Bentley Bentayga 4.0 V8, 2017, 53k, £77,500
So complete was the derv revolution over the last 20 years or so, that all six of the cars featured here will make the miles fly by. But there’s no better way to prove the brilliance of modern diesels than an oil-burning Bentayga. There was a time when the idea of a diesel Bentley seemed as ridiculous as…I dunno…women’s Premier League football. After the cries of sacrilege had died down, though, it turned out that both are rather good. So good that, earlier this month, over 60,000 people piled into the Emirates Stadium to watch the women’s Champions League semi-final between Arsenal and Wolfsburg. By happy coincidence, Wolfsburg is where the 4.0-litre TDI V8 engine in this Bentayga originated from, and it’s a belter. Very nearly as refined as the petrol V8, but with far better economy and low-end grunt. That's the diesel way, of course, so it’s the perfect fit for luxury cars. It’s ironic, then, that Wolfsburg was also the death of diesel, after VW (and others) played fast and loose with the rules. The result is that today, diesel is all but dead, despite ending up (in many cases) less polluting than a lot of petrols, which is a crying shame. It also meant that the diesel Bentley Bentayga was short-lived, but good ones like this live on in the used market.
Jaguar F-Pace D300, 2021, 24k, £49,473
I wasn’t a fan of the F-Pace when it first arrived. Sure, it handled well, but I didn’t find the engines particularly invigorating or smooth, the infotainment system was buggy and the interior was well below par for a premium SUV. But then, like a lot of JLR’s products, things improved – suddenly and quite dramatically. By 2020, the F-Pace had a new infotainment system, which didn’t just have vastly improved software but a crisp, new HD screen as well. The interior was completely revised, which meant the wobbly bits and the nasty vinyl dashboard covering – which reminded me of the material used on my 1960’s portable record player – were replaced with proper plastics that were properly put together. But best of all was its new straight-six diesel engine. We’re running a Defender with the D300 Ingenium 6 and it’s sublime. You get exactly the same engine with this facelifted F-Pace, which, with 24,000 miles, should be nicely run in. The MHEV stop-start is slick, the torque is effortless and straight-six is sonorous. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s the best diesel on the market currently in my opinion, and the perfect power plant for big miles.
Range Rover (L322), 2006, 96k, £5,990
Any lineup of mile-munching diesels would feel incomplete without a Range Rover. But which one? Arguably, the L322 is peak Range Rover, and the summit of the L322 range, for many, is the 3.6 TDV8. I can see that argument – I may even have made it myself on occasion. But I also have a soft spot for the earlier cars with BMW running gear, like this 2006 Vogue. True, the BMW 2.9-litre inline six-cylinder lacks the torque of the later V8s, but I remember driving these back in the day when they were new and didn’t think they were gutless. 174hp and 288lb ft may have only been enough for 0-62mph in 12 seconds, but back when this car was made we didn’t seem as obsessed with the breakneck speed of our SUVs as we are today. The other reason I picked a BMW-engined L322 for a change is that I prefer its styling. They’re cleaner and less fussy than the later cars with all that honeycomb jewellery. I also fancied this one because it isn’t all black, which makes for a change. Its 96,000 miles alludes to solid service rather than hard labour, and it’s worn those miles well. It’s also a hell of a lot of car for £6,000 – with the usual Range Rover caveats, of course.
Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI, 2009, 70k, £4,995
This Six of the Best is mostly about the diesel engines, but before we get onto this CLS 350 CDI’s compression ignition motor, a quick note on the body it’s wrapped up in. Sexy, isn’t it? The C219 was based on the W211 E-Class, which itself was rather a pretty car, but the CLS drew a taut and dazzling skin over that platform. When it was revealed as the Vision concept at the 2003 Frankfurt International Motor Show it was a showstopper, and kicked off the four-door coupés genre, too. Many engines were available, but if you wanted to do big miles speedily, without having to stop off to refill too often, then this was the engine to buy. In later 350 spec it’s a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel rated at 272hp, and 435lb ft of seemingly endless twist. Coupled with Mercedes’ seven-speed auto, it could move you along very swiftly to 62mph in 6.5 seconds, while returning a healthy cruising MPG to the light-footed. This wasn’t the peak for diesel, which only got better and better in the years after this 70,000-mile car was made, but it is the period when diesel was in full swing. And for all the right reasons, too.
Alpina D5 S, 2019, 36k, £39,000
The Alpina approach always suited diesel power; aside from a couple of track-focused special editions, they’ve been fast road cars, ready to take on any journey with considerable comfort, style, and panache. They’re still doing that, for a couple more years at least, with cars like the D4 and D3. But they’re now mighty expensive prospects; this D5 is £40k, looks near enough factory fresh for its 36,000 miles, and remains one of the fastest diesels ever, capable of almost 180mph thanks to 326hp and 516lb ft. With a new 5 Series just announced it's almost customary to look back on a previous model kindly, and Alpina’s trademark overhaul - including the delectable wheels, here forged for the first time and saving 15kg a corner (!) - really worked a treat on the F30 era. It’s clearly not standard, yet it stops some way short of being OTT as well, just as any great Alpina should be.
Audi S6 TDI, 2020, 28k, £37,930
Using similar electric compressor technology as found in the larger SQ7 (the V8 engine that also went on into the Bentayga above), the S6 TDI marked a pretty drastic break in tradition for the A6 flagship beneath the RS. Where previously there had gone a V8 and even a V10, in went a 3.0-litre diesel. But for those time-honed S6 traits of effortless, any-weather performance, the TDI delivered, the compressor filling in a lot of the lag to mean maximum speed for minimum effort. The gravelly even sounded quite good; at any other time, the combination of S6 attributes with 516lb ft and a genuine WLTP 35mpg would have appealed, but it really came at the wrong time. This red four-door must be a very rare car indeed. But if there are a lot of miles to cover with the minimum of fuss and a healthy turn of speed, there’s little better. It’s yours for £38k.
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