The new turbocharged diesels are a far cry from the smoke-belching dinosaurs that clogged American lungs a few decades ago. Today's turbodiesel engines burn clean, with many models employing a urea injection system that purifies the exhaust stream prior to ejection. These reinvented "oil-burners" also boast more impressive fuel economy than ever — easily outpacing their gas-powered rivals — along with superior low-end torque, which is quite a boon for towing, hauling and drama-free acceleration. What's more, "diesel clatter" is largely a thing of the past, as the new engines are generally so smooth and quiet that your passengers won't know the difference.
While heavy-duty pickup trucks are offered with diesel engines for improved towing and hauling potential, our recommended choices pertain to cars and SUVs only.
The diesel engine promises the ultimate luxury: the ability to pass by a lot of refueling stations before needing to fill up the tank. The combination of low-sulfur fuel, improved control of particulate emissions and refined performance has made the diesel engine popular again in a wide range of vehicles. Our favorite is the Volkswagen Golf TDI, which exploits the traditional fuel-efficiency of its turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine for truly frugal motoring when it comes to fuel cost per mile. The Jetta TDI offers the same powertrain, but the car's complete redesign for 2011 left us wholly unimpressed.
The BMW 335d shows that the diesel now is refined enough for a luxury sedan, as this BMW's turbocharged inline-6 offers not only fuel-efficiency but also astonishing performance and speed. This is a fast sport sedan like every other BMW, but this one just also happens to be a diesel.
Diesel power can help a heavyweight sport-utility vehicle become a more practical choice in daily use and the BMW X5 xDrive35d is a case in point. Such is the goodness of diesel in this application that the 35d has become a substantial part of the X5's model mix. The diesel engine was once thought to be exclusively for trucks, yet there's nothing trucklike about the X5 and its inline-6 turbodiesel.