Modern diesel vehicles are cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient than ever, so clear your mind of whatever prejudice you might have. Diesel power is all about great fuel economy, and unlike hybrid power it delivers on the highway as well as city streets. Super low-speed torque also makes the diesel very drivable around town. Today's turbocharged diesel engines also burn cleanly, with many models employing a urea injection system that purifies the exhaust stream. What's more, diesel clatter and vibration are largely a thing of the past. The combination of clean-burning low-sulfur fuel, improved control of particulate emissions and refined performance has made the diesel engine popular again in a wide range of vehicles, although our recommended choices pertain only to cars and SUVs.
While the Volkswagen Golf TDI is one of the best-selling cars in Europe, it hasn't yet taken U.S. buyers by storm. Part of the reason is its price, since the TDI is the top trim for the Golf. Still, we feel that the car is worth it because it offers a well-rounded package that few cars in its class can match. The Golf 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 Passat TDI offers the same engine/transmission combination as the Golf TDI, but in a roomier midsize sedan body. The Passat earned top honors in our last 40 MPG Challenge, when it surpassed its own EPA numbers in real-world driving conditions. It is an excellent alternative to the Toyota Camry Hybrid or the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
The BMW X5 xDrive35d proves that if you need to drive an SUV, the smarter engine choice is the diesel. This engine puts out more torque and gets better fuel economy than its gasoline counterpart. And while the Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec is a bit more fuel-efficient, we feel that the X5 diesel has sharper handling and is more fun to drive. Diesel engines were once thought to be exclusively for trucks, yet there's nothing trucklike about the X5 and its turbodiesel inline-6.