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What are the best diesel cars?

5 September 2022

Invariably, millions of cars drive through the European roads, including the one equipped with the diesel engines. For many decades, diesel cars have been extremely popular not only among Europeans. Drivers have been eagerly buying both new and second-hand passenger cars with an economic and at the same time dynamic source of power, which consumed up to two times less fuel than the gasoline engines.

The demand has not been decreased even by the prices, substantially higher than for an analogue gasoline engine – a car was often purchased after a simple calculation of fuel consumption costs, the pleasure of driving, and low failure rate of many diesel engines.

After years, the diesel engines have still been extremely popular on the secondary market, thanks to e.g. low demand for the gas oil – which, in current times, has a massive impact on the household budget. When choosing a second-hand diesel car, you should beforehand verify not only its vehicle history – for example on the basis of an autoDNA report – and its technical condition, but most importantly you need to know which items are noteworthy. You should pay close attention to the reliable opinions of auto mechanics. It’s them who are able to competently point out the advantages, as well as the costly drawbacks of cars the diesel engines – which, despite seemingly good technical condition, sooner or later face certain issues or a technical defect. In the case of a car without a warranty, the repair expenses have to entirely borne by you, the owner.


The best diesel cars – our TOP 10

When searching through the secondary market to find refined and sustainable diesel cars, you can come across constructions of small capacity which do very well in cars from the B- and the C-segments, the ones more popular and suitable for every-day exploitation engines of 2.0 capacity, as well as the definitely more expensive in servicing 5- and 6-cylinder items. Nevertheless, choosing the engines version recommended by experts is only half the success. The previous servicing on high level and its frequency, as well as the care – style of driving – of the owner, are of key importance. Only the resultant of all these factors translates into the legendary sustainability and impressive mileages of some engines with the compression-ignition.


2.0 HDI

The 2.0 HDI engine, one of the signature creations of the French engineers from the PSA group, has been consistently exceptionally durable for the last two decades. The 4-cylinder item debuted in the Peugeot and Citroen offers in 1998, and for years it has been widely modernised and enhanced which ensured it a placed among the most modern constructions of its times. However, it is the positive reviews of the satisfied users which constitute the best recommendation. Only in the initial period, the 8-valve warhead was used, which was soon replaced with the 16-valve one. Since the beginning of the production the common rail direct fuel injection was used which was alternately provided by the German brands Siemens and Bosch – the injectors need to be regenerated. In order to optimise the production costs and later the servicing costs, the valve drive uses a belt – which needs replacing depending on the version every 120.000 or even every 240.000 km. Obligatory additions are the variable geometry turbocharger (the variable geometry is missing only in the weakest version with power of 90 HP), dual-mass flywheel, and later the particulate matter FAP filter which requires cyclic refilling the additive which supports soot burning. Throughout the years, version with the power of 90, 109, 136, 140, 50, 163, ad 180 HP have been offered – all of them, when handled by an experienced river, can very efficiently consume fuel. 2.0 HDI has been offered not only in the PSA group cars, but also for years it has been installed in Ford and Volvo cars.


1.9 / 2.0 MultiJet

Another engine which is trouble-free when frequently serviced is the Italian 1.9 JTD and also the modern 2.0 MultiJet, developed on the basis of the former. Apart from Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo cars, these engines for years have been also available in Suzuka, Opel, Saab, and even in Cadillac cars. Let us remind you that it is Fiat which was the pioneer in the commercial use of the diesel engine with the common rail direct fuel injection – the Croma model was sold already in the 90s. The history of 1.9 JTD began in the 90s, and depending on the version, the manufacturer would use the 8- or the 16-valve warhead, the variable geometry turbocharger or the simple turbocharger. The valve drive is based in this case on cheap in production and replacement belt, and in the newer versions, unfortunately, there is the particulate matter filter and the dual-mass flywheel. Interestingly, 1.9 JTD was at first offered also in the small cars in the B-segment, such as Fiat Punto. Version with the power between 80 and 150 HP were offered, and in the Saab and Lancia offers for a short period the version with the twin turbo which could muster up 190 HP, which was impressive at that time. Nevertheless, if your budget permits, it’s much better to invest in a newer construction, that is 2.0 MultiJet, which was a development of its predecessor. 2.0 MultiJet disposed of power between 110 and 170 HP, with twin turbo of 195 HP.


1.9 TDI

Undoubtedly, the synonym of sustainability in the entire Europe is the developed by the VW group diesel 1.9 TDI. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see mileages of cars with this engine reaching 500.000-700.000, when the engine was properly maintained. Additionally, in stronger versions, it ensured good performance at least while consuming ascetic amounts of diesel. It all started in 1991 when it debuted in Audi 80 – the first version was 80 HP, and in the following years, the offer was expanded with weaker variants and, of course, stronger ones. For over a quarter of a century of the 1.9 TDI career, it was offered in tens of models of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat. The success of this unit is in its well-developed construction, elements of the ancillaries and well sustainable materials. VW instead of the making the use of the successfully used by the competition common rail injection, stubbornly used its own equally effective solution – the pump-injector – whose problem was in its mercilessly loud work at every revolution range. The turbo versions (the turbocharger was used either with the variable geometry or without it) generated 75-160 HP always presenting low fuel consumption. There was also a simplified and crude version available – 1.9 SDI deprived of the turbocharger. The power of 68 HP which was generated by it was enough for casual driving without the fear that fuel would run out. In this case, of course, we won’t the dual-mass flywheel and other pricey extras.


3.0 D BMW

To a large extent, it is the efficiency and sustainability of the engine that shape not only the driving impressions but also the perception of the whole car by its user. For the demanding ones, the 6-cylinder 3.0 D diesel manufactured for over two decades by BMW is an interesting option. The unit, aide from many models of the Bavarian brand, was used also in the Range Rover cars. Since its debut in 1998, it has been continuously impressing people with its elasticity and, surprisingly, its appetite for the engine oil. Even the weaker versions ensure good performance, also with full load – they can also be easily enhanced with any electronical and technical modifications which increase its power. Initially, versions of the power between 184-204 HP were available, in the following years their power was increased to 300 HP. The well-maintained copies instantly find their new owners, which only proves the exceptional sustainability of this unit. The weaker version dispose of a single compressor, the stronger ones feature two or three –the third one being electric – all in the name of good performance which would be enough to defeat the gasoline engines of similar power.


2.4 D Volvo

For long years, Volvo was known for the production of strong gasoline engines which ensured great performance. The diesel engines which were available in certain models, originated from other manufacturers – these were developed by the VM group. The situation changed in 2011, when Swedes introduced their own diesel engine, a 5-cylinder one, of course. 2.4 D since the beginning disposed of the common rail direct fuel injection and the variable geometry turbocharger. In the following years, the particulate matter filter was obligatorily introduces, forced by the emission standards. Out of the concern for the usage comfort, the dual-mass flywheel was also used. The versions of the power between 130-215 HP were available. The nit was used only in the Swedish brand cars.


2.2 i-DTEC Honda

Honda, similarly to Volvo, focused on the gasoline engine, and diesels would come from external providers. A breakthrough happened along with the introduction of the original 2.2 i-DTEC engine which was used in Accord and CR-V. Depending on the manufacture date and the version, it disposed of the power of 140 HP (the older ones), and 150-180 HP. The aluminum construction created by an engineer named Kenichi Nagahiro was equipped with the common rail direct fuel injection developed by the Denso company, a dual-mass flywheel, a particulate matter filter, a variable geometry turbo created by the Garett company, and, equally importantly, a timing chain. In this case, the chain is an indeed maintenance-free element. The only problem of the Japanese diesel is the higher cost of operation resulting from the high prices of spare parts.


3.0 V6 CDI Mercedes

For long years, Mercedes was the unattainable example of constructing sustainable diesel engines. The German constructions without major failures would drive for millions of kilometers, still working excellently. At that time, it resulted from the simple construction and excellent materials, however, now units are very complex and forced, which is not left unnoticed. Nevertheless, a properly services 3.0 V6 CDI installed in many models of this brand can combine good performance with sustainability. The common rail direct fuel injection by Bosch was used in it, the SCR catalyst which required refilling the AdBlue fluid level, a variable geometry turbocharger, and a range of modern elements. It disposes of the power between 190-265 HP.


1.6 MultiJet Fiat

The construction by the Fiat engineers can be easily added to the group of engines ensuring low fuel consumption and high sustainability. The 4-cylinder 1.6 MultiJet was introduced in 2007, and it was created on the basis of other appreciated bigger constructions – with which it shares e.g. the block. The 16-valve warhead was used in it, as well as the variable geometry turbo – the weaker versions featured the fixed geometry turbo – and a particulate matter filter. Let us add that the initially weaker versions weren’t equipped with the particulate matter filter and the dual-mass flywheel. The versions of power 90, 105 and 120 HP were sold, and, of course they were equipped with the common rail direct fuel injection. 1.6 MultiJet was used in Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia.


2.0 TDI Volkswagen

At the beginning of the 21st century, the VW group introduced the successor of the legendarily sustainable 1.9 TDI engine – the 2.0 TDI one. Unfortunately, for the first years the unit was not appreciated. Only a series of serious modernisations brought the expected results. The most serious change was the introduction of the common rail direct fuel injection – a solution which had been used by the competition for decades. What’s more, the faulty timing chain was replaced with a trouble-free and cheap in replacement belt, which eliminated anther serious defect of the previous versions. Depending on the version, 2.0 TDI generates 150, 190 HP, and in the twin turbo version – impressive 240 HP. Of course, the car was equipped with a DPF particulate matter filter, a dual-mass flywheel and a variable geometry turbocharger.


3.0 V6 TDI VW

On the secondary market, the 3.0 V6 TDI unit, created by the VW group, receives extreme reviews. It was used in flagship models of Volkswagen, many Audi models, and at some point also in Porsche Cayenne and Panamera. Its complex construction required a professional and, unfortunately, expensive servicing, and any savings take revenge on you with double strength. 3.0 V6 TDI has been offered since 2004 – the variants available were of power between 204-313 HP, always ensuring a certain reserve of power and torque. What’s more, in practice it turned out to be extremely economical. The unit was equipped with the common rail direct fuel injection by Bosch, a particulate matter filter, and a variable geometry turbocharger. However, it’s the complex valve drive which uses up to four chains that generates the most service expenses. Unfortunately, the chains are not maintenance-free, and after 200.000-250.000 kilometers of mileage, they most often require replacing along with the tensioner and rollers. The cost of the entire repair takes up to several dozen hours of work of an auto mechanic.


Let go of these diesels

When thinking about purchasing a used diesel car, you need to remember which construction you should be avoided. They work properly only sometimes, and the costs of possible repairs are substantial. Badly-done diesels were also manufactured by the experience producers. Unfortunately, the defective and underdeveloped solutions are often released on the market before the problems are detected.


3.0 V6 dCI / CDTI Opel / Renault/ Isuzu

It often happens that the technically faulty engine versions which drastically increase the cost of the on-going servicing on the secondary market are given overly attractive prices – lower than the primarily cheaper and weaker versions. An excellent example of this is the 6-cylinder V-angle diesel created by the Japanese engineers of Isuzu. The 3.0 V6 CDTI engine (a commercial designation in Opel) was manufactured in 2003-2008. It was a typical diesel in the offers of Opel Vectra C, Signum, Renault Vel Satis and Saab 9-5. Since the beginning, it disposed of the common rail direct fuel injection produced by Denso – the regeneration of the injectors is possible, although very expensive and complicated. The timing system is driven with the belt, whose periodical replacement is not overly expensive. The variable geometry turbocharger was used, as well as the dual-mass flywheel. At first, the engine disposed of power of 177 HP, and after 2005 the power was increased to 184 HP. 3.0 V6 CDTI tends to overheat, and in addition, the cylinder sleeves drop, in effect of which the fault of the cooling system occurs, and sometimes the engine might lock up. The cost of the repair surpasses the value of the car.


2.5 V6 TDI VW

Between 1997 and 2010, one of the worst diesel engines by the Volkswagen group was produced. 2.5 V6TDI was offered in e.g. Volkswagen Passat B5, Skoda Superb and a range of Audi models. It disposed of power between 150-180 HP and enough flexibility reserves. A fully operative engine captivates with the work culture and the velvety sound, in which a big contribution has the balance shaft placed in the oil pan – which is also driven with a very long timing chain. Just like in the case of the modern diesels, here also the variable geometry turbocharger and the duel-mass flywheel were used, and the common rail direct fuel injection by Bosch equipped with the distributor pump was responsible for transporting fuel. The fuel pump along with the electric steering breaks down unexpectedly fast, the fragile timing also generates problems – the chain itself is blamed for this, along with the rapidly degenerating camshafts, due to which the engine loses its power, consumes more fuel, and above all, encounters issues with starting-up. The incorrect work of the timing drive results in worsened efficiency of the cooling system, which, in extreme cases, might end up in the engine locking up.


2.5 D VM Jeep

This 4-cylinder diesel found its place in the automotive industry by mistake. It was primarily intended for boats, where exploitation is completely different – the engine works at a stable revolution speed for its nearly entire service life. The Italian unit was produced between 1987 up to 2001, and during this time it was used in e.g. Jeep, Chrysler, Ford Scorpio II and Alfa Romeo 155 and 164. The engine was equipped with the turbocharger, indirect fuel injection and the timing drive based on indestructible gear wheels – and in 1996-1998 it was based on a timing belt. The power this diesel generated oscillated between 101 and 125 HP and 300 Nm, which was a good result as for those times. A really interesting solution was using four separate aluminum warheads with a shared gasket – thanks to which detecting any leakage in one cylinder requires disassembling all warheads and  using dedicated tools to assemble them back. In addition, the owner has to face constant leakages and problems with finding a knowledgeable expert.


2.0 Boxer Diesel Subaru

For entire decades, gasoline was inherently associated with the Subaru cars. Along with the obligatory constant four-wheel drive, most of the cars characterised in the boxer layout of cylinders. Such construction generates an incomparable work sound and has its center of gravity located low. Several years ago, the Japanese developed from scratch their own, unique diesel – also in the boxer layout. 2.0 Boxer Diesel generated 147-150 HP which was perfectly sufficient, it was equipped with the common rail direct fuel injection, the variable geometry turbocharger, the DPF particulate matter filter, and the dual-mass flywheel. Initially, it amazed drivers with its dynamics and low fuel consumption. However, a range of problems occurred shortly after the release. The clutches were very fragile and expensive in repair, it constantly had problems with the EGR valve and the DPF filter, as well as there were case of the bearings and the crankshafts rotating, and the blocks cracking. In such situation, the only solution is to avoid this unit.


2.0 D BMW N47

The history of BMW has also witnessed the technically underdeveloped engines. An excellent example of this is the popular 4-cylinder 2.0 D N47 series diesel – it was used in e.g. BMW 3, 5, X3, X1 series, and others. It always guaranteed high work culture, more than enough performance and still very low fuel consumption. The engine was available in the power range between 143-204 HP. The manufacturer equipped the engine with the common rail direct fuel injection, the variable geometry turbocharger, the dual-mass flywheel, and the particulate matter filter. The timing drive was driven by the belt. As befits BMW, the engine was placed longitudinally in the compartment, to additionally make servicing more difficult – the timing was placed at the back of the engine, on the compartment side. In order to conduct replacing in accordance with the art, it’s necessary to uninstall the entire engine – which takes several dozen of work hours. To make things worse, the entire timing drive causes problems – the chain, tensioners and rollers are fragile, and they unexpectedly soon require quick intervention. In the initial version, the gear wheel was integrated with the crankshaft, which would increase the repair costs. After modernisation, some defects were eliminated, although the unit is deemed to be trouble-some and expensive in exploitation.


When it comes to the diesel engines which are advices against, the general technical condition is of lesser importance. Even if you manage to find on the secondary market a perfectly maintained item with real low mileage, you won’t be able to avoid problems anyway. Sooner or later, the typical for it technical defects will lead to certain faults and failures. Their expensive repair will solve the problem only temporarily, until the next failure.

What are the best diesel cars?
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What are the best diesel cars?
For many decades, diesel cars have been extremely popular not only among Europeans. What is the best diesel cars?
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