Best diesel cars

Last updated: Jan 7, 2016

Diesel cars tend to cost more to buy than petrols in the first place, but more often than not they’re less expensive to tax (thanks to their lower CO2 emissions) and return better fuel economy. In some cases, they may also have stronger residual values than petrol models, but before you buy, it's important to work out if you cover enough miles to warrant a diesel's higher purchase price. 

In everyday driving, diesels are useful, with plenty of low-down torque that helps with towing and safe overtaking on a motorway or A-road. They’re also much less clattery and noisy than they used to be. 

For this list of the best diesels currently on sale, we looked for cars that are great all-rounders. They needed to offer good value for money, comfort, practicality, a satisfying driving experience and those all-important low running costs. Read on to see the full list… 

BMW 3 Series saloon

The BMW 3 Series is a regular top performer – it’s a former winner of our Best Executive Car award and has been crowned our best diesel car. The 320d version is the most popular and also our pick of the extensive range. With claimed fuel economy of 68.9mpg and an annual road tax bill of just £20, it makes a lot of financial sense for both private and business buyers. Not only does it look good on paper, though – the 3 Series is also stylish, roomy and good fun to drive – although the Jaguar XE runs it close for driving thrills. To top it all off, the interior is a pleasant place to be, with a classy and upmarket feel. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£25,160 - £41,015

Skoda Superb Estate

The Skoda Superb has been a Carbuyer favourite for a long time and the latest model is no different. The estate version in particular is extremely spacious, good-value, stylish and offers decent running costs – especially with the 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine. The DSG automatic-gearbox model can return up to a claimed 71mpg, while CO2 emissions are as low as 105g/km, for a yearly road tax bill of just £20. Inside, the cabin is very well screwed together, there’s plenty of legroom for even the tallest passengers and a simply vast boot boasts 1,950 litres of space with the rear seats folded down. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£20,260 - £36,365

Jaguar XE saloon

The Jaguar XE has taken the compact executive class by storm, and while it hasn’t toppled the BMW 3 Series in this list, it runs it very close. Not only is the XE great to look at, it’s also enjoyable to drive and spend time in thanks to a luxurious interior. Jaguar’s 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine is a peach, too, returning up to a claimed 74mpg and CO2 emissions of just 99g/km (for the 163bhp model). That means it’s road tax-free, but it still sprints from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, so it’s no slouch when you put your foot down. Jaguar hasn’t had a competitor in this class for a while, but it’s certainly come back with a bang with the XE. Read more.

Key points

4.4 / 5
Price 
£26,990 - £44,995

SEAT Leon hatchback

Every diesel in the SEAT Leon range is impressive, but our pick is the 2.0-litre TDI. It provides strong performance while returning impressive fuel economy of just under 70mpg. If you’re looking for even lower running costs, the 1.6-litre TDI Ecomotive model can return up to 83mpg and has CO2 emissions of just 89g/km. Whichever Leon model you choose, you’ll get one of the most stylish family hatchbacks on the road, with a quality interior and plenty of space. The icing on the cake is that the Leon is also great to drive. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£17,700 - £24,695

Nissan Qashqai SUV

The Nissan Qashqai has been toppled by the Renault Kadjar in our Best SUVs list, but slightly better efficiency figures help it retain its position in this list. The 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine returns 74.3mpg compared to the Renault’s 72mpg, while CO2 emissions of 99g/km mean owners won’t have to pay road tax. The appeal of the Qashqai extends to its spacious and comfortable interior, where there’s plenty of space for family and luggage. It’s quiet on long journeys and if you want a bit more power, there’s a larger 1.6-litre diesel available, too. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5
Price 
£18,545 - £28,990

Mazda CX-5 SUV

Buying a sensible family car doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice fun. While the Mazda CX-5 is practical and cheap to run for a car of this size, it’s still enjoyable to drive, thanks in part to its 2.2-litre diesel engine. It returns 61mpg in two-wheel-drive guise and there’s decent performance from the 148bhp engine. It also has plenty of standard equipment and room for all the family and their luggage. The interior could be a bit more interesting to match the exterior, but that’s the only complaint we have. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£23,195 - £30,995

Peugeot 308 hatchback

The latest Peugeot 308 represents a very appealing package for family hatchback buyers. On the outside, it’s sleek and stylish, while inside there’s minimalist design and a generous amount of equipment. It’s also high quality, helping the 308 run key rival the VW Golf close for upmarket appeal. Peugeot’s latest range of diesel engines is smooth and efficient, with the 1.6-litre BlueHDi boasting fuel economy of up to 91mpg Every diesel is tax-free if you avoid larger alloy wheels, too.package. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£15,495 - £28,455

Volkswagen Golf hatchback

The VW Golf is one of the best all-rounders on the market and its wide range of strong and efficient diesel engines helps solidify its place in this top 10. There’s an engine to suit all tastes, but if you want low running costs over and above everything else, the 1.6-litre BlueMotion returns up to 88mpg and is free to tax. The Golf is comfortable and easy to drive, if not quite as much as the Ford Focus. The interior is the Golf’s party piece, with high-quality materials and plenty of space. You do pay for the pleasure, especially in comparison to the SEAT Leon, but strong residual values and the VW badge will appeal to many buyers and should help to offset that higher price. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£17,625 - £27,785

Fiat Panda 4x4 hatchback

Despite its dinky dimensions, the Fiat Panda 4x4 has genuine off-road ability and will shame many larger cars that claim to be off-roaders. It can tackle muddy tracks and steep hills with ease, but it doesn’t come with the high running costs of larger SUVs – the economical diesel engine can return up to 64mpg. It’s surprisingly practical inside despite its compact dimensions, plus the cute, rugged styling boosts its appeal. The Panda also comes with a decent list of standard equipment. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£14,710 - £18,260

MINI hatchback

The MINI range has grown massively over the last few years and now comes with a wide range of diesel engines – there’s a One D, Cooper D and Cooper SD hot hatchback. Our favourite is the mid-range Cooper D model, because it offers a good balance between fuel economy and performance. The diesels are noisier than their petrol counterparts, but there’s more than enough power to ensure you can enjoy the MINI’s famously agile chassis. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£14,075 - £21,400