In Europe, the diesel car is extremely popular and accounts for almost half of the car market. This figure is much higher in Italy and France, with over 70% of the market share. They like their diesel engines because they are more fuel efficient and have a longer lifespan than petrol engines. But it’s a different story in the United States, where the diesel engine has never been fully embraced, and the mention of diesel often conjures up images of slow, smelly, loud and polluting trucks. Even after automakers spent billions to develop cleaner and more powerful diesel engines, selling the diesel idea to Americans remained an arduous task. The recent Volkswagen ‘Dieselgate’ emissions scandal has further damaged US consumer attitudes towards diesel engines.
Still, many diesel-powered vehicles have graced American highways over the years. Cummins, the American multinational corporation specializing in diesel and alternative fuel engines, is one of the leading suppliers of diesel engines. Their engines are quite popular with engine swaps, and the 12-valve Cummins is arguably one of the best diesel engines ever made. If compression ignition excites you, here are some of the best diesel-powered vehicles ever sold in the United States that are worth exploring.
10 Jeep Gladiator
The Gladiator is a legendary nameplate and today’s compact pickup truck evolved from the ashes of the big, powerful 1960s Gladiator. They are completely different trucks, except they share the Gladiator name. The new model comes with an optional 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel engine introduced in the 2021 model to address the lack of powertrain diversity in the Gladiator range.
It produces 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, which is 25 horsepower less than the gasoline equivalent, but with significantly more torque. The ample torque at low revs makes the turbo diesel feel faster in the city than the petrol engine, while fuel consumption is significantly lower.
9 Mercedes-Benz 300 CD/SD Turbo Diesel
Mercedes-Benz had been in the diesel trenches since the 1930s, but in 1978 they took a bold step with the launch of the 300SD, a five-cylinder turbo diesel W116 model built exclusively for the North American market. It exuded pure luxury and low fuel consumption as the oil crisis drew to a close. These cars were so well built that thousands of them are still on the road more than forty years later.
Available for 1982 was the option of a W123 coupe equipped with a turbodiesel inline five-cylinder engine. These cars are still running and are increasingly subject to restoration work. They are easy to convert to the more sustainable biodiesel fuel.
8 Jeep Wrangler
We’re often guilty of overusing the word “iconic,” but not in the case of the Jeep Wrangler, as the American icon has maintained a rugged profile with military roots dating back to World War II. Since then, it has generated an epic, loyal and ever-growing fan base. In addition, it is one of the few American non-commercial vehicles with a diesel powertrain.
The Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon EcoDiesel tri features an impressive V6 diesel engine that the second fastest four-door JL Wrangler nevertheless, with an acceleration from 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds. The V6 turbo diesel engine is shared with the Gladiator and RAM 1500.
7 GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado
GMC has been producing the Duramax diesel engine since 2001. This one was nicknamed ‘Dirtymax’ because of its tendency to smoke heavily after adjustment. The current-generation GMC Canyon can be optionally supplied with a 2.8-liter turbo diesel four-cylinder Duramax engine, the same as found on the Chevrolet Colorado. Essentially, both trucks share the same mechanics, with the Canyon offering boxier looks.
With 181 horsepower and 369 lb-ft at just 2000 rpm, the Duramax helps the Canyon and Colorado reach 7,700 lb. towing capacity. Both trucks have an EPA highway rating of 30 mpg, although the four-wheel version lowers it slightly to 28 mpg.
6 Ford F-150
Having been the best-selling vehicle in America for four decades, the F-150 is an undisputed American icon. The pickup’s ruggedness and reliability are inherent in its design, as Ford has tested it millions of miles before launching it on the market. The F-150 was available with a Power Stroke 3-liter V6 diesel engine, which was discontinued in the 2022 model and replaced with a PowerBoost hybrid option.
Although it was the least powerful engine in the lineup, at just 250 horsepower, its 440 lb-ft of torque made it the best option for those looking for maximum pulling power. But the new hybrid replacement is better for the diesel in every way, with 430 horsepower and 570 lb-ft of torque.
5 BMW X5 xDrive M50d
Over the years, BMW has built and sold a number of notable turbo diesel engines. Best of all was the powerful 3-litre quad-turbo diesel engine, which unfortunately ceased production in 2020 as the high-performance niche engine played a minor role in BMW’s strategy. That doesn’t take away from the grandeur of the six-cylinder behemoth that powers the BMW X5 XDrive M50d. It is one of the most powerful diesel engines for passenger car use, with 394 horsepower and 560 lb-ft.
This diesel engine has an impressively linear power delivery and smoothness, along with an impressive 35mpg power output in combined driving.
4 Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe
The current version of the Chevrolet Tahoe and its bigger brother, the Suburban, share a 3-liter inline six-cylinder turbo diesel engine as an option for the two beefy V8 petrol engines. The diesel engine is also found in other large GM trucks, such as the Silverado 1500, and is good for 277 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque.
Power is transferred to the rear wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission, delivering 28 mpg on the highway in the Tahoe and 27 mpg in the Suburban. Both SUVs make good use of torque and the Tahoe can tow 8200 lbs and the Suburban 8000.
3 Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI
Some readers may have watched the video where: a blue Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI pulls a decommissioned Boeing 747 while already packed with 15,498 pounds of ballast to avoid a wheelie off the runway. That was a major flex that helped show off the capabilities of the 5-liter V10 diesel engine, which put out 304 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. On paper, these aren’t earth-shattering numbers, which makes the achievement even more impressive.
The V10 TDI also excels on the highway, often climbing mountains without breaking a sweat or downshifting. A V6 TDI Clean Diesel was also sold in America between 2009 and 2015.
2 Audi Q7 V12 TDI
Most diesel engines are built to be fuel efficient with little focus on fun. Not at Audi, they pay attention to diesel enthusiasm. A prime example is the twin-turbo 6-liter V12 TDI available in the Q7 SUV offered between 2008 and 2012. The engine was loosely based on the diesel technology that powers the Audi R10 TDI race car.
The engine was the only 12-cylinder diesel engine for a passenger car and was good for 500 hp and 738 Nm of torque. The result was a fast and angry sounding beast that could launch to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds, with a top speed of 176 km/h.
1 Dodge RAM 2500/3500 Cummings 6.7
The fate of RAM’s heavy duty trucks changed in 1989 when they put an industrial 5.9 Cummins inline-six turbo diesel engine under the hood, earning it a legendary reputation. The truck has evolved with the latest generation RAM 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty trucks that can be supplied with a 6.7-litre Cummins six-cylinder turbo diesel. It delivers 370 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque, with a 3500 High Output version tuned for an astonishing 420 hp and 1075 lb-ft of torque.
The result is an impressive towing capacity of 37,090 pounds, more than double what you get from a truck with the 6.4-litre HEMI V8 engine.
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