The Best Diesel Cars Ever

A Mercedes 300TD wagon
A beautiful Mercedes 300TD wagon – photo by dave_7

A list of Best Diesel Cars was hard to come up with. Not because there were so many choices, but because there were so few. I focused on diesel cars we could actually get our hands on in the states which removed a large selection of diesel cars. I tried to stick to one per manufacturer but there is one notable exception on the list. Also, this list just includes cars, no trucks. Diesel trucks might be a whole other article. So, what is great about diesel cars? For one, they get great gas mileage. Sure the gas is more expensive but the return is often high. Of course older diesels were pretty atrocious but we’ll get to that. Second, diesels are torque monsters which can be hilarious in a car. Third, and most importantly, they’re different. Here’s our list of the Best Diesel Cars.

Volvo 240D

a grey Volvo 240 diesel
a grey Volvo 240DL

The Volvo 240 would be on several lists because it’s just a cool car. There are many positives about this car. One, it’s a Volvo and Volvos are inherently cool. Two, it comes in a wagon and we love wagons. Three, do you see how boxy it is?? The Volvo 200 series was around from 1974 – 1993 and there were two versions with the diesel, the 240D and the 260D. Volvo purchased the D24 V6 diesels from Volkswagen and they made a whopping 100 lb ft of torque.  Surprisingly, these aren’t sought after by collectors despite their reliability. That’s because the gas mileage was actually worse than the turbo. Unfortunately, these diesels also didn’t have turbos, which negates one of the fun factors of diesels. Still, it’s a big boxy Volvo with a diesel engine so that makes it cool.


a yellow Mercedes 300D
Mercedes Benz 300D – photo by dave_7 from Lethbridge, Canada

The Mercedes-Benz W123 was in production from 1976-1986 with ten diesel models. The best are probably the 300D, 300CD, and 300TD all featuring the turbodiesel. Some of the lesser non-turbo diesels have absolutely glacial 0-60 times in the thirty second range. Tectonic plates move faster than that! The turbo diesels cut that time in half down to a blistering 14 seconds. No, those are not quarter mile times, those are 0-60 times! The gas mileage wasn’t great at 25 miles per gallon but at least it came in that amazing W123 shape. The diesels range everywhere from 97 lb ft of torque all the way up to 181 lb ft. You can actually find excellent examples in the $10,000-$25,000 range. Here is a good example from 1984. If you like going slow in style, this is the car for you!

BMW 5 Series Diesel

a silver newer model BMW 5 series diesel wagon
BMW 520d Touring M Sport – photo by nakhon100

Our first new car on the list, the current BMW 5 series diesel is pretty excellent. I could really choose any BMW range with the diesel but I’ve always felt the 5-series is the best all-arounder. The current 5-series offers a range of diesel engines from the 2 liter inline 4 turbo making 295 lb ft of torque to the insane quad turbo 3 liter inline 6 making a gargantuan 561 lb ft of torque. I actually found one with the M Sport Executive package. Aplina, being the lunatics that they are, have already modified one of these diesels. They went with three turbos instead of four and bumped the torque up to 590 lb ft of torque. They claim that it is the fastest diesel production car in the world. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Audi A4 TDI

a white Audi A3 3.0 TDI
Audi A4 B9 3.0 TDI – photo by Thomas doerfer

The Audi A4 TDI is in the same vein as the 5-series above. It’s a luxury diesel vehicle from Germany. They offer a wide range of diesel engines from a 2 liter inline 4 to a 3 liter V6. Torque ranges from 214 to 369. They were offered with manual transmissions for all diesel but I couldn’t find any used examples in the US. What I did find was an Audi A6 with the 3 liter diesel. With the Audi you get luxury styling and AWD. And the good thing with these newer diesels, there are available performance parts. I just found a kit from Kerma TDI that adds 80 lb ft of torque to the wheels of our A6 above. That’s a far cry from the 30 second 0-60 times from the early diesel cars.


a silver VW Gold TDI
1.6L VW Golf TDI – photo by M 93

Ever since the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal broke, many people have shied away from VW diesel. That’s unfortunate because the Golf TDI is one of the best all-around cars out there. There are many great examples of the Mk7 GTI you can get with a six-speed manual for around $15,000-$20,000. The 2 liter turbo diesel makes an impressive 236 lb ft of torque which is more than enough for a front wheel drive hatchback. It is no secret that we love hatchbacks. There are also tons of performance options including an insane stage 3 kit from Kerma TDI that adds 130 torque to the front wheels. That’s absolutely insane! My friend has one of these and it is hilarious when the turbo kicks in. I could only imagine it with the stage 3 kit!

VW Jetta TDI Cup

a silver VW Jetta TDI Cup Edition
The VW Jetta TDI Cup Edition with more aggressive aero

I had to make an exception to the one-make rule to include one of the coolest diesel cars of them all, the Jetta TDI Cup. The Jetta TDI Cup was a one-make racing series sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of American (SCCA). It was also featured in the Gran Turismo video game which is always cool. The VW Jetta TDI Cup edition was made specifically for this series. It featured upgraded suspensions and brakes, a six-speed manual, and a body kit. It features the same 2 liter from the Golf above and makes the same horsepower. What makes these cars pretty cool is their rarity. There were only about 588 made with a manual transmission, so if you can find one, snatch it up.

That’s our list of the Best Diesel Cars. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that we see many more going forward. There is a Chevy Cruze diesel but I imagine many manufacturers are going to start looking at electric cars moving forward.

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