and punchy D300 engine
  • Good off road

Cons

  • Average rear leg room
  • Wallowy handling
  • Some cheap plastics inside
7

Skoda Superb Estate 2.0 TDI 150

The regular Skoda Superb is already hugely spacious, but if you need to haul around industrial volumes of cargo, then the Superb Estate is what you'll want. It has more space than the average cruise liner, a smart interior and represents exceptional value for money. Our recommended 2.0-litre diesel engine has 148bhp on tap, and is well suited to motorway cruising.

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Pros

  • Great value and well equipped
  • Limo-like passenger space
  • Huge boot with lots of additional practical touches

Cons

  • Other rivals are more fun to drive
  • Some premium rivals have better resale values
  • The driving position isn't perfect
6

Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro

Beautifully made and quiet as a mouse, the latest Q5 feels like a far more expensive car than it actually is. As in the A4, the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is the one to go for, because it has plenty of oomph to get you going, yet also CO2 emissions low enough to keep your company car tax bills competitive.

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Pros

  • Smooth and punchy engines
  • Good to drive
  • High-quality interior

Cons

  • Fiddly touchscreen infotainment system
  • No seven-seat option
  • Firm ride on S line and Edition 1 versions
5

BMW 3 Series 320d

The 3 Series is our reigning champion in the highly competitive executive saloon class, beating rivals that include the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. The 3 Series features a strong 2.0-litre diesel engine in 320d form, and is huge fun to drive. Add in BMW's impressive iDrive infotainment system and it's a fantastic choice.

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Pros

  • Brilliant fun to drive
  • Class-leading infotainment system
  • Great range of engines

Cons

  • Ride is rather firm – particularly in M Sport versions
  • Not as well finished inside as an Audi A4
  • Adjustable lumbar support costs extra
4

Volvo XC40 D3

Volvo's family SUV is brimming with both style and kit, while also being spacious and one of the very best cars of its type to drive. It's so good, in fact, that we named it as our overall Car of the Year in 2018. The 148bhp 2.0-litre D3 diesel is our recommended choice, because it's more flexible than the petrol T3, so more relaxing to drive. It's economical, too, returning an impressive 42.9mpg in our True MPG test.

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Pros

  • Stylish and high-quality interior
  • Comfortable ride on most versions
  • Comprehensive safety kit

Cons

  • Lacks the rear seat flexibility of some rivals
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Road noise on the motorway
3

Audi Q7 50 TDI

Audi's seven-seat luxury SUV is the best cars of its kind. It's incredibly quiet, comfortable to sit in and pleasantly efficient to run, while its interior is plush enough to shame most luxury saloons. As if all that weren't enough, the Q7 is extremely practical, having plenty of space for families and their luggage. The 50 TDI diesel engine is the mid-point of the Q7 range and makes acceleration effortless.

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Pros

  • Smooth and powerful engines
  • Pillowy ride in Sport and S line trims
  • Superb interior quality

Cons

  • BMW X5 has a better infotainment system
  • Third-row space is better in the BMW X7
  • Plug-in hybrid model is average to drive
2

BMW 5 Series 520d MHT

The 5 Series won our overall Car of the Year Award in 2017 and remains the best luxury car you can buy. Its interior quality shames rivals that cost twice as much, plus it's great to drive, incredibly quiet and very comfortable. There's a reason the 2.0-litre diesel-engined 520d is the most popular version among British buyers, too: it's brawny, with plenty of power, but also impressively frugal.

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Pros

  • Agile and relatively comfortable – when fitted with standard wheels
  • Beautifully made interior
  • Superb infotainment system

Cons

  • Adaptive suspension not available on SE trim
  • A Volvo S90 has bigger rear seats
  • A Mercedes E-Class has a bigger boot
1

Range Rover Evoque D180

The Range Rover Evoque is one of the most stylish SUVs you can buy, and there's plenty of substance to back up those looks. It's well equipped, gives you a great driving position and hold its value brilliantly. Go for our recommended D180 diesel and you'll enjoy smooth acceleration as well as enough punch to execute swift overtakes.

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Pros

  • Great driving position
  • Well-equipped
  • Slow depreciation

Cons

  • Limited boot space
  • So-so fuel economy and emissions
  • Land Rover’s reliability record