In 2015, Volkswagen was embroiled in the emissions violation scandal we now know as Dieselgate or Emissiongate. The Environmental Protection Agency has found evidence that the German automaker deliberately cheated into passing US standards during regulatory testing. This had costly consequences for VW Group, and the brand was forced to kill the TDI engine in the USA.
Then in 2018, they had another scandal, Monkeygate, where they were said to have experimented with monkeys in May 2015 to prove that diesel exhaust gases weren’t harmful to primates. It marked the end of the VW diesel engine in North America but not the rest of the world. Volkswagen Diesel cars are still popular in Europe, and the Wolfsburg marquee is not yet ready to part with the engine.
Besides scandals, Volkswagen has produced some diesel cars that strike the perfect balance between performance and fuel economy. The first direct-injection turbocharged diesel engine came in the 1989 Audi 100 TDI. Several carry some iterations as the four 1.9-liter ALH TDI engines are true million-mile engines. Here are the diesel Volkswagen cars that every gearhead should drive.
10 Volkswagen Golf TDI sports car
The Golf is an iconic nameplate and a fan favorite among compact pickup trucks. Volkswagen has offered the car with a diesel engine in the Golf TDI model for a while. The premium version came with the MK7 generation but only lasted for one year, and was discontinued by Dieselgate. It features a 2.0-liter inline-4 turbodiesel with 150 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, resulting in a powerful and efficient drive.
Long-term reviews overwhelmingly point to solid build quality, an excellent driving experience and enough power when needed. Also, consumption is low, with cars consistently returning more than 35 mpg in mixed driving.
9 New Volkswagen Beetle
The original Beetle followed the Ford Model T and was the best-selling car in the world with 21 million copies until it was overtaken by Toyota Corolla. Any self-respecting car enthusiast knows about this iconic vehicle. But the modern iteration of the German classic was a different animal and was not as successful as its predecessor. It features a front-wheel drive, 1.9-liter ALH diesel that powered the Jetta and Golf between 1998 and 2006. It is considered by many to be among the best diesels that can survive without any maintenance.
The 1.9-liter inline-4 turbocharged engines were reliable and had great fuel economy. Today you will find these cars on the road traveling more than 500,000 miles on the odometer.
8 Volkswagen Touran
The Volkswagen Touran has been in production since 2003 and comes with a distinctive smart choice of Wolfsburg’s premium and efficient turbocharged engines and smooth-shift transmission. It sits below the larger Multivan in the VW lineup but comes with plenty of space and a comfortable driving experience.
While the new model ships only with petrol engines, previous models came with 1.6- and 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine options. In 2005 “Which car?” Dubbed the Compact Truck of the Year, it has consistently received a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
7 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
The 2015 MK7 Golf Sportwagen TDI gets all the diesel plaudits thanks to the Golf moniker. This means that a Jetta of the same year is flying criminally under the radar because it offers excellent value in the TDI market and has a big shout out to the best TDI ever made. In the sixth-generation Jetta in 2011, Volkswagen wanted to build a car for under $17,000, but it was a high-quality disaster. But they fixed all the flaws by the time the 2015 model came out of the factory.
It was highly aerodynamic, which greatly improved fuel economy in highway driving. The 2015 Jetta’s diesel was easy on gas and easily returned 50 mpg in the manual versions.
6 Volkswagen Touareg R50 TDI
Diesel and high performance rarely mix, but the V10 TDI Touareg is a notable exception. The R50 was a modified version of Volkswagen’s luxury SUV that helped bring the sport back into an SUV with impressive performance, a comfortable and luxurious interior and a distinct exterior design. It featured the same 5.0-liter V10 TDI engine in the standard Touareg, but increased its power from 310 hp to 350 hp.
Add 625 lb-ft of torque available at just 2,000 rpm, and you have a beast that can pull hard and fast. It is one of the most powerful diesel cars, behind its cousin, the Audi V12 TDI.
5 Volkswagen Phaeton
This month, Volkswagen unveiled a successor to a redesigned Phaeton that never celebrated the 20th anniversary of the brand’s first luxury sedan. The car was aimed at individuals, enthusiasts and experts. It shares the same foundation with the Bentley Continental GT and Flying Spur to deliver excellent comfort, high-tech features and impeccable build quality in a confident, quiet package.
While the engine of choice was the 6.0-liter W12 petrol engine, Volkswagen offered two diesel engine options, the 3.0-liter V6 TDI and the 5.0-liter V10 TDI. The V10 was so smooth that besides the low redline you can’t distinguish compression rather than spark-assisted thrust.
4 Volkswagen Amarok
The newly revealed Volkswagen Amarok 2023 carries strong Ford roots thanks to the vital pillar it shares with the Ford Ranger. For example, both cars feature the Ford T6 platform, transmission, and all-wheel drive systems. But our focus is on the diesel engine options that come with the truck.
A smaller but more efficient 2.0L Turbo Diesel engine producing 148 hp or 168 hp serves the African markets. The 3.0-liter V6 TDI caters to markets that need more power with 268 horsepower over the Overboost.
3 Volkswagen Passat
Volkswagen ends production of the Passat saloon after 2022. Although it is not the most beautiful car in the rich lineup, it offers one of the best values for money. While the latest iteration came with a single engine option, the 2.0-liter inline-4, previous models came with diesels until the Diesel Jet made it home. The B6 Passat generation with a 2.0-liter multi-valve TDI engine is one of the most sought-after versions on the used car market in Europe.
Volkswagen has announced an all-new Passat, which comes in the form of a larger eHybrid wagon. Reportedly, they will return the turbodiesel engines to the model, which is something worth checking out.
2 Volkswagen Polo TDI
Volkswagen Polo is at the top of the market when it comes to compact and affordable hatchbacks. It offers a more elegant, refined and comfortable small family car that features a stylish cabin, plenty of boot space and a smooth ride. Although not as fun or exciting as its golf sisters, polo is much easier to live with, thanks to its high efficiency.
Engine options include a 1.0-liter turbo and a 1.6-liter diesel that returns 60 mpg.
1 Volkswagen Tiguan
When it debuted, the Tiguan wasted no time to become the best-selling SUV, and the latest generation has sold over 4 million. American fans have reason to smile after Volkswagen announced plans for a hotter, more powerful Tiguan.
Crossovers are the go-to vehicles of the moment, and the next generation Tiguan will benefit from the current model’s lively handling, refined ride and practicality. Meanwhile, the diesel-powered Tiguan is worth checking out. The 2.0L TDI engine fits the Tiguan and easily copes with its weight.