Best diesel automatic car

Fancy a relaxed drive with good fuel economy? The best diesel automatic cars offer low running costs and strong performance

Joe Holding
May 18, 2022
BMW 3 Series front three quarters view

Cars with automatic gearboxes used to be rare things, but last year they accounted for more than half of all new car sales in the UK. Manual gearboxes are becoming less popular with many drivers, it seems.

There are a number of reasons for this. One factor is that automatics are becoming increasingly clever, with software that can predict what you’re going to do next and change up or down accordingly. This means autos are much quicker to respond - and therefore slicker to drive - than those in older cars, making them easier to drive than ever before.

Another thing to consider is that autos are increasingly necessary. More and more cars are adopting hybrid technology, which often sees at least one electric motor working in tandem with the petrol or diesel engine. Managing two sources of power at once is difficult when the car doesn’t know what gear you're going to use, so it’s easier to remove your choice from this part of the equation by fitting an automatic gearbox as standard.

And the upshot is that automatic cars are much easier to drive than manuals, as you only have to worry about the accelerator, the brakes and the steering wheel. Having no clutch or gear stick to operate when you’re sitting in heavy traffic can be a relief - making driving far more relaxing.

The best diesel automatic cars combine these traits with the kind of fuel economy that similarly sized petrols struggle to match. So if a relaxing drive and low running costs are your priorities, then a diesel auto is a great fit.

All of the diesel automatics on the following list are available on BuyaCar right now, and you could place your order in minutes online with our hassle-free service and have the car delivered to your door.

Automatic diesel deals

1. Skoda Octavia

Our pick Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI vRS DSG
Used deals from £21,000

The latest version of the Skoda Octavia is making a serious case for being the only car you’ll ever need. It’s available in two body styles; as a hatchback with a substantial 600 litres of boot space and as an estate car with an even bigger 640-litre boot. Both are incredibly spacious (with the estate offering easier access to the boot and greater practicality), efficient, assured to drive and impressively kitted out for the money.

Three diesels are offered in the lineup, and all get the choice of an optional six-speed automatic gearbox. The engines offer 116hp, 150hp and 200hp in power terms, with the last of those coming in the form of the sporty VRS model. Despite its focus on added performance, claimed economy is still a strong 56.9mpg, which is very good indeed considering there’s no clever hybrid tech to assist.

Even the most basic Octavia models now get 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, climate control, rear parking sensors and much else besides, so you won’t have to go chasing after the latest gadgetry.


2. Mercedes S-Class

Our pick Mercedes S350d AMG Line
Used deals from £27,499

For a certain type of customer, the Mercedes S-Class is the kind of car you aspire to be driven around in rather than drive yourself. Unless, of course, you’re a chauffeur by trade. The S-Class is just about the most luxurious vehicle you can get, with the sleek limousine famed for its effortless performance and supreme levels of comfort.

At the heart of the S-Class’s character are the engines, with the two diesels proving far more popular than their petrol equivalents over the years. In particular, the S350d is the most common on BuyaCar’s listings, with the 3.0-litre engine producing 286hp. That’s a decent amount of power but is overshadowed by the 340hp of the 400d, though it is still enough for 0-62mph in 6.0 seconds. Fuel economy depends on wheel size, but ranges from 38.7-44.1mpg. Impressive for a car of this size and performance.

Interior space is generous in terms of head and legroom wherever you sit, and the 510-litre boot is more than enough for fitting in several suitcases on a weekend away. The material finish is second to none, and the suspension is so good you’ll think the car is floating above the road.


3. Volkswagen Golf

Our pick Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI GTD DSG
Used deals from £11,995

The Volkswagen Golf is one of the best-selling cars in the UK, and it’s no wonder given how well rounded it is; it’s very fuel-efficient (especially with diesel power), it’s one of the most practical hatchbacks you can get, and the overall build quality is very high and should make it reliable in the long-term.

The previous-generation Golf was revealed in 2013, and was on sale for seven years before being replaced by the latest version in 2020. The two diesel options offered in that time were the 1.6-litre 'TDI' and 2.0-litre 'TDI', with the former proving the more economical and the latter the faster one. While the 1.6 TDI's claimed fuel economy figure of 72.4mpg looks great on paper, you can expect closer to 50mpg in reality.

The engines are quiet and refined, and the automatic gearbox (labelled as 'DSG' on VWs) suits a laid-back driving style. The Golf isn’t the best car of this type for interior space but it’s pretty roomy inside, and 380 litres of room in the boot is plenty for tackling everyday life.


4. BMW 3 Series

Our pick BMW 320d M Sport automatic
Used deals from £25,480

The BMW 3 Series is another of those cars that can turn its hand to so many things. Need to commute to work in comfort? Get a 3 Series. Need to travel long distances with the family in tow? Get a 3 Series. Want to have some fun behind the wheel while you’re at it? Get a 3 Series.

It’s seriously hard to fault, especially when powered by a diesel engine. The 320d - a 2.0-litre diesel model with 190hp - is probably the pick of the bunch, combining fuel economy of more than 50mpg with a 0-62mph time of just over seven seconds, which is reasonably speedy.

An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard on the 320d, although some drivers choose the optional manual instead. Most driving enthusiasts consider the latter more fun, but you shouldn’t worry about that in this case as BMW’s automatic ‘box is seriously slick. The 3 Series is extremely agile around corners too, and the ride is very comfy. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity is standard these days, but watch out for this on older, previous-generation cars as this hasn’t always been the case.


5. Volvo XC40

Volvo XC40 front three quarters view

Our pick Volvo XC40 D4 Momentum automatic
Used deals from £21,999

Volvo has carved out a niche for itself in recent years, positioning itself as an upmarket brand that delivers on safety, comfort and style above all else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, although few people would argue that the Swedish company’s latest exterior and interior designs are undesirable. The brand sells some pretty striking machines.

The Volvo XC40 is a small SUV that was launched in 2018. Two diesels are offered; the 2.0-litre D3 with 150hp and capable of 0-62mph in 10.4 seconds, and the 2.0-litre D4 producing 190hp and able to cover the same sprint in 7.9 seconds. Both offer official fuel economy figures of around 55mpg, although the less powerful version is a little quieter at cruising speed. The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox is a very good match for both engines.

A nine-inch touchscreen media system, digital dials, LED headlights, sat-nav with traffic updates, 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and a suite of active safety systems are all standard on the entry-level Momentum trim, which shows Volvo isn’t messing around.


6. Mini Hatchback

Our pick Mini Cooper SD automatic
Used deals from £11,750

Small cars are often fun to drive, and few more so than the Mini Hatchback. With its modest proportions and direct steering, you can have as much fun on an urban road as you can out in the countryside.

Diesel power formed part of the Mini lineup between 2014 and 2018, with the 1.5-litre One D model capable of exceeding 80mpg according to the official figures (based on the old, less realistic NEDC testing standards). As standard, the Mini D came with a six-speed manual gearbox, although a seven-speed automatic is an option.

The interior design of the Mini is funky, with a circular feature in the middle of the dash housing the touchscreen media system; a stylistic choice that’s replicated on the speedometer behind the wheel. This setup can take a little getting used to, but it’ll soon become second nature to you.


7. Seat Ateca

Our pick Seat Ateca 2.0 TDI Xcellence DSG
Used deals from £16,499

The Seat Ateca was introduced in the UK in 2016, and it’s proven to be a hit in the years since. The performance and practicality that it offers makes the Ateca great value for money, and the number of used versions on offer means there are options across a wide range of budgets.

Three diesel engines have graced the lineup since the car’s launch: a 1.6-litre 'TDI' with 116hp, and two 2.0-litre 'TDI' versions, producing 150hp or 190hp depending on spec. The smaller unit is the sweet spot in the range, with potential fuel economy of around 65mpg perfect for anyone who drives tens of thousands of miles per year. Sure, it's not the fastest car around, but this is a car that is more focused on offering a relaxed drive than a racy one.

The 510-litre boot is an excellent size, although the large load lip can make it tricky to get heavy items in and out. There’s enough room inside for five adults to sit in comfort, although the ride can be quite bumpy on rougher roads.


8. Jaguar F-Pace

Our pick Jaguar F-Pace 3.0d V6 S automatic
Used deals from £24,900

The Jaguar F-Pace became the fastest-selling car the company had ever made when it was unveiled in 2016, with the large SUV taking the UK by storm. It’s a rival to the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60, with Jaguar putting its own stamp on this upmarket type of car.

2.0-litre and 3.0-litre diesel engines were available from the car’s launch; 3.0-litre cars were four-wheel-drive only, while 2.0-litre models had the option of rear-wheel drive. Most used models are all-wheel drive though, and you can rely on this to give you a bit more grip when the weather gets treacherous. Similarly, the automatic gearbox was overwhelmingly more popular than the manual one when new, and you can use the paddles behind the steering wheel to change up and down when the mood takes you, if you want a bit of control.

This could happen more often than you think, as the F-Pace is great to drive. The car is well controlled around fast corners, so you won’t feel like you’re being swung from side to side through a sequence of turns. And when you do settle down into a cruise, the F-Pace is very comfortable, with well-honed suspension and plush seats to distance occupants from lumps in the road.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.


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