Though the word has already gotten out to many savvy shoppers, it bears repeating to those who haven't been in the market to buy a car for a number of years. Modern diesel vehicles are cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient than ever. So clear your mind of whatever "diesel truths" you may have heard and let us show you why buying a diesel might be the way to go.
Unlike hybrids, which typically sacrifice power and driving dynamics in favor of making fewer trips to the pump, diesel vehicles boast impressive fuel economy — mpg that easily outpaces their gas-powered rivals — along with superior low-end torque, which is quite a boon for towing, hauling and drama-free acceleration.
The new turbocharged diesels are a far cry from the smoke-belching dinosaurs that clogged American lungs decades ago. Today's turbodiesel engines burn clean, with many models employing a urea injection system that purifies the exhaust stream prior to ejection. 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.
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. 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.
Our favorite is the Volkswagen Golf TDI, which we feel offers a well-rounded package. It has the premium interior of a more upscale vehicle, is easy to load cargo in thanks to its hatchback, has a sporty suspension and is still capable of up to 42 mpg on the highway. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI offers the same engine/transmission combination, but the car's complete redesign for 2011 left us wholly unimpressed. If you are looking for a larger sedan, consider the more refined Volkswagen Passat TDI instead.
The Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec proves that you can splurge on a luxury car while still feeling that you've made a smart financial decision. Mercedes-Benz's turbocharged V6 sedan offers not only the typical luxury accoutrements but also plenty of passing power at a more usable low rpm range. On the economic side of the equation, the E350 Bluetec offers one of the shortest payback periods of all diesels, repaying the $1,390 premium it costs over its gasoline equivalent in just two years thanks to the greater fuel economy.
And finally, 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.