Diesel sells. In fact, almost half of all cars sold each year in the UK have a diesel engine. It’s easy to see why: they offer significantly better fuel economy than their petrol counterparts, while tax obligations can be lower if you choose diesel over petrol.

Despite the government’s recent switch to a new set of rules for road tax that puts petrol engines more on a level pegging with diesels, they do nothing to detract from the 60mpg+ returned by many modern diesel cars – a figure many petrol engines struggle to match.

It’s worth pointing out that diesels deliver their power in a different way to petrol engines. That means a petrol car may have a better 0-62mph time than a diesel model with similar power, but once on the move, the diesel may feel – and be – faster. This can make long motorway drives more relaxing in a diesel car, and is another reason why the UK has taken diesel to its heart over the last two decades or so.

It’s also likely that diesels will continue to remain something of a default choice for SUVs and large executive saloons for a while, as the extra grunt a medium-sized diesel engine produces is comparable with a far larger and thirstier petrol engine. It’s a similar story with caravanners: diesel engines produce their power at low revs, making them perfectly suited to towing, as they don’t have to be worked so hard to make progress.

Diesel cars are more expensive to buy than petrols, though, and that means it’s worth doing your sums before ordering. As a rule of thumb, if you cover more than 12,000 miles a year, a diesel’s extra economy will pay for itself over the course of ownership. If you aren’t sure whether diesel or petrol is best for you, our guide is here to help.

Our top 10 rundown selects the best diesel cars on sale today. It comprises SUVs, executive saloons and family hatchbacks that are all excellent models in their own right. They’re also all available with some of the smoothest, quietest and most economical diesel engines currently being built.

Skoda Superb Estate

Skoda Superb Estate
It’s easy to run out of superlatives when discussing the current Skoda Superb Estate. It’s fantastic value for money, rides well, is enormously spacious and comes exceptionally well equipped. Out of the two 2.0-litre diesel engines available, we’d suggest the 148bhp version. It gives you all the oomph you need, as well as impressive 68.9mpg economy. If outright economy is your goal, though, the 118bhp 1.6-litre Greenline model manages 76.4mpg. It’s also absolutely enormous inside – embarrassing some cars in the class above – so the cavernous boot should easily be able to swallow anything a family can throw at it. What’s more, it’s a pretty good-looking car and significantly cheaper than the smaller Volkswagen Passat Estate, with which it shares its platform. As it’s a large and supremely sensible car, you might expect the Superb Estate to be dull as ditchwater to drive, but in truth it’s actually pretty enjoyable and very relaxing when left to its own devices.

Mercedes E-Class saloon

Mercedes E-Class saloon
We love the latest Mercedes E-Class saloon here at Carbuyer: it shot straight to the top of the executive car class when it launched early in 2016. Much of this is down to its supreme comfort and impressive hi-tech kit, but the new 2.0-litre diesel engine of the E200d is a big factor, too. It’s a massive improvement over the old 2.1-litre, providing more power, using less fuel, emitting considerably less CO2 and being much quieter and more refined. According to official figures, it’ll return over 72mpg, but despite this impressive figure, it’s not slow. Going from 0-62mph takes under nine seconds and the E200d has plenty of urge all the way through the rev range, meaning it’s an effortless motorway cruiser. A silky-smooth driving experience and one of the nicest interiors around seal the deal.

BMW 3 Series saloon

BMW 3 Series saloon
Still a legend and deservedly so, the BMW 3 Series drives brilliantly, has a wonderful interior and, as long as you avoid M Sport models, is impressively comfortable, too. This company-car favourite also has a great range of diesel engines, with our favourite being the 161bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder 320d. There’s enough grunt to keep you going and it’s spread nice and evenly through the rev range, while internal tweaks to the engine, as well as some aerodynamic ones, mean it’s surprisingly cheap to run, while Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company car tax is an impressively low 19%. It’ll also return around 74.3mpg, according to official figures. If you want more practicality, the 3 Series Touring estate is only fractionally less economical.

Vauxhall Astra hatchback

Vauxhall Astra hatchback
This latest Vauxhall Astra is a huge leap forward over the old model. Not only is it much better to drive, full of hi-tech equipment and well built using high-quality materials, but there’s also a great range of diesels. Of the lot, our favourite is the modern 109bhp 1.6-litre ‘Whisper’ diesel. So-named because it’s so quiet and refined, this engine strikes a great balance between power, performance and exceptionally low running costs. In optimally efficient EcoFLEX form, it’ll return nearly 90mpg and still provide enough power to keep you going. In truth, no Astra diesel will cost the earth to run, with even the least efficient managing an average of 68.9mpg. While previous Astras have been a little underwhelming in some areas, the latest model is great to drive, a pleasant car in which to sit and a comprehensively excellent family hatchback.

Audi A4 saloon

Audi A4 saloon
This latest iteration of the Audi A4 compact executive saloon is a seriously impressive bit of kit. Granted, it’s not quite as good to drive as rivals like the BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE, but you get a supremely high-quality interior, a comfortable ride and a car that, although not striking, looks handsome in a subtle sort of way. You also get some impressively powerful and efficient 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engines. It’s the least-powerful 148bhp of the Ultra versions that takes the efficiency crown, but our favourite all-rounder is the 187bhp model. Despite the being 40bhp or so more powerful, it’ll still return 72.4mpg, while a CO2 figure of 102g/km makes for a 22% BiK rating. Despite these impressive figures, it’s still pretty powerful and you’re unlikely to find it wanting for performance.

SEAT Leon hatchback

SEAT Leon hatchback
While the SEAT Leon shares a lot with the Volkswagen Golf further down this list, it’s slightly cheaper than its more upmarket sister model. It’s also (in our eyes anyway) more of a looker than the conservative Golf. However, the Leon is still great to drive, well equipped and powered by the same range of great diesel engines as the Golf. The Leon’s interior is a little stolid and sensible, although the trade-off for this is that it’s impeccably well built, while standard equipment is reasonably generous. We’d recommend the 148bhp 2.0-litre, which gives an average of 64.2mpg. Having 148bhp also means it’s pretty brisk, while the engine is impressively smooth and refined. If you’d rather more or less power, SEAT will happily oblige: the Leon can also be ordered with a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel or a 181bhp version of the 2.0-litre engine. We think the 148bhp model is the pick of the range, though. Read more.

Key points

4.3 / 5

Price 

£17,455 – £26,790

Volkswagen Golf hatchback

Volkswagen Golf hatchback
Only just losing out to the SEAT Leon above because of its slightly higher purchase price and more conservative styling, the Golf is still a very impressive machine. In this class, its interior is second only to the likes of the pricier Audi A3 in terms of quality, while the whole car feels really grown-up. Its range of diesel engines is very well matched to the car, too: with the same 148bhp diesel as the Leon and Audi A4 mentioned above, there’s plenty of performance as well as low running costs. If you want something a bit hotter, however, the Golf GTD strikes a marvellous balance between performance, driving fun and economy. Its 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is properly quick, while it’ll still return well over 60mpg.

Mazda CX-5 SUV

Mazda CX-5 SUV
If you’re after a strikingly handsome, good-to-drive, well-equipped and cheap-to-run family SUV, then the Mazda CX-5 should certainly be near the top of your shopping list. We’d avoid going for a four-wheel-drive version unless you really need it, as economy and emissions suffer if you do. The two-wheel-drive versions are also more fun to drive, while the 148bhp 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel is an absolute peach. It’s smooth, strong and surprisingly efficient, returning a combined figure of 56.5mpg. This equates to CO2 emissions of 132g/km, while business users will only be liable for a 28% BiK company-car tax contribution, too. The CX-5 faces stiff competition from the likes of the Skoda Kodiaq and the BMW X1, but it remains one of the best looking and driving SUVs you can buy. All models come fitted with sat nav as standard, too.

Peugeot 308 hatchback

Peugeot 308 hatchback
The Peugeot 308 is an excellent small family hatchback. It’s stylish, good value for money, has load of room and comes really well equipped, too. Unlike its predecessors, the current 308 is actually pretty good to drive, too. The whole range of what Peugeot calls its ‘BlueHDi’ diesel engines is excellent, blending power and economy impressively well, but for the best balance between the two, we recommend the 118bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder. It’ll return an astonishing average 84mpg, while CO2 emissions of just 82g/km mean it sits in a very low BiK company-car tax bracket, so running costs will be very low. Do check you’re happy with the driving position, though: Peugeot has designed the 308’s steering wheel to be looked over rather than through when viewing the dashboard dials. Most people find this works well, but taller and shorter drivers may not get on with it. Despite this, the 308 is an excellent choice.

MINI hatchback

MINI hatchback
A car that effortlessly blends style, charm, sophistication, fantastic driving fun and low running costs, the MINI Cooper D is a very impressive bit of kit. Like all the ‘new’ MINIs that have gone before it, the design – both inside and out – is determinedly retro, but with modern touches that ensure it’s not a pastiche of the original. Meanwhile, it remains as much fun to drive as ever, although it now has a more grown-up demeanour than ever before. It’s a nippy performer, but if you go for the three-door model, it’ll still manage average economy of around 80mpg. The MINI feels like a really high-quality product these days, with almost-limitless scope for personalisation. Just be careful with the options list – it can get very expensive very quickly.