Read our mini-reviews of the best diesel cars and get some help choosing the right one for you and your needs.
Diesel engines offer several benefits over gas engines. The diesel engines used in cars today are much quieter than those from a decade ago. You’ve probably been in a drive through trying to order food at some point and couldn’t hear the attendant over a diesel car or truck that was in line with you. While trucks still make a lot of noise, diesel cars are much quieter now.
However, the noise factor is a minor footnote on the list of why a diesel car is a solid option for your next vehicle. The best reasons to buy a diesel car include:
That said, diesel engines aren’t without problems. They tend to take longer to wake up in colder climates. Some engines require preheating before they'll start while some must be plugged into an electrical outlet on cold nights or they won’t start in the morning. Newer diesel engines deal with cold much better, but they’re still a little sluggish until they warm up.
Vehicles with diesel engines tend to cost more. It doesn’t cost the manufacturer much more to make a diesel engine and put it in a car, but they make fewer diesel cars than gas cars, so supply and demand drive the prices up a little. Diesel engines require more expensive maintenance as well. However, since they require less maintenance, we could argue that the overall costs are roughly the same as a gas car.
Overall, the benefits of owning a diesel car far outweigh the downsides. Car makers still make fewer diesel cars, but the choices are growing, and it's getting hard to pick a vehicle from the options available. We’ve taken some of the work out of it for you and compiled a list of the best diesel cars. We’ve done all the research to help you make an informed decision.
How We Chose the Diesel Cars on Our List
The process was much simpler for us than it is for you. We didn’t consider what the car looks like or the color which are two critical parts of the decision-making process you’ll have to deal with alone. We looked at many things, but the opinions of current owners played the most significant role in which diesel cars we chose for our list.
Fuel economy and estimated maintenance costs weighed heavily on our decisions. Diesel engines require less maintenance and fuel compared to gas engines, but some diesel cars will always get better fuel mileage than some others. That’s just the nature of engines and car designs. The cost of the car played a minor role in our decisions since we focused on fuel economy backed by owner comments.
The Best Diesel Cars
This list wasn’t compiled in any order. It’s just a list of cars with mini-reviews to help you get some insight into what the car offers. Check the buying guide section for information on which cars we like best or which ones perform better on specific scales. That said, the first one on the list is the best overall diesel car on the market at the time of this writing.
Chevrolet invested a lot of money in clean diesel engine technology to create one of the best diesel cars on the market. You can get the Cruze in a sedan or a hatchback design. Aside from being the most affordable compact diesel car, it also gets excellent fuel mileage, and it's fun to drive. It's not a bad looking car in our opinion as well.
The average cost for this car with the most common features is a bit afforble. That’s well within the affordable range for most people. The four-cylinder diesel engine produces plenty of horsepower for commuting to work and touring mountain roads with the family. The average 52 mpg you get on the highway is a nice bonus as well.
People that own the Chevy Cruze love them. On the highway, unless you have a heavy foot, the Cruze gets an estimated 700 miles per tank of fuel. That stat alone coupled with the miles per gallon stats make it just as efficient as a Prius. If you’re looking for a reliable, fuel efficient diesel car, the Chevrolet Cruze is undoubtedly on the top of the list.
This luxury car is a strong competitor for the BMW 330i. Most people won’t equate Mazda with BMW, but this car is breaking the rules. You can get it with a four-cylinder diesel engine that offers plenty of horsepower and torque. Its price tag is right at the top of the line we consider the end of the affordable scale.
It's cheaper than the 330i, but the fuel economy is lower. The Mazda 6 gets about 33 mpg on the highway which is not excellent fuel mileage for a diesel car. Some gas engines perform better and offer a wider variety of vehicle choices. However, this care is a strong second choice if the BMW proves too expensive for your budget.
Mazda has a good reputation as a car manufacturer, so you can safely assume this vehicle will be reliable and last a long time if you take care of it. It’s a good backup choice if you don’t mind the lower fuel mileage and can’t afford a 330i.
This car was in first place for our overall best diesel car title but eventually lost its position because the Chevrolet Cruze is much cheaper and gets better fuel mileage. Some might consider the A3 a compact luxury car, but such a thing does not exist. You’re either a luxury car or a compact car. That said, this car comes packed with plenty of luxury, so we can see why there’s some argument.
It comes with a powerful four-cylinder diesel engine that will perform well on mountain roads or flat desert highways. It gets around 43 mpg on the highway which is what initially put it in the top spot on our list. However, the cheaper Cruze won us over with its price and excellent fuel mileage.
Owners of the Audi A3 say it’s one of the best compact cars they’ve owned. Many of them consider it a compact luxury car in spite of the contradictions. We can certainly see why they may want to stick with that comment. One thing that may sway some car buyers away from the Cruze is the design of the A3. It’s a beautiful car and better looking than the Chevrolet Cruze.
The Jetta is a strong competitor for a spot near the top of our list. It's well within the affordable range for most people, and it performs well. It's a compact car, and there's no debate about whether or not it might get listed as a luxury car, but it's roomy and comes with plenty of options depending on what you choose and what you can afford.
Compared to the other cars on our list, the Jetta is the most affordable. It gets about 40 mpg on the highway and doesn't have any problems keeping up with traffic on the freeway. It’s a great commuter or uses it as a starter car for a teenager. You won't be disappointed in the Jetta.
People that own a Jetta love them, and most seem surprised at how roomy the car is on the inside. Its small size leads many people to overlook the Jetta because they assume it might be cramped on the inside. However, it will accommodate a family of four on a weekend trip if you pack wisely and keep the kids entertained on the trip.
This car was another contender for the luxury diesel car category. However, they tend to cost a lot new or used. Any of the E300 cars may come with a diesel engine, and the engines in them offer plenty of power. Many of them are six-cylinder engines that come packed with about 210 horsepower. That helps you keep up with traffic, but it hurts the fuel economy.
The average cost for an E300 Mercedes is a bit lower which puts it well above what we consider affordable. However, the price wasn’t a big issue for us, but the fuel economy was just too low for us to consider this the best luxury diesel car. It only gets about 32 mpg on the highway which isn’t much better than most newer gas engines.
That said, you almost can’t find a Mercedes owner that has bad things to say about their cars. Mercedes makes some of the highest quality vehicles on the road today. There’s plenty of room inside cars in this class, and you can pack in enough luggage for a long trip. The E300 veers away from the traditional style of the Mercedes cars which many fans don’t like.
Your Diesel Car Buying Guide
A lot of factors come into play when you decide to buy a new car. Deciding to buy a diesel slightly complicates the process because the selection is limited. However, we hope our list of mini-reviews helps you find the right diesel car or at least helps you understand how to choose one. Check the next section for information on buying a used vehicle as well.
Our pick for the overall best diesel car is the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. It offers excellent reliability and fuel mileage. It’s budget-friendly price sealed the deal for us and landed it the top spot in our buying guide. It’s roomy for a compact sedan and performs well in traffic. If you need a diesel to commute to work, this is the car for you.
If you prefer a luxury car, the BMW 330i takes the top honors in that category. It costs about twice as much as the Cruze and gets about half the fuel mileage, but the car is backed by BMW's reputation and the praises of a lot of BMW owners. If you’re looking for a luxury car for travel or commuting to work, the 330i is the best diesel luxury car on the market today.
That said, the Mazda 6 is a close contender in the luxury car category, so we felt like it should go in the buying guide. It’s a luxury car and offers plenty of performance and power features, but the fuel economy helped the BMW win the title. However, either car is an excellent choice for a luxury diesel car.
The Volkswagen Jetta is our budget-friendly champion. You just can't beat its price. It’s an excellent buy and offers all the perks you’d expect to find in more expensive cars. However, it is sort of plain looking, but the price tag and excellent fuel mileage make up for the looks. It's an excellent choice for a first-time car buyer or someone looking for a fuel-efficient commuter.
If you’re still on the fence and can’t pick on, determine what your maximum budget might be for buying a car. That alone will narrow down the list quite a bit. Once you have a dollar amount in mind, examine how and where you plan to use the car. If you just need a commuter, any car will do that gets good fuel mileage. For road trips, you may want to consider getting a luxury sedan for the room.
Checklist for Buying a Used Diesel Car
Buying a used diesel car is not like buying a gas car. For one, a diesel car may look rough on the outside and still have a lot of miles left on the engine. Gas cars tend to look good externally while harboring an aging or dying engine on the inside. That said, you still need to do your due diligence and check s few things before you commit to buying a used diesel car.
The first steps, once you’ve seen the vehicle and like the way it looks, is always to check the Kelly Blue Book value and get a history report. The owner may have a CarFax report ready for you while some may only have maintenance records. Both sets of records are necessary, but you can omit one or the other if you the CarFax or maintenance records are satisfactory.
Check the tires for uneven wear and look under the vehicle or examine the spot where the owner usually parks it. Look for signs of fluids leaking or any indication that the engine may leak oil or if any part of the car leaks a fluid. Finding oil stains is not a deal breaker, but it can help you get a lower price or decide against purchasing the vehicle. Severe oil leaks are usually a sign of poor maintenance.
Diesel produces a kind of black soot when it burns in the engine. So, black soot on and in the exhaust pipe is common, but it should be built up or caked on to the pipe. An extreme layer of black soot may indicate a problem with the engine, poor maintenance, or an exhaust problem. Either way, avoid buying a car that fails this test.
Pop the hood and pull out the oil dipstick. If the oil looks a little milky or has white specks in it, pass on the vehicle. Oil in that condition is an indication of water mixing with it which is terrible news. Otherwise, the oil may be dark, but it shouldn’t look black to the point it seems burnt. The closer it gets to oil changing time, the darker the oil will look.
If the engine is cold, remove the radiator cap and check the water level and see what the water looks like. The water may be green or some other color due to antifreeze, but it should be clear and not look muddy or have oil in it. If the radiator cap has metal in it, look for rust as well. If you find muddy water or rust, skip that vehicle and find another one.
Start the engine or have the owner start the engine so you can listen for any weird noises. The vehicle should start right away unless it's cold. Be forgiving in your judgment if it's cold outside since diesel engines don’t like cold weather. Check the exhaust to see if it’s clear. Some diesel engines produce a faint black smoke which is ok, but heavy black or white smoke is a deal breaker.
Finally, take the car for a test drive to see how it handles on the road. Pay close attention to the steering wheel and note if the vehicle seems to pull to the right or left. If you feel excessive vibrations or the engine seems sluggish, move on to your next used car candidate. That said, make sure the engine gets warmed up before you judge it on acceleration and power.
If you follow these steps, you should come away with a decent vehicle. It wouldn’t hurt your cause to spend a little time online watching videos and learning a little more about choosing a used car. If you don't have much experience with cars or working on them, then you definitely need to find some videos and learn more about how to spot problems before you buy a used vehicle.
Some Final Notes
You should have all the tools and information you need to make an educated purchase at this point. However, it doesn’t hurt to do a little extra research and make sure the diesel car you want will fit your needs. For instance, if you live in places that get a lot of snow, you may want to look at vehicles with good performance in these areas. Do the extra homework, so you know you picked the right car.
The hard part is in your hands now; you have to pick a color. Choosing a color is often harder than picking a car based on the price tag. White, gray, and black, in that order, seem to have the highest resale value which may also affect the car’s trade-in value as well. Whatever color you choose, make sure you get a diesel car you can afford that has the features you want or need.