(iSeeCars) – 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 that 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
RankVehicleiSeeCars Quality ScoreCombined MPG
1BMW 3 Series8.536
2BMW 5 Series7.930
3Jaguar XF7.335
4Jaguar XEN/A36
5Chevrolet CruzeN/A37

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

Best Diesel SUVs
RankVehicleiSeeCars Quality ScoreCombined MPGMax HorsepowerMax TorqueTowing Capacity
1Jeep Wrangler Unlimited8.8292604423500
2Jeep Grand Cherokee8.3242404207400
3Mazda CX-58.3281682903500
4Chevrolet Tahoe8.2242774608200
5GMC Yukon8.1232774608200
6Chevrolet Suburban8.0232774608000
7GMC Terrain8.0321372401500
8GMC Yukon XL7.9232774608100
9Chevrolet Equinox7.8321372401500

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
RankVehicleiSeeCars Quality ScoreCombined MPGMax HorsepowerMax TorqueTowing Capacity
1Chevrolet Silverado 15008.3272774609,500
2Ford F-1508.32325044012,100
3GMC Sierra 15008.2262774609,500
4GMC Canyon8.0231863697,700
5Chevrolet Colorado8.0231863697,700
6Ram Pickup 15007.92626048012,560
7Nissan Titan XD6.51840041311000

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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