In the wake of the huge Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, VW owners understandably feel burned. And they're not the only ones: Many would-be diesel buyers now aren't sure what to purchase now that a VW is out of the question.
Before the scandal, drivers were drawn to VW's trademarked TDI, or turbo-charged direct injection, "clean" diesel technology because it supposedly combined great gas mileage in environmentally friendly and well-styled cars. After the Volkswagen Group admitted to cheating U.S. and European emissions standards by creating software that gave false emissions readings, it halted sales of TDI diesel models.
Owners of VW diesels are now waiting for their vehicles to be recalled and fixed, a process that probably won't be complete until the end of 2016. As for drivers who might have otherwise been considering VW diesel purchases, they have some shopping around to do. We asked Edmunds.com editor Carroll Lachnit and Kelley Blue Book executive market analyst Jack Nerad for some help sorting out which car models are good alternatives to Volkswagen's scandal-ridden diesels. Here's a list of their suggestions.
Ford C-Max Hybrid
The Edmunds team likes the Ford C-Max Hybrid as a comparable alternative to VW Jetta Sportwagen. The C-Max Hybrid offers drivers 21% more miles to the gallon than the VW diesel, and additional savings because gasoline is cheaper than diesel. The Ford hybrid starts at about $28,000 (only a smidge higher than the Sportwagen), and like the VW offers seating for five passengers. On the other hand, in terms of cargo space, the Ford is a little smaller—52.6 cubic feet, compared with the Sportwagen's 66.5 cubic feet of space.
Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Edmund.com's Carroll Lachnit says that even though the Crosstrek is technically a compact SUV, it meets the needs of shoppers looking for a sporty station wagon. This category "attracts a very specific consumer, and it's probably because of the cargo capability," says Lachnit, so the Crosstrek makes sense for anyone who had been considering the diesel VW Golf Sportwagen. The Subaru has 50.2 cubic feet of cargo space (smaller than Ford's C-Max), gets 31 mpg combined, and starts at about $30,000.
Ford Fusion Hybrid
The Ford Fusion Hybrid is Edmunds.com's suggested alternative to the VW Passat TDI. The starting sticker price of the Fusion is 5% less (starting at $25,675 vs. $27,095 for the Passat), and at 40 mpg, the fuel economy is 21% better than the VW. "When it comes to alternatives for the Passat, it really comes down to miles per gallon," explains Lachnit. Additionally, the Ford Fusion Hybrid allows you to subscribe to Ford's SYNC technology, which boasts a user-friendly infotainment system with a similar interface to something you'd see on a smartphone. Bluetooth and navigation also come standard.
Toyota Camry Hybrid
Jack Nerad of KBB says that the Camry Hybrid is a viable alternative to the VW Passat TDI. The Camry starts at about $27,000 and gets an impressive 41 mpg--both factors that help make the Camry the best-selling car in America. It's not feature-rich like the Ford Fusion Hybrid, but it's got enough to get you from point A to B comfortably and safely.
Mazda 3i Hatchback
The Mazda 3i Hatchback is the Japanese automaker's answer to the VW Golf TDI. "In this segment, it really comes down to price, which is why we think the Mazda hatchback is a good choice," Edmunds.com's Lachnit says. Mazda's 5-door hatchback starts at about $25,000 and gets 33 mpg combined, making it a cheaper option for those who want the feel and cargo space of a hatchback without opting for an SUV or crossover.
Again, price is paramount when finding an alternative to the VW Golf TDI--and it doesn't get better than the Subaru Impreza, according to KBB's Nerad. The Impreza is the lowest-priced all-wheel-drive car on the market, priced well below the rest of the segment at $18,000.
Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
The Cruze has a smaller backseat space and a price tag of about $4,000 more than the Jetta TDI, but it comes with more standard features and a rarity among American cars: diesel power. Another bonus, according to Edmunds.com's Lachnit, is that despite the the Cruze's domestic nameplate it truly has the feel and handling of a European car. "Many Jetta shoppers would eschew domestic choices--particularly a Chevy," says Lachnit, but the Cruze is an exception. For that matter, both KBB and Edmunds recommended the Cruze diesel as an alternative to diesel versions of the Jetta and the Golf.
Much like the Chevrolet Cruze, the Dodge Dart is another Euro-inspired car designed to attract buyers who might also be browsing the VW Jetta. KBB's Nerad says the Dart's design has "significant European influence," and KBB reviews are quick to point out the vehicle's Euro-style suspension. The Dart can be dirt cheap too, starting around $17,000, while getting decent mileage (31 mpg). That's about $11,000 cheaper than the feature-rich Chevy Cruze and $7,000 cheaper than the VW Jetta TDI.
Volkswagen owns the Audi brand, and like its diesel-powered VW siblings, the Audi A3 TDI is now off the market. For those still interested in a luxury high-performance diesel, Edmunds.com's Lachnit suggests the BMW 328d. It's pricier than the Audi (starting at $39,850, about $6,000 more than the Audi), but hey, it's a BMW. "The base price on the BMW is a sticker shock for most buyers," Lachnit says. "If the Audi was already at the top of your budget, you wouldn't be able to afford the BMW." Still, there's plenty of crossover among buyers considering Audis and BMWs side by side.
Mazda3 sGrand Touring
The Mazda3 sGrand Touring is Edmund.com's second pick as an alternative to the Audi A3 TDI. Among its strengths, the Mazda starts at $26,000 (about $7,000 cheaper than the Audi), and gets almost as many mpgs (32 mpg combined, versus 36 for the A3).
What's more, the Mazda is loaded with tech and safety features including the Mazda Connect infotainment system, active driving display on the windshield, and Bluetooth capabilities. "For the price, you're getting safety and features all the live-long day," Lachnit says. Fully loaded, "it's just a really good car."
The Mazda3 is also available as a sedan, if you don't need the additional cargo space in the hatchback version.