Best diesel cars 2022

If you need to strike a balance between performance and fuel economy, then these are some of the best diesel cars you can buy

Sales of cars with diesel engines have been on the slide of late, with plenty of manufacturers dropping them from certain model line-ups altogether. In some ways that’s a surprise, because the latest diesel cars are cleaner than ever.

Yes, diesels do pollute, but the latest models are far cleaner than those of old and have lots of technology on board to help reduce the harmful gases they pump out.

Diesel still has an important role to play in the European car market. With clear fuel economy and CO2 emissions advantages over petrol engined cars, diesel is a sensible choice for buyers of larger cars who cover higher mileages. The smooth, muscular power delivery of a diesel really comes into its own on longer journeys in particular.

With that in mind, check out what we think are the best diesel cars on sale now. They offer a great combination of low running costs and superb performance...

Best diesel cars 2022

  1. Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI
  2. Mercedes C 220 d
  3. BMW 320d
  4. Mercedes E 300 de
  5. Vauxhall Astra 1.5 Turbo D (130)
  6. Volvo XC60 B4
  7. Renault Megane dCi 115
  8. Mercedes Benz S 350
  9. Land Rover Discovery D300
  10. BMW 520d
  11. Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2d

1. Skoda Octavia

The Skoda Octavia was crowned Family Car of the Year at the 2021 Auto Express New Car Awards, with the hatchback offering a unique mix of efficient engines, a practical cabin, great technology and - as the Czech brand does so often - a focus on value for money.

The 2.0-litre diesel engine available in the line-up comes in two states of tune: a lesser powered, 114bhp version that’s capable of up to 68.9mpg, or a 148bhp alternative with a DSG automatic gearbox that still achieves 64.2mpg. 0-62mph takes 10.3 and 8.7 seconds respectively, and while the turn of speed won’t blow you away it’s more than adequate for everyday driving in either form.

Inside, passenger space is excellent with plenty of legroom and headroom to go around throughout. The boot is an impressive size too, measuring up at 600 litres even with the rear seats in place. Should you drop those down, capacity rises to 1,555 litres.

The infotainment system is the cherry on the cake. SE L First Edition cars get a 10-inch touchscreen, which is responsive, easy to read and comes with logically laid out menus too.

2. Mercedes C 220 d

The Mercedes C-Class has continued to evolve, and it’s currently one of the best compact executive saloons money can buy. Not only does it look sharp, the classy and tech-laden interior puts far more expensive models to shame.  Set off and you’ll also find unrivalled levels of comfort.

Diesel power consists of the 197bhp C 220 d and the C 300 d with 261bhp, and most buyers will find the former more than adequate - especially as it comes as standard with the same nine-speed automatic gearbox as the pricier model, resulting in smooth progress and impressive efficiency at all speeds.

Officially the C 220 d can return up to 61.4mpg, but we found even more impressive numbers are possible if you drive carefully on a longer run. Not only is that good going for an upmarket four-door saloon, but it can give a hybrid a serious run for its money.

3. BMW 320d

BMW returned to form with the latest 3 Series by shedding weight, improving driving dynamics and adding an impressive array of on-board technology. The 320d in particular will be a popular choice within the 3 Series range as the 187bhp unit possesses genuine performance.

The 3 Series has also lost up to 55kg, which not only helps it return to the top of the class for handling but improves fuel economy. The 320d achieves more than 60mpg on a combined cycle and while that may not sound particularly impressive, it has undergone the stricter WLTP tests so those figures should be achievable in real world driving. The 3 Series now boasts mild-hybrid technology too, squeezing that little bit more out of the tank.

The previous generation 3 Series was a strong competitor in the compact executive saloon sector but the Mercedes C-Class was more refined and the Jaguar XE better to drive. The new car however, has gone straight to the top of the class.

4. Mercedes E 300 de

It isn’t often that diesel engines are used in plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs): in fact, Mercedes is the only manufacturer to have tried it so far. And on paper the set-up makes perfect sense: you get a battery and an electric motor to give you the lowest running costs on short journeys, and then a diesel engine to provide the best possible fuel economy on a long-distance, motorway cruise.

Equipped with a diesel engine (you can also get an E-Class PHEV with a petrol engine), the E 300 de will hit 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, operating as smoothly as you’d expect from a car bearing a Mercedes badge. Up to 217mpg is claimed, but this is a figure inflated by the E 300 de’s 25 miles of electric-only range. You can still expect 50mpg from the engine on its own, though.

Beyond that, the car’s strengths are the comfort it offers and its high-quality interior, not to mention its sophisticated styling.

5. Vauxhall Astra 1.5 Turbo D (130)

It’s all change for the Vauxhall Astra, one of Britain’s top-selling family cars. The new model is the first since Vauxhall came under the Stellantis’ umbrella, so the Mk8 Astra now shares a lot with the Peugeot 308. It has a cleaner, more angular look, and the interior ditches a traditional button-heavy layout for widescreen displays.

While its engine is still a 1.5-litre diesel, it isn’t to be confused with the quirky three-cylinder unit found in the old car. Instead it’s now the same four-cylinder diesel engine found in the Peugeot. It’s more refined at idle than the three-pot, and its 128bhp delivers enough performance for most families. 

The promise of up to 64.2mpg should also suit high-mileage drivers, especially those expecting to rack up plenty of motorway miles. CO2 emissions are low at 114g/km, and while choosing the automatic gearbox does affect this, it only increases by 4g/km.

6. Volvo XC60 B4

At the premium end of the compact SUV class, the Volvo XC60 is as good as it gets. Comfort and luxury are its key strengths, with a fine interior design, a practical cabin and an excellent engine line-up making it a terrific all-rounder.

The diesel B4 engine is your best best for keeping running costs low (unless you fancy splashing out more for the T8 plug-in hybrid variant). Volvo claims fuel economy of 44.1mpg, while 194bhp will get you around very happily. Emissions sit at 168g/km, not helped by the fact the all-wheel drive option is now standard - the discontinued front-wheel drive version used to help cut this figure for savvy company-car drivers.

It’s true that the XC60 isn’t the last word in ride comfort, falling shy of the standard set by the BMW X3. However, it’s well-composed through corners and offers a nice blend of comfort and purpose for when you feel like driving more aggressively.

7. Mercedes S 350 d

Massive road presence and a cosseting interior mean the Mercedes S-Class is our top luxury car, and it's at its best in diesel guise: if you want the ultimate in luxury diesel driving, then look no further.

Actually, that's not strictly true. Mercedes offers a hybrid S-Class as a true economy champ, but the hybrid powertrain isn't so suited to the car as this diesel engine. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 is super-smooth yet seriously quick with 0-62mph taking just 6.4 seconds - quite a feat in a car weighing nearly two tonnes. Yet driven carefully it will return 42.8mpg.

Weight certainly aids comfort and whatever guise the S-Class is in, it irons out any imperfections in the road. Sophisticated technology 'reads' the road ahead and is able to prep the air suspension for upcoming bumps. This really is one of the most comfortable cars short of a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

The Mercedes S-Class has always been a showcase for the absolute latest technology and this one doesn't disappoint, with two 12-inch screens in the dash, mobile data, optional night vision, reclining rear seats and an industry first - there isn't a single filament lightbulb on the car.

When it comes to luxury limos, the S-Class stands head-and-shoulders above its rivals.

8. Land Rover Discovery D300

The Land Rover Discovery is an incredibly capable machine: it’s spacious inside, it’s exceedingly comfortable and the technology on offer compares well with the very best kit imaginable. It also does what few other SUVs can realistically hope to achieve off-road, yet doesn’t suffer from impaired on-road driving dynamics as a result.

The 3.0-litre diesel engine is a joy to behold, with 296bhp in the D300 range-topper. 0-62mph takes 6.8 seconds en route to a top speed of 130mph, and the soundtrack along the way will be music to your ears.

While most diesels offer a semblance of decent fuel economy, the D300… doesn’t. You’re looking at an official figure of 33.9mpg, although the reality is even bleaker with anything approaching 30mpg worthy of a celebration. Emissions aren’t great either, standing at 220g/km. Still, if you’re able to meet the lofty asking price for a Discovery then this won’t be too worrisome.

9. BMW 520d

The BMW 520d is a great all-rounder - mixing comfort, economy and performance in a practical package. Like the new 3 Series, the current 5 Series benefits from a 100kg weight reduction over its predecessor. This aids driving dynamics, important in all BMW saloons, as well as efficiency.

The 520d makes up a huge chunk of 5 Series sales and it’s not hard to see why: the 187bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel gives the 520d a warm-hatch rivalling 7.5 second 0-62mph time. More impressive though is the fuel economy achieved with the addition of a 48-volt mild-hybrid system; very nearly 60mpg under the latest WLTP rules.

Of course, there are much more powerful engines available with the 5 Series - topping out in the form of the 616bhp M5 Competition, but the 520d is a competent performer, providing the driving experience you’d expect of a BMW and the efficiency you may not. 

10. Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.2d

It’s not often that a manufacturer gets a car right first time round, but the Alfa Romeo Giulia hit the ground running when it arrived a few years back, impressing with its superb handling and looks that made a fresh change from what was already available in the compact executive saloon sector.

There’s no manual gearbox option in the UK, however the eight-speed automatic doesn’t disappoint regardless of what it’s paired to. The 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine is the biggest seller here, available with 158bhp or 187bhp. Unlike many of the alternatives out there it has a very linear power delivery and feels more eager to rev, although as a consequence there’s not as much torque available at the lower end of the range as we’d like.

Still, 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds isn’t too shabby (7.1 seconds for the higher-powered diesel) and 53.3mpg is pretty good too. The Giulia ticks all the right boxes when it comes to the fundamentals too, with a useful infotainment system, very reasonable interior space and a 480-litre boot that’s as useful as anything else out there at this price.

The challenges facing diesel

Today's diesel cars are a far cry from the noisy, rattly, smoky diesels of old. They use clever particulate filters and additional measures that are designed to cut exhaust emissions, and one study has estimated that you would need to put 42 million new diesel cars on the road to match a coal-fired power station for harmful nitrogen oxide emissions.

That hasn’t stopped the UK government from introducing schemes like the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in London as a deterrent for drivers of high-polluting vehicles. Unfortunately for drivers of most diesel cars registered before 2016, their cars don’t meet the standards set by Euro 6 and they’ll need to pay £12.50 per day to enter the ULEZ zone. Every new diesel car on sale today is Euro 6 compliant and increasing numbers are also compliant with the tougher RDE2 real-world emissions standards.

The reputation of diesel wasn't helped by Volkswagen and the Dieselgate scandal. The manufacturer fitted devices to some of its TDI engines to achieve better emissions results in lab tests than were possible in everyday driving. The resulting scandal pushed through the introduction of the more representative WLTP and RDE emissions tests that give a closer indication of the fuel economy and emissions a car will produce in the real world. But even the VW story was concentrated on older diesel engines, and the current ones are just as clean and efficient as those made by rivals.

Diesel pump

As part of the fallout of the diesel backlash, some manufacturers have rolled back on the number of diesel models they offer. Small diesel engined cars in particular are becoming rare with hybrid and electric technology taking over. On the whole, however, a diesel car is still a sound choice for the new car buyer with the right usage patterns.

Should you buy a diesel car?

Our top 10 diesel cars offer smooth driving, great efficiency and plenty of power for every day needs, although you should still consider whether a diesel model suits you. If you do lots of short, urban low-speed journeys, then you won't be getting the best from a diesel, and a petrol, hybrid or electric model might be a better bet. That’s part of the reason why so few small cars are offered with diesel engines today.

Diesel is still the engine of choice if you cover longer distances, as it's more fuel efficient than an equivalent petrol, while the torque of a diesel engine means they're well suited to towing, but without harming fuel economy too severely.

Best diesel automatics

Given the kind of long distance driving at which diesel cars excel, automatic gearboxes are a very popular choice. The user-friendliness of a smooth self-shifting gearbox is great whether you’re cruising on the motorway or snarled up in an urban traffic jam. Our picks of the diesel models on sale today include numerous models with automatic gearboxes that will take even more of the strain out of your daily driving.

Cars like the Volvo XC90, and Mercedes S 350 d come with autos as standard, while family hatchbacks like the Megane and Civic offer autos as an option. BMW’s eight-speed automatic available in the 3 Series and 5 Series is a particularly slick performer, with barely perceptible shifts that are designed to make the most of the diesel engine's efficiency.

Diesel power not for you? Then check out our list of the best hybrid cars to buy...

Most Popular

Citroen Ami on sale in the UK this summer from £7,695
Citroen Ami UK - front static
Citroen Ami

Citroen Ami on sale in the UK this summer from £7,695

The compact quadricycle is pricier than first thought, but the Citroen Ami will still be the UK’s cheapest ‘car’
24 May 2022
New Toyota GR86 2022 review
Toyota GR86
Toyota GR86

New Toyota GR86 2022 review

The GT86 has evolved into the GR86, gaining a bigger engine, a stiffer shell and chassis tweaks. Is it now affordable sports car perfection?
26 May 2022
New SsangYong Musso Saracen 2022 review
SsangYong Musso Saracen - front tracking
SsangYong Musso

New SsangYong Musso Saracen 2022 review

The 2022 SsangYong Musso pickup features sharper looks and a new diesel engine
25 May 2022