Long gone are the days when diesels were coughing out loads of black smoke, going marginally faster than an old lady cycling uphill and needing joint efforts of prayers, threats and tears to start on a cold winter morning. Common rail technology made them even more fuel-efficient than they used to be, but also refined, faster and far more eco-friendly.
It actually became a joy to drive some modern diesels. Their low end torque is even better now and they pull with confidence from very low revs, giving a far better everyday driving feel. They are so good that many sporty cars now offer diesel options.
But are they good enough to tackle the performance figures of their gasoline-fueled counterparts in the world of racing? Keeping in mind that the likes of the Audi R10 TDI have been winning high-profile races for more than a decade now, it is safe to say that they are.
Granted, this kind of tech is mostly far from street-legal cars, but some of it has crawled its way to the production lines, so there are some mean diesels out there. Next time you end up next to a diesel at red light and you rev up your gasoline machine while grinning at the driver of the oil burner, make sure the diesel next to you is not one of these cars. Your pride might take a big hit.
- Audi A8 4.8 V8 TDI
The huge sedan has been so successful that it actually put a dent in the sales of the 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S Class. Following the mentioned bunch, the latest version does away with the revered V8, but the previous one packed a serious punch with 351 hp and 590 lb-ft. It reached 62 in 5.5 seconds and topped out at electronically limited 155 mph. Mind you, we are talking about a huge executive sedan bathed in luxury.
- Audi Q7 V12 TDI
Speaking of huge, the Q7 is a full-size SUV. It was aimed to make Americans like diesels, and at 2.7 tonnes of weight it needed something potent to give the push. That ‘something’ is a 6 l V12 with 500 hp and mountain-moving 737 lb-ft of twisting power. It drives this tanker of a car to 62 in 5.5 seconds. Not bad for a massive oil-burning SUV.
- Porsche Cayenne S Diesel
Sure it’s a Porsche, but this big chunk of SUV-shaped metal packed with weight-adding comfort perks and a V8 diesel engine is sure to eat the dust of your cool Toyota 86, right? So wrong. It is almost a full second faster to 62, sprinting in just 5.4s and it packs 627 lb-ft of torque from only 2,000 revs. With 385 hp and that kind of low end push, the likes of the 86 have not a single chance against the Cayenne S Diesel. And it will actually consume less fuel.
- BMW X6 M50d
Three turbochargers with a 3 l engine! Not only do they provide the much-needed boost, but they also virtually eliminate turbo lag. The X6 M50d packs two cylinders fewer than the Cayenne, as well as less power (381 hp) and torque (546 lb-ft), but it is a bit lighter, 0.2 s faster to 62 and also electronically limited to 155 mph. In case you are interested, the official consumption figure for this car stands at 35.6 mpg U.S., which is 7 mpg better than the Cayenne and vastly better than your regular U.S. family sedan powered by a same-sized gasoline engine.
- Bentley Bentayga Diesel
Bentley made its first SUV and enraged purists. Then they gave it a diesel powerplant just to add insult to injury. However, with a 4.0 V8 capable of 435 hp and 664 lb-ft from just 1,000 revs, it is nothing to be frowned upon. The acceleration to 62 takes just 4.8 seconds and you can coast in utter luxury at the top speed of 168 mph.
- BMW M550d
The M550d — packing the same-sized engine, the same three-turbo setup, the same power and torque and the same gearbox as the aforementioned X6, but with noticeably lower and lighter body — accelerates in an astonishing 4.7 seconds. Its official fuel consumption stands at 36.8 mpg, but you’re not very likely to hit that figure in everyday driving. Why? Because this thing just begs to devour anything it runs into. The Charger SRT has two cylinders more, more than twice as much displacement, 111 hp more and it just barely outsprints the M550d, provided you manage to translate that power to the road, while BMW’s xDrive system does it with ease. This is how good the new diesels are.
- BMW 435d xDrive
One of the most versatile options on this list is the 435d. It can come as a coupe, gran coupe or convertible, and in the fastest version it sprints to 62 in 4.7 s. Pretty remarkable, having in mind that the car packs a 3 l diesel with 313 hp.
- Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo
Alpina, if you haven’t heard of it, is a company that has been tuning the hell out of BMW cars for decades now. They have rarely dealt with diesels, but even they couldn’t neglect the massive improvement in the common rail tech, so they gave us this — a 3 Series-based D3 with I6 engine with 345 hp and 516 lb-ft. Sure it is less than the M550d, but the 3 Series is noticeably lighter than the 5 Series, so the D3 is 0.1 s faster to 62 mph. Moreover, Alpina cars don’t have electronic speed limiters like BMWs do, so at 173 mph it has almost 20 mph more breathing space at the top end.
- Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel
In case you haven’t noticed, the Germans love high-performance diesels. This Panamera has 422 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque starting at just 1,000 revs from a 4 l V8. This is a full-size sedan and it is far sportier than any of its diesel competitors from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Add to this the top speed of 177 mph, acceleration to 62 mph of just 4.5 seconds, impeccable charm, beautiful lines, perfect fit and finish and stunning luxury of the Porsche Panamera and most people would wonder why anyone would buy a gasoline-powered luxury sedan.
- Trident Iceni
If you haven’t heard of the Iceni, that’s probably because it doesn’t really exist. It’s not so much a concept as a real road car that cries for funding to be put into production. It is damn beautiful from every side, incredibly classy and really fast. Apparently, the car is pretty much completed, thoroughly tested even by potential customers and packed with futuristic tech. What we know is that it should pack 660 hp and humongous 1047 lb-ft of torque, reaching 62 in under 3 seconds and topping out at over 190 mph. We know it’s not out yet, but we put it at the very top of our list as a vote of confidence. Go Trident!