Best diesel cars 2023
If fuel economy is your top priority, there's still no argument against diesel cars. Here are the best diesels available
Diesel has long been the obvious choice for those who regularly cover long distances for work or social reasons. It’s traditionally made the most economical sense, with diesel cars offering better fuel efficiency than most petrol alternatives. Contrary to popular belief, despite the dieselgate scandal around manipulated emissions tests and growing concerns about air pollution, the automotive world’s workhorse is set to be with us for some time yet.
There may have been a significant drop in sales of diesel cars over the past few years or so, with them only accounting for up to 15% of all new cars on the road, but there’s no denying that diesels still tick the right boxes for drivers looking for the ultimate in fuel economy. An economical petrol car can return approximately 45-50mpg, while the equivalent diesel can easily get beyond 65-75mpg.
Diesel cars on sale today must comply with the most recent Euro 6 standards for exhaust emissions, so they’re more or less on par with petrol cars in terms of pollution. Government policy and tax incentives are no longer as geared towards promoting diesel cars over petrol as they were in the past, but diesels are still a great option for the same reasons that made them popular in the first place.
It’s even worth bearing in mind that since January 2021 all new cars have had to meet the RDE2 standard, which means they avoid some of the taxes associated with dirtier diesels.
A diesel not only offers better mpg figures for high mileage drivers, but the pulling power provided at the low end of the rev range with a diesel engine means that driving can be relaxed and effortless. This is the same reason diesels make great load carriers or towing vehicles.
If you’re convinced of the merits of diesel power, you’re not alone. While the car industry responds to consumer demand by reducing the number of diesel options, there are still plenty of fantastic diesel options for buyers who aren’t put off by the anti-diesel media hype. Read on for some of our favourites.
The best Euro 6 diesel cars
Our pick Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDi
If you’re searching for a modern and stylish-looking supermini, the Peugeot 208 has everything it needs to catch your eye. It’s pretty, and bang up-to-date, and unlike various of its rivals is offered with the all-important option of diesel power.
But first the looks – the 208 is more interesting from a design perspective than most of its rivals, from its sporty front end with aggressive LED ‘fangs’ to a pretty rear-end that channels the classic Peugeot 205 supermini from the 1980s. The interior is just as sophisticated too, with digital instruments, a prominent tablet-style touchscreen and plenty of soft-touch materials that exude a quality feel.
The ride and handling is geared more for comfort than the looks suggest, and the driving experience is nothing like as agile as the Ford Fiesta, nor is the Peugeot as roomy or practical. But the 208 majors on style, and in the case of the diesel option, it’s coupled to extreme frugality. The 1.5-litre BlueHDi engine makes 100hp giving you a 10.2-second 0-62mph time, while also delivering over 70mpg (although this is under the older and less realistic testing procedure).
If you want to combine diesel efficiency and cheap running costs with an enjoyable and fun driving experience, the Mini Cooper D could be the car you’re looking for. It's undoubtedly stylish with plenty of character, the Mini’s nimble and responsive steering, great road-holding and punchy engines make it a real favourite for enthusiastic drivers.
Unfortunately for diesel fans after a brand-new one, Mini dropped the diesel option from its three and five-door hatch models in 2018, but you can still take advantage of the heady mix of fun driving and great economy on the used market.
Pick the Mini Cooper D and you’re onto a surefire winner, thanks to a three-cylinder turbocharged engine that will do 0-62mph in a little over nine seconds and reach 126mph – all while offering the potential of over 70mpg if driven carefully, plus a 97g/km CO2 rating that means free road tax too.
Our pick Renault Megane Sport Tourer dCi 110
Used deals Limited stock
If you’re looking for a practical family hauler that’s cheap to buy and run, you could do a lot worse than the Renault Megane Sport Tourer. It’s overshadowed in Renault showrooms by glitzy and fashionable crossovers like the Captur, but out on the road few would argue that the Sport Tourer isn’t a handsome and dynamic-looking estate car with loads to offer.
It’s cheap to buy because mainstream Renault models simply don’t command the high residual values of rivals from the Volkswagen stable. But the latest Megane is a real contender, with crisp styling, a great interior, and a chassis that’s fun to drive while riding smoothly too. The estate version is arguably the prettiest of the range, with the added benefit of a 521-litre boot.
The icing on the cake comes at fill-up time, when the canny Megane Sport Tourer buyer will reap the rewards of over 70mpg if they’re rolling in the super-frugal 1.5-litre dCi 110.
The Ford Mondeo is the archetypal motorway mile muncher for middle managers with a company car allowance, and in its latest guise with 2.0-litre TDCi diesel power it’s superbly proficient.
Perhaps we should say it was the archetypal car for middle managers. Nowadays the Mondeo is outsold by the BMW 3 Series, but the Mondeo is still an indecently good travelling companion – quiet and relaxed to drive, with great specification, and build quality that is better than ever too.
There are two diesel power options – 150hp and 180hp – and we’d pick the former for its fuel-sipping ways. It promises returns of almost 50mpg on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions of just 124g/km.
While big family hatchbacks aren’t very fashionable these days, the Mondeo delivers traditional values such as low running costs, a roomy and practical cabin and good all-round value in a package that’s more handsome, better built and more comfortable and hushed than any of its predecessors.
The stylish Volvo XC40 is one of the best-looking and most desirable SUV crossovers around, combining a car like driving experience with the latest Volvo styling themes and that fashionable ‘off-road’ flavour.
It may not be the most scintillating crossover to drive but it’s an exceptionally comfortable and composed cruiser that’s very well suited to most family needs. The attractive Scandinavian-style interior is a strong selling-point too, with appointments such as the big portrait-aspect Sensus touchscreen and a standard of fit and finish that rivals even the highest quality marques like BMW and Lexus.
There are two diesel models – the D3 and D4 – which share the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 150hp and 190hp respectively. We especially like the D4 for its combination of performance and economy. Its 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds and 130mph top speed just shade the performance of the Jaguar E-Pace D180, yet the Volvo can still deliver admirable fuel economy approaching 50mpg.
To be fair we could have picked any one of the ‘big three’ German prestige manufacturers to highlight the appeal of a big diesel engine in a luxurious large saloon. We’ve plumped for the A6 over the Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5 Series because we’re such big fans of the Audi in 3.0-litre V6 50 TDI spec.
It’s a real muscle-car, with 0-62mph coming up in just 5.5 seconds thanks to its 285hp, yet in some trims it can scrape more than 50 miles out of every gallon of diesel.
There’s so much else to like about the latest A6 too, which as well as being handsome, supremely comfortable and extremely well-built, offers an absolute array of the latest technologies to entertain passengers and keep them safe. Go for the right spec and you can have Audi’s Virtual Cockpit with its configurable digital dash, twin touchscreens on the centre console and luxuries like air suspension for a truly sophisticated feel.
Sometimes you don’t need a car, you need a bus, and the seven-seat Alhambra certainly fills the role of spacious people carrier with aplomb.
Its styling looks a bit traditional and conservative, at least when compared with the wide range of 4x4-inspired crossovers that now compete where the MPV was once king. However you can’t argue with the old-fashioned boxy practicality of the Seat Alhambra, which offers the option of a van-like interior or seats for seven adults.
It’s even surprisingly good to drive, with barely any body lean when cornering, responsive accurate steering and a ride that remains supple in most conditions. We also like the Alhambra’s generally high specification, and the twin sliding rear side doors which are highly practical in the confines of a typical car park.
You get two diesel engine choices, or rather two power outputs from the same 2.0-litre TDI unit – 148 or 175hp – and we’d pick the lower spec for its greater fuel efficiency. The engine will return over 40mpg on the combined cycle, which is pretty decent for a car of the Alhambra’s sheer bulk.
The iconic Land Rover Discovery has become a bit of a national treasure over the years, but the most recent version raised eyebrows amongst traditional buyers for its more generic SUV styling.
What you can’t quibble about is superb technology that underpins the Discovery, and makes it one of the most capable off-roaders in the world. It’s fantastically roomy too – as you’d expect from a big SUV of its size – offering seven seats that provide comfort for adults in every row. With just two rows in action and the third row stowed, there’s as much luggage space in the back as a large family estate car. Oh, and needless to say of a car with an entry model costing around £50k, riding in the Discovery is pretty much as comfortable and cossetting an experience as riding in a luxury limousine.
Lots of owners use their Discoverys for towing, and a 3,500kg towing limit means plenty of grunt is required. Enter the 3.0-litre TD6 diesel engine, which is a smooth and powerful performer that provides all the muscle that’s required – and with a surprising degree of economy. Weighing-in at almost half-a-ton lighter than its predecessor, you can achieve almost 40mpg.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:
48 monthly payments of £192
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
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