Americans are slowly but surely wrapping their brains around the idea of driving diesel cars. Those Europeans get it — and you can tell, because most European service stations have diesel as the primary fuel choice and standard gasoline as the secondary selection. Diesel powertrains aren’t what they used to be, and they’re no longer reserved for just big rigs. With the rise of clean-burning diesel engines, we’re seeing more and more manufacturers jump onboard, including domestic automakers. Though we’re nowhere near the available selection of diesel cars in the EU, there’s hope for us diesel lovers with a growing group of high-torque transports for sale in America. Get behind the wheel of one of these greats, and you’ll start to understand what the 50 states have been missing out on.

Additional contribution by Amos Kwon

More Diesel: BMW X5 35D | Ducati Monster Diesel Edition | Road Trip Essentials

Audi A7 TDI

Best Diesel for the Eco-Executive

IN BRIEF

Miles Driven: 658
Verdict: Sexy and fuel-miserly have never looked so good together.
Memorable Moment: Using the A7 TDI as a production vehicle for a desert shoot, getting a quick car wash and driving it out to a double date at a swanky tapas restaurant.

Taking what is arguably the best Audi design in the last decade and giving it enough variations to spin it off to an entire brand, the A7, S7, RS 7, and the A7 TDI represent the whole range of Audi’s passions. On the eco side of things, the TDI offers 420 lb-ft of torque while netting 38 MPG on the freeway, making it one of the most desirable vehicles available. The TDI’s interior features one of the most beautiful natural wood inlays to grace an Audi, along with plenty of space in the boot thanks to its hatchback-like opening. With nearly 700 miles of freeway range and classic Audi comfort, it’s no wonder those Le Mans diesels keep winning.

Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC

Best Diesel for the Family Man:

IN BRIEF

Miles Driven: 573
Verdict: A sophisticated and eminently capable SUV both on- and off-road.
Memorable Moment: Getting a wave from a fellow BlueTEC driver on the freeway, and giving them a certain “they know what’s up” look.

Here’s a winning combination: the most practical SUV Mercedes offers, along with the best fuel economy. The crisp design, ample interior space and classic Mercedes-Benz creature comforts, plus all-wheel-drive and 455 lb-ft of torque made the extremely smooth and reassuringly hefty ML350 BlueTEC a great choice for a road trip from LA to San Diego. The fuel economy is only slightly better than the traditional V6 at 28 mpg highway, but when you have mile after mile of road ahead of you, every little bit helps.

Chevy Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel

The Only American Diesel Sedan:

IN BRIEF

Miles Driven: 1,938
Verdict: It’s no Corvette, but it’s worthy in its own special way.
Memorable Moment: “Cruzing” down the Pennsylvania Turnpike and marveling at what Chevy has wrought.

The bow tie brand has taken a step no other American carmaker has attempted: to deliver a capable compact sedan with a clean-burning turbo-diesel powertrain. It takes everything great about the already hugely popular Cruze and adds a less-thirsty engine with 151 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque. Chevy also decided to throw in a sport-tuned suspension, which makes driving a bit more enjoyable than with the standard naturally aspirated one. And the interior? Still very much a Chevy, but with ergonomics and materials that make their previous generation of compact sedans seem like an embarrassment. It’s a bargain diesel that seems anything but bargain.

Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel

The Diesel Jeep Paul Bunyan Would Drive

IN BRIEF

Miles Driven: 1,138
Verdict: The best way to experience an American luxury off-road chariot.
Memorable Moment: Being genuinely bummed when we had to relinquish the car after six weeks.

With aggressive styling, European creature comforts and Jeep’s well known off-road capabilities, the best American SUV on the market is only made better by the 30 MPG freeway-rated EcoDiesel engine. This is an SUV that holds its own against pricier German and British offerings. It inspires confidence, whether it’s in the mountains, around town or just sitting in your driveway — which won’t be very often. And it’s beautiful both inside and out, with a robust fascia replete with chrome accents and a sweet hood bulge, along with a crisp, two-tone interior. Does mud have any place on a car like this?

BMW 535d

The Silent Diesel:

IN BRIEF

Miles Driven: 457
Verdict: You can get an eco-conscious Ultimate Driving Machine without compromise.
Memorable Moment: Shocking a friend when I casually mentioned it was a diesel, thus ending his preconceived notions about smokestacks and sooty air.

Most diesels offer two things: great fuel economy and a clattery engine. However, with the BMW 525d, there is only the former. Its 3-liter inline six-cylinder turbo is easily the most non-diesel engine in this list of participants, making it even more attractive than its beautiful body would suggest. Nothing about this car, including the addition of aggressive M-Sport wheels, reveal its 38 MPG capabilities. It also doesn’t short you on amenities — like a panoramic sunroof and a crisp 10.2-inch display screen that showcases the full suite of BMW’s connected drive applications. This feat of German engineering truly puts the “ultimate” in “Ultimate Driving Machine.”

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