The best diesel cars
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...
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 can at least match their petrol counterparts for cleanliness. 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.
The latest Land Rover Defender isn't just for off-roading. Indeed, while it's wonderfully capable in the rough stuff, it's also a very accomplished SUV on the road, with comfy air suspension as standard (if you go for the 110 model) and a luxurious interior. Diesel versions of the Defender all use the same 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine with mild hybrid assistance to help keep your fuel bills under control, and of these it's the 296bhp D300 that has the most grunt. Indeed, it can haul the Defender to 62mph in just 7.0sec.
- Excellent off road
- Up to seven seats
- Slow depreciation
- Higher trim levels are very pricey
- Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are poor
- Tiny boot in 90 models
Diesel power suits the Audi Q5 large SUV very well, and the 201bhp 40 TDI diesel engine we recommend is one of the most impressive options in the range, feeling effortlessly strong from low down in the rev range, and benefitting from mild hybrid assistance to help assist the engine and reduce fuel consumption. Elsewhere, the Q5 is a fairly practical choice, with an interior that's a touch above most other options in this class. It features top-notch materials and feels well put together, and is loaded with useful technology, including an infotainment system that's easier to get along with than the one in the rival Volvo XC60.
- Smooth and punchy engines
- Good to drive
- High-quality interior
- Fiddly touchscreen infotainment system
- No seven-seat option
- Firm ride on S line and Edition 1 versions
Our reigning Coupé of the Year, the latest BMW 4 Series marries jaw-dropping looks with an engaging drive and even a relatively practical interior. We like both the range-topping M440i and the entry level 420i petrols, but if you'll be covering lots of miles it's the 420d diesel that we'd point you towards. It's powerful, with lots of low-down grunt to get you moving quickly, yet shouldn't cost a lot to run.
- More fun to drive than direct rivals
- Range-topping M440i is seriously rapid
- More room in the back than you might imagine
- Divisive looks
- Rival coupés have bigger boots
- Some wind and tyre noise
If you're in the market for a luxury SUV then you clearly appreciate the finer things in life, and we think the 282bhp 50 TDI diesel engine in the Audi Q7 is one such finer thing. It pulls effortlessly from low revs and can get you up to motorway speeds in just 6.2sec. Combine that with the Q7's other strengths, namely a beautifully made interior, lots of space for your family and all their luggage, and a comfy ride, and it's easy to see why this is a five-star luxury SUV. In fact, we reckon it's the most comfortable luxury SUV you can buy.
- Smooth and powerful engines
- Pillowy ride in Sport and S line trims
- Superb interior quality
- BMW X5 has a better infotainment system
- Third-row space is better in the BMW X7
- Plug-in hybrid model is average to drive
If big is beautiful, then the BMW X7 should be in the National Portrait Gallery. You see, it's the largest SUV BMW makes, and as such has acres of space on board for you, your passengers, and the kitchen sink they may wish to bring with them. It's so good, in fact, that we named it as the Best Luxury SUV for Big Families at the most recent What Car? Awards. Hauling around a heavy hitter like the X7 is best suited to a grunty diesel engine, and the xDrive40d model we recommend has 335bhp on tap to make the task as easy as asking for a refill of champagne.
- Super quiet and comfortable
- Incredibly spacious and practical
- Outstanding infotainment system
- There are cheaper alternatives
- Feels its size and weight on the road
- Looks won’t be to all tastes
A popular choice with company car drivers for its mile-munching ability and comfort, the latest Audi A4 is a fine example of a car that's best suited to a diesel engine. It's the entry level 161bhp 35 TDI option that's our favourite, because it mixes low-down punch with the kind of fuel economy that will have you and your accountant smiling. Elsewhere, it's well built inside, with high-quality materials which place it a cut above many of its rivals.
- Class-leading interior quality
- Smooth engines
- Entry-level engines are a touch weedy
- A BMW 3 Series is more fun to drive
- You can’t add many options
A former What Car? Car of the Year, the BMW 5 Series remains the best luxury car you can buy. It offers all the comfort, class and technology you could want, at a price that makes it look like a bargain compared with some of its class rivals. The entry-level 520d diesel engine provides all the power you'll need, too, being able to hit 62mph in just 7.2sec, while also keeping your running costs in check thanks to mild hybrid assistance.
- Agile and relatively comfortable – when fitted with standard wheels
- Beautifully made interior
- Superb infotainment system
- Adaptive suspension not available on SE trim
- A Volvo S90 has bigger rear seats
- A Mercedes E-Class has a bigger boot
The Skoda Superb Estate is the best car of its kind, offering more space than any family could reasonably want, along with the comfort and mile-munching ability to make even long journeys seem like a walk in the park. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is our pick of the Superb range, because it offers the kind of low-down grunt that will be especially useful if you plan on towing or regularly carrying heavy loads.
- Great value and well equipped
- Limo-like passenger space
- Huge boot with lots of additional practical touches
- Other rivals are more fun to drive
- Some premium rivals have better resale values
- The driving position isn't perfect
Picture the typical company car in your head, and the chances are that you're thinking of a BMW 3 Series. This stylish yet practical executive saloon is as synonymous with the executive car class as jam is with bread, and the good news is that it's the best car of its kind. The entry-level 148bhp 318d diesel engine has enough pull for most situations, but we'd recommend increasing your budget to get the 187bhp 320d if you can afford to, since you'll appreciate its extra punch.
- Brilliant fun to drive
- Class-leading infotainment system
- Great range of engines
- Ride is rather firm – particularly in M Sport versions
- Not as well finished inside as an Audi A4
- Adjustable lumbar support costs extra
The Range Rover Evoque is one of the most stylish SUVs you can buy, and there's plenty of substance to back up those eye-catching looks. It's well equipped, gives you a great driving position and hold its value brilliantly. Go for our recommended D200 diesel and you'll enjoy smooth acceleration as well as enough punch to execute swift overtakes. If you're in the market for a diesel-engined car, it's the model we recommend the most.
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- Great driving position
- Slow depreciation
- Limited boot space
- So-so fuel economy and emissions
- Land Rover’s reliability record
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