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5 Best Diesels
Posted Aug, 02 2010
Diesel engines have an outdated reputation as noisy, smelly, slow, and smoky. That might have been the case decades ago, but modern diesels are lively and responsive, as clean as a whistle, and provide even more efficiency than ever before. While diesels have long been unpopular in the U.S., they are still out there, and more are coming. Let's take a look at some of the best on the market today.
EPA Fuel economy: 23 city, 36 highway
The 3 Series is the quintessential BMW, and it's not surprising that the 335d is likely the world's most thrilling diesel-powered car. The spec list doesn't seem that different from the gasoline-powered 335i: A turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels and a host of technology options throughout, including the company's love-it-or-hate-it iDrive infotainment system.
Why We Love It: It's powerful, fun to drive and efficient and the premium over the gasoline-powered 335i isn't that much, either, just an additional $3,000.
Diesels tend to have more torque than the average gas-powered vehicle (diesels have a longer “stroke” -- the distance a piston travels -- in order to operate at a higher compression), so it's no surprise that the 335d has more of it than its gasoline brethren. Getting 265 horsepower from a six-cylinder diesel engine is indeed pretty good, but the 425 lb-ft of torque is a massive wallop, and it will nearly spin your head around when you're behind the wheel.
EPA Fuel economy: Not Available
These heavy-duty Dodges have been collecting superlative praise since they launched, and it's not just because the Dodge is a handsome new face with a well-done interior. The biggest trump card for the Dodge lies underhood. Unlike the other diesel-engine pickups on the market, the 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel in the Dodge HD does not need fluid for exhaust after-treatment to meet emissions standards. (Many diesels, including those from Mercedes-Benz, require the systems, which require regular maintenance.)
Why We Love It: Although heavy-duty pickups don’t carry EPA fuel economy ratings, the extra mileage you’ll get out of a tank of diesel is extraordinary, especially in this class of gas-guzzlers.
The reduced maintenance needs dovetail with 650 lb-ft of torque capable of hauling 18,500-pound loads. (That should about cover the groceries.) The Cummins six-cylinder is standard equipment on Ram 3500s, while adding that engine to the 2500 will add $7,615 to the Ram 2500's $27,215 base price. If there's work to do, these trucks will get it done -- no muss, no fuss.
EPA Fuel economy: 30 city, 42 highway
The Audi A3 TDI is often overlooked at the lower-priced end of the diesel market. In reality, it's an aggressively priced luxury hatchback that's garnered plenty of' awards over the last few years -- Green Car of the Year for 2010, for example. The A3 TDI starts at $27,270 and is blessed with a cleanly drawn, handsome exterior and a luxury interior dressed up with leather seating and aluminum accents. The inside has an expansive feel thanks to a skylight Audi calls the Open Sky Sunroof.
Why We Love It: One of the cheapest diesels on the market is nevertheless one of the most engaging. If you want a small car with gusto, this is it.
The hatchback body style teams with folding rear seats to offer impressive utility, and Audi's 2.0 liter TDI diesel has an impressive 236 pound-feet of torque that can be funneled through a dual-clutch s-Tronic gearbox or a six-speed manual. These are both great sporting transmissions, making either A3 a blast to drive.
EPA Fuel economy: 17 city, 23 highway
A large part of Mercedes-Benz's past reputation was built on the strength of its classic diesel sedans. That was decades ago, and while Mercedes still builds fabulous diesel sedans, they're not currently available in the North American market. The biggest Mercedes SUV, the GL-class can be ordered with the clean-burning BlueTec diesel powertrain for $59,950. For that, you'll get brick-outhouse construction, capable 4Matic all-wheel-drive, and a 3.0 liter turbodiesel V6 that can cover 450 miles without refueling.
Why We Love It: Getting over 20 miles per gallon in an SUV of this size is just not possible with a gasoline engine. Plus it can tow.
Mercedes touts its diesel's four-cylinder-like fuel economy and eight-cylinder-esque performance along with the cleaned up emissions made possible by AdBlue urea injection. (This is the system Mercedes uses to post-treat the exhaust emissions downstream from the enigine.) All these benefits are icing on the cake when you're driving this roomy, luxurious full-size SUV.
EPA Fuel economy: 30 city, 41 highway
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI is one of the most popular disels on the road. Owners love them, and they fetch excellent prices in the resale market. The only downside to their popularity is that it makes the relatively few that VW ships over here a scare commodity, meaning it's hard to find them and even more difficult to get a screaming deal. That said, the $24,615 MSRP on the SportWagen -- our favorite of the VW Golf/Jetta body styles - isn't a whole lot of coin.
Why We Love It: The wagon Jetta is a great all-around car, one that provides just enough sportiness, good looks and a comfortable interior, cargo-hauling capacity, and excellent fuel economy. Plus it's priced well under $30,000.
VW's 2.0-liter TDI diesel may not have oodles of horsepower but 236 pound-feet of torque makes for impressive off-the-line acceleration around town. On the freeway, the engine just chugs along, sipping fuel at a rate usually found only in hybrids. The Jetta TDI can also be had as a sedan, which will save you $1,785. For the least expensive diesel vehicle on the market, you can opt for the Jetta's sibling, a Golf TDI for as little as $22,155.
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