If you visit any gas station, you’ll notice the special, differently-colored pump marked “diesel.” You may have wondered how diesel fuel differs from gasoline, and which vehicles run on diesel fuel. This article will note the differences between diesel and gasoline and will highlight the best diesel cars on the market today.

Diesel Vs. Gasoline:

The basic difference between a diesel engine and a gasoline-powered engine is that in a gas engine, fuel and air is mixed inside a combustion chamber, and ignited by a spark plug. Modern diesel powertrains compress the air first, which causes heat, and when the fuel is added, combustion happens without the use of a spark plug. 

Diesel engines are typically heavier and more powerful than gasoline engines, giving them a higher towing capacity, which is why they are commonly found in semi trucks. Diesel engines have less horsepower than their gasoline counterparts, but they have more lb-ft of torque to contribute to their towing prowess and off-road capability. Along with semi and pickup trucks, diesel engines can also be found in SUVs and crossovers when combined with four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

Diesel vehicles are usually more fuel efficient than their gasoline counterparts, though more efficient modern gas engines are creeping up on diesels, especially in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. A well-maintained diesel engine will usually outlast a comparable gasoline engine. Diesel-powered vehicles are typically more expensive then the gasoline equivalent, while diesel fuel, once much cheaper per gallon than gas, is often comparable in price today. 

Diesel engine options aren’t as common as they used to be, partly due to the negative publicity from “Dieselgate” headlines when Volkswagen TDIs were proven to have cheated the EPA emissions certification system. While there are many diesel SUVs and trucks to choose from, there are not any new diesel passenger cars in production, but there are used versions that can be found on the market. 

Best Diesel Cars:

Our top three diesel-powered cars – and there aren’t many recent models to choose from, as diesels seem to make more sense in trucks and SUVs – are all from European automakers, where diesel cars are very common due to the high cost of fuel. The full list of cars with diesel engines shows many discontinued models in the U.S. markets, so new car versions aren’t available, but you can still come across these models as used cars. The compact Chevrolet Cruze hatchback or sedan stands out as the only non-luxury vehicle to make the list.

Leading the list of diesel models with an 8.5 rating is the BMW 3-Series with the optional diesel engine, the 328d, as in “d” for diesel. The car is far, far more popular overseas than it was in North America, and they are hard to find. They use 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engines with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

In second place is another diesel-powered BMW, the larger 5-series with a 7.9 rating. The 535d comes with a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder and an eight-speed automatic transmission that earns a combined 30 mpg. BMW discontinued the diesel engine for 2019, but 2018 versions and older of the 3-Series and the 5-Series are available with this engine.

Rounding out the top three is the Jaguar XF with a 7.3 rating. The optional Ingenium turbodiesel engine is a 2.0-liter with an eight-speed automatic transmission. You may have to look hard for one – they’re few and far between and were discontinued after the 2019 model year.

Best Diesel Cars
Rank Vehicle iSeeCars Quality Score Combined MPG
1 BMW 3 Series 8.5 36
2 BMW 5 Series 7.9 30
3 Jaguar XF 7.3 35
4 Jaguar XE 36
5 Chevrolet Cruze 37

Best Diesel SUVs

The best diesel SUVs start with two Jeep models, the 3.0-liter turbodiesel Wrangler Unlimited, with a score of 8.8, and the ecodiesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee at 8.3. Both feature a turbo diesel engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

The Mazda CX-5, which is one of the Best Small SUVs available, comes next with an 8.3 score. The CX-5 features Skyactiv-D, introduced in the 2019 model year and features a 2.2-liter turbocharged engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission with standard all-wheel drive (AWD).

Best Diesel SUVs
Rank Vehicle iSeeCars Quality Score Combined MPG Max Horsepower Max Torque Towing Capacity
1 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 8.8 29 260 442 3500
2 Jeep Grand Cherokee 8.3 24 240 420 7400
3 Mazda CX-5 8.3 28 168 290 3500
4 Chevrolet Tahoe 8.2 24 277 460 8200
5 GMC Yukon 8.1 23 277 460 8200
6 Chevrolet Suburban 8.0 23 277 460 8000
7 GMC Terrain 8.0 32 137 240 1500
8 GMC Yukon XL 7.9 23 277 460 8100
9 Chevrolet Equinox 7.8 32 137 240 1500

Best Diesel Trucks

Of the 60 or so 2021 and 2022 new vehicles listed by the EPA’s Fueleconomy.gov website, 32 are pickups, so you’ll have a healthy selection of diesel-powered trucks, both new and used. 

Fronting our list is the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 with the optional Duramax diesel, and a score of 8.3. The turbomax diesel engine is available in the truck’s LT, RST, LTZ, and High Country trim levels. The nearly identical GMC Sierra 1500, with a score of 8.2, comes in at third place with the same drivetrain specs as the Chevy Silverado. The newer models have a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder, with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Both models increased their towing capacity by nearly 4,000 pounds for their 2022 redesign.

Slotting into the second position between the pair of GM trucks is the Ford F150 with the optional diesel, also scoring an 8.3. the newest models are powered by a Powerstroke 3.0-liter turbo six-cylinder with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Powerstroke diesel engine was discontinued after the 2021 model year.

Best Diesel Pickups
Rank Vehicle iSeeCars Quality Score Combined MPG Max Horsepower Max Torque Towing Capacity
1 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 8.3 27 277 460 9,500
2 Ford F-150 8.3 23 250 440 12,100
3 GMC Sierra 1500 8.2 26 277 460 9,500
4 GMC Canyon 8.0 23 186 369 7,700
5 Chevrolet Colorado 8.0 23 186 369 7,700
6 Ram Pickup 1500 7.9 26 260 480 12,560
7 Nissan Titan XD 6.5 18 400 413 11000
Bottom Line:

If you want a diesel-powered vehicle, these are the best diesel cars you can buy. Diesel-powered vehicles achieve the best fuel economy compared to gasoline engines, and diesel trucks and SUVs can tow and haul considerably more than their base engines. While new diesel passenger cars are no longer readily available in the U.S. market, there are a number of diesel trucks and SUVs to choose from.

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