Diesel vehicles have always had their fans; but in recent years, new-generation clean-diesel models have elevated the technology above that crowd.
For the most part, the overbearing diesel clatter is gone; so is the exhaust soot and odor. And diesels simply make a good sense for Americans, who spend a lot of their drive time on the highway, or on long commutes, where the technology really shines--often returning better mileage in the real world than EPA ratings suggest.
Although the diesel market finally looks poised for a surge in popularity this year, with the introduction of several models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel and Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel, going back three years, there were surprisingly few offerings.
If you're looking to find a diesel model that's also rated well for reliability and safety, as well as well-equipped and pleasant to drive, the field of possibilities becomes even narrower. We've helped you with some of that task, in sifting through the possibilities and applying some of the same qualifiers used in our other 'best of' lists
- at least an 8.0 rating on The Car Connection's full reviews from three years ago--in this case, the 2011 model year
- at least four circles on J.D. Power's predicted-dependability rankings, or at least average reliability on Consumer Reports
- at least four stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
In doing so, we weeded out a few of our favorites; for instance, the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec might be a good used pick for some, but its 'much worse than average' reliability is a red flag; we might also pick up an R-Class as a luxury people-mover, but there's no reliability info. And two other models that have been offered in TDI diesel versions—the Volkswagen Beetle and Volkswagen Passat—both weren't offered for the 2011 model year.
We did apply a little flexibility in a few places, though. Technically, the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta Sedan, and Jetta Sportwagen all earned an overall score of 7.8 in 2011—scores that consider their gasoline engines as well—but we have no doubt they would have tipped to 8.0 or higher only considering the excellent TDI versions.
What we ended up with was a good variety pack of vehicles--a few sedans, a hatch, a wagon, and an SUV, covering a wide range of prices when new or used. Although it's a small group, there's a diesel here for most needs. Our Best Used Diesel 2013 winners are:
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