Best diesel cars

A guide to the best diesel cars, including Volkswagen and Audi TDI models and the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.

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There's no denying it, the diesel revolution has ascended onto the United States from across the Atlantic Ocean. One of the biggest shakeups in the North American automotive market has been the substantial growth of the diesel segment, from the German automakers who have championed them for decades, as well as domestic brands just now catching wind of diesel's new popularity. 

Audi TDI invasionLong dismissed as loud, dirty and smelly, the best diesel cars have been engineered to be as quiet as regular gasoline engines, without the clattering of the late 80s/early 90s diesel Mercedes best known by American drivers. And while diesel is still more expensive than regular unleaded thanks to fiscal policies from the 80s trying to squeeze money out of the long-hauling truck industry, the fuel economy ratings on these new diesel cars are simply too good to ignore. 

Increasing public interest isn't the only driving force behind diesel's growth in America. As federal fuel economy standards continue to climb in the wake of increased sensitivity to issues like global warming and foreign fuel dependency, automakers are turning to diesel to improve miles-per-gallon ratings on popular full-size cars, trucks and SUVs.

Now brands like Jeep, Ram, Chevy, Mazda and Nissan are throwing their hats into the diesel ring. They'll be facing off against an all-out diesel barrage from the Germans, who have been exporting diesel rides for decades. This guide will run through the best diesel cars set to hit North American highways soon.

VW Jetta TDI

Volkswagen Jetta TDIVolkswagen and its Audi brand sold 105,899 TDI Clean Diesel engines across the world in 2013, making them the preeminent brand for diesel. Leading the way is the VW Jetta TDI. The Volkswagen Jetta is virtually unchanged for 2015, save for the brand new TDI Clean Diesel engine available in the United States for the first time.

The new TDI engine will deliver 150 horsepower, which is an increase of 10 horsepower over the current engine. The TDI engine, like all TDI engines, does not clatter or smell. It idles at a whisper, barely audible even when you're standing right next to the hood. 

The new Jetta TDI will also be more fuel-efficient than the current TDI engine, which gets 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. Whether this new diesel engine can top 50 mpg is debatable, but wouldn't that be fun? Coined the EA288, the latest 2.0L four-cylinder diesel engine is turbocharged with direct injection, offering plenty of torque to go along with the relatively modest horsepower. Prices for the 2015 Jetta TDI have not been announced, but it should be in line with the current price of about $23,000. 

Audi A6 TDI

Audi A6 TDIAlong with parent company Volkswagen, The Audi TDI engines are extremely popular in Europe and were the best-selling diesel engines in the world last year. They're already receiving rave reviews stateside. While the diesel market is growing at a rapid rate, the Audi A6 TDI is still only available with a single turbo 3.0L V6 diesel engine, while the A6 and A7 are both available with three different diesel engines in Europe.

The North American 3.0L diesel serves as a perfect entry into the diesel segment, pushing out a solid 240 horesepower with a neck-snapping 428 lb-ft of torque. That torque sends the Audi A6 from 0-60 in 5.5 seconds. On top of that mean low-end aggresssion, the A6 gets an EPA-rated 24 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. 

Just like all the other Volkswagen and Audi TDI models, the Audi A6 makes minimal noise. When idling, the A6 produces a faint, low vibrato that sounds like a purr more than a clatter. And there's pretty much no perceptible noise when driving faster than 30 mph. The Audi A6 TDI starts at a base price of about $58,000, slightly more than the regular A6.

BMW 328d

BMW 328dAlthough it's the slowest 3 Series model in terms of horsepower, there's still plenty of torque to get the hair standing up on the back of your neck. It's a BMW 3 Series with the fuel economy of a Volkswagen. Powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel, the 328d's fuel economy is 20 perent more efficient than the 28 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, compared to the 328i's 22 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

While the 328d's 180 horsepower is not going to knock your socks off, the 280 lb-ft of torque bursts off the line humming, with plenty of quickness for everyday driving. BMW has yet to set prices for the new BMW 328d, but expect the base price to come in somewhere under $40,000. 

Chevy Cruze LS Diesel

Chevy Cruze DieselJust like the other cars on this list, it's hard to tell the Chevy Cruze LS is a diesel. It's quiet, with virtually no discernable clatter. And just like the rest of the cars on this list, The Chevy Cruze LS Diesel packs plenty of torque for quick and meaty acceleration. 

Chevy essentially modeled the Cruze Diesel after the Jetta TDI. But unlike the German-engineered Jetta, the Cruze Diesel's performance isn't quite as refined. That's to be expected, as the Germans have been doing this for a while, and GM is just dipping its toes into the diesel pool. The Cruze only gets 151 horesepower, with a jerky transmission that makes the ride a bit ho-hum. The Cruze does get an impressive 264 lb-ft. of torque, which is is better than the Jetta TDI, and 46 mpg on the highway, which is also better than the Jetta. 

The Chevy Cruze Diesel's tarting price that is about equal to the Jetta TDI at about $25,000. Unfortunately, you can only get it in an automatic, if ripping through the gears is your thing. 

Mazda6 SkyActiv-D

Mazda6 SkyActiv-DThe new Mazda6 wagon is fresh for 2015 and will feature Mazda's most recent 2.2L SkyActiv-D engine that's good for 148 horsepower and a growling 280 lb-ft of torque. The Mazda6 can accelerate from 0-to-60 in 8.7 seconds, which is good enough to press your head against the headrest. And its 30 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway is as good as anything imported from Germany.

Most cars on this list, including the German models, have to be outfitted with special urea-injection after-treatment systems to meet U.S. emission standards. The SkyActiv-D engine is already clean enough without the treatment system, which sets it apart from virtually every diesel model sold in the United States. 

The Mazda6 SkyActiv-D is the cheapest car on this list, starting at just $21,975. And without the need for after-treament hardware, Mazda should be able to install the SkyActive-D on its other models on the cheap. So look for a whole fleet of diesel Mazdas coming soon. 

Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Ram 1500 EcoDieselMotor Trend named the Ram 1500 the 2014 Truck of the Year, which isn't surprising for a truck with year-in-and-out quality and performance. But what is surprising is it was named Truck of the Year two years in a row. That's never happened in the 35-year history of the publication. The reason for the honor? The 1500 EcoDiesel engine is bringing revolutionary fuel economy to the full-size truck segment, and it's forcing its competitors to keep up.

As soon as the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel went on sale this year, over 8,000 preorders were filled to completely sell out the first production run. That's enough to tell you Americans are truly intrigued by what diesel has to offer.

Currently, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the only half-ton truck available with a diesel, so obviously it offers a best-in-class 28-mpg highway rating while still being able to tow an impressive 9,200 pounds. With the immediate success of the Ram EcoDiesel, chief competitor Chevy is already set to roll out a Silverado 1500 with a Duramax diesel next year. While the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel costs a little extra than the normal 1500, the added price is clearly worth it. 

 

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German car companies are lobbying the United States to level the playing field on diesel engines to match the same incentives offered to say, the hybrid and electric segments. These cars are significantly cleaner and more efficient than regular combustion engines, and lend to the eco-consciousness that's sweeping the country as gas prices rise along with the temperature. Use Reply! to connect with local dealers that can offer the lowest prices on the best diesel cars now!

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