13 Popular Zero-Sugar Sodas, Ranked Worst To Best

Have you tried a zero-sugar soda? Even if you haven't, you've likely seen them lining convenience store fridges and grocery store shelves everywhere over the last few years. Virtually every major soda brand is pushing sugarless versions of its most iconic beverages as an alternative to sodas labeled as "diet." Zero-sugar sodas commonly incorporate the same branding as their regularly-sweetened antecedents, albeit with a bit of sleek black to make them look ... slimmer? We're not exactly sure, but it's just different enough for you to realize you're not drinking the regular stuff.

The very idea of a zero-sugar soda sounds a bit too good to be true, and indeed it might be. The jury is still out on artificial sweeteners health-wise, but that hasn't stopped soda makers and other food producers from jumping on the bandwagon. Many of the bigger brands' zero-sugar versions are sweetened with aspartame, the artificial sweetener that some studies have associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Still, zero-sugar might be clock as a better option for those on low-sugar diets or anyone who needs to watch their sugar intake. And hey, if it feels close enough to the real thing, maybe it's worth it anyway, artificially-sweetened risks and all. But the question still begs: do any zero-sugar sodas actually taste like their originals? Heck, are any even worth trying at all? Our ranking should help you with that.

13. A&W Root Beer Zero Sugar

Root beer is one of our favorites, so naturally we were excited to sample A&W's attempt at zero sugar. But upon cracking the cap, we were met with an extremely odd, musty scent — could it be old vanilla? Stale sassafras root? Actual dirt? It was hard to tell, but we pressed on and tasted anyway ... much to our disappointment. The unpleasant scent didn't go anywhere, hitting us right in the taste buds as we tried our best to stomach a few sips. The aftertaste was far more pleasant than the drink itself — it actually left you thinking you'd glugged a regular root beer instead of some indescribably earthy zero-sugar variety.

We'd removed it from the refrigerator only a few minutes prior to tasting but decided maybe it wasn't cold enough, so we stuck the A&W back in the fridge for a second pass. A deeper chilling did the drink some favors and somewhat mellowed out the initial mustiness. Ultimately, though, it still tasted a bit too artificial for our liking. We love A&W as a brand, but there are better zero-sugar root beers out there (as you'll find out soon enough).

12. Zevia Cola

Zevia is a soda company made for this kind of taste test. All of its soda offerings are zero sugar, but for the sake of this ranking, we only tried the cola. Stevia leaf extract is the main sweetener here, so Zevia wins plaudits for not turning to aspartame like the majority of zero-sugar sodas. The main detraction is that stevia lends a bit of an unfamiliar taste to soda — not bad, necessarily, but one you might not expect or know how to classify.

For what it's worth, Zevia Cola is decent. It's almost like this soda is designed more to smell like a classic cola than taste like one because the scent that hits your nose when you crack the can make it seem like the real deal — the rest of the drink, though, not so much. Like many of Zevia's other sodas, the flavor rings hollow and feels as if it were made by a soda printer that ran out of ink. It's more playing around with the concept of being a cola rather than actually working as one. Credit to Zevia where it's due for using a sweetener other than aspartame, and we'll even toss it some bonus points for the ergonomic bright blue can. But unless you're hell-bent against drinking an aspartame-sweetened soda, there are much better zero-sugar options than this.

11. Mountain Dew Zero Sugar

The very name "Mountain Dew Zero Sugar" sounds like an oxymoron. Sugar is this soda's central focus — it's regularly got 46 grams of the stuff in every 12-ounce serving and habitually releases different flavors that somehow look and feel even sweeter than that. From Code Red to Baja Blast to the newly reintroduced Pitch Black, the things you can reliably expect from the Mountain Dew brand are radioactive colors, caffeine, and way too much sugar. Removing it from a drink that's normally super saccharine seems like a nonstarter, but we were intrigued anyway.

This stuff certainly smells like regular Mountain Dew when it hits the nose, but the flavor is predictably muted. Mountain Dew's typical taste walks a vague citrus tightrope between lemon and lime, but we caught a bit more lemony zing in the zero-sugar version. If we wore a blindfold while tasting, we probably would've guessed it was some kind of carbonated, lightly-sweetened lemonade. It's not a good approximation of the flavor Mountain Dew lovers crave when they crack a bottle, and it's not a terribly good soda on its own, either.

10. Sprite Zero Sugar

Like several other entries on this list, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Sprite Zero Sugar as a drink. It's perfectly fine, and even lives up to its brand's infamous amount of carbonation. Seriously, we suspect this stuff would explode if you accidentally slipped it into your car's cupholder a little too quickly. If you want bubbles and some vague, artificially-tinged aspartame lemon-lime flavor, this is the soda for you. 

For our tastes, though, we thought the artificial nature of this beverage was a bit too obvious. That's somewhat of a silly thing to say when you're talking about a zero-sugar soda, but it really felt like a detraction. Diet and zero-sugar sodas are born out of the desire to appeal to a health-conscious market, at least in theory. But perhaps, on a deeper level, they also exist as a ploy to get you to crave the regular version of the same beverage. If that's the play here, then Sprite Zero wins — after a few sips, we found ourselves dying for a sugar-filled Sprite. Without that cockamamy conspiracy we just cooked up, though, it's a pretty unsatisfying beverage.

9. Pepsi Zero Sugar

Of all the zero-sugar sodas on this list, Pepsi's looks least like itself. All they really did was change the label from the brand's signature blue to black, but it gives off an odd vibe — almost like a college football team unveiling a fresh new alternate uniform in front of a raucous crowd on a Saturday night. But instead of getting us rowdy for kickoff, Pepsi Zero Sugar had us intrigued — what does this soda's "new improved taste" have in store?

The answer, it would seem, is a perfectly serviceable zero-sugar cola. It almost takes on a little bit more of a Diet Pepsi feel, both in scent and taste. This isn't bad, nor is it a horrible replication of the original soda. It's just fine. Maybe that's the worst indictment we can provide for a zero-sugar soda: that it's perfectly drinkable yet wholly unremarkable. We wouldn't hesitate to grab a bottle or can of this stuff to pair with lunch, but we wouldn't be excited about the selection either. It's about as middle-of-the-road as you can get.

8. Pepsi Zero Sugar Wild Cherry

If you're like us, you probably think that cherry flavor can really help to improve cola. After all, we enjoy Pepsi Wild Cherry more than regular Pepsi, so we figured the same would hold true with the zero-sugar varieties.

Surprisingly, though, the improvement was nonexistent. In fact, Pepsi Zero Sugar Wild Cherry is just as unremarkably plain as Pepsi Zero, save for the brief artificial cherry scent that jolts your nostrils when you crack it open. Perhaps we should blame that whiff on getting our hopes up, but the rest of the cherry flavor was nowhere to be found. These two sodas are virtually interchangeable, so don't take the numbers next to them seriously — that quick cherry smell is actually why this one is slotted higher. The branding is slightly better too, even if all that boils down to are a few little cherries and some red accents to break up the black label. When your packaging has more of a cherry feel than your actual soda, you probably messed up somewhere.

7. Sunkist Orange Zero Sugar

Like a few other entries on this list, Sunkist Orange Zero Sugar is yet another aspartame-sweetened beverage we think is better than its sugary antecedent. Still, you have to love orange soda to love this one, as the tang is heavy. If you're reaching for a zero-sugar orange soda, though, odds are that absurdly artificial orange flavor and borderline neon coloring are precisely what you want. Sunkist Orange Zero Sugar passes both those tests with flying (bright orange) colors.

With all that said, though, it's still a fairly average soda. Sunkist Orange isn't all that great to begin with, so the zero-sugar version only had so much to grow from. Sure, you could easily pair this with a meal or even drink this on its own and potentially enjoy it, but it will feel like searching for something you know deep down isn't really there. This drink came in the middle of the pack in our ranking of popular orange sodas and is firmly middle of the pack here, separating a couple of cola giants.

6. Coca-Cola Cherry Zero Sugar

Personally, we liked it better when Coca-Cola Cherry was known as Cherry Coke. It's a better identity and is responsible for some of the coolest soda branding and packaging we've ever seen, including its "punk rock" era from 1995-2002. As much as we'd love to wax poetically about soda cans, though, we're here to taste the new-fangled stuff, and Coca-Cola Cherry Zero is halfway decent. It doesn't come with the same satisfaction as cracking one of those classic red and black cans and glugging the cherry goodness, but as a sugarless version, we're here for it.

Unfortunately, it faces the same pitfall as Pepsi's zero-sugar cherry version. You get a hint of cherry scent when you open the bottle, but after that, the fruit flavor is almost nonexistent. Coke's cherry flavor has always felt a little more syrupy than Pepsi's, which is more artificial. And while we prefer Pepsi Wild Cherry to Coca-Cola Cherry when both are normally sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, that extra saccharine cherry-ness actually leans us in Coke's direction when it comes to the zero-sugar iterations.

5. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar

Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, or Coke Zero, as it's more affectionately known, is the most advertised beverage on this list by far. Every year the marketing geniuses at Coke inundate March Madness viewers with an endless barrage of repetitive ads and slogans. This year, the company's advertisements asked, over and over again, if Coke Zero is "the best Coke ever?"

We can answer that question definitively — it's absolutely not. But it's a pretty good zero-calorie cola. It doesn't really taste like Coke, per se, so it won't win any awards for replicating its original. But it does manage to capture that signature acidic twinge that makes its sugar-filled original the most popular soft drink on the planet. What does that count for? Well, it certainly puts Coke Zero above Pepsi, which adds another chapter to the illustrious history of never-ending cola wars. But we're not sure it deserves a whole lot more than that.

4. Canada Dry Zero Sugar Ginger Ale

Ginger ale has long been used as a catch-all treatment for countless maladies over the years, from common colds to the occasional bout of indigestion. Even though modern big-brand versions are packed with sugar, ginger ale is still the pinnacle of medicinal soda (with respect to 7UP). Still, we didn't know how to gauge a zero-sugar version. Would it maintain that characteristic gingery pep? The carbonation that aids aching tummies? Could the lack of sugar bring down this beloved beverage?

To put it bluntly, Canada Dry Zero Sugar assuaged all of those concerns immediately. After the first sip, we realized this is exactly what ginger ale should taste like. Even trying to imagine this with the requisite 35 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving seems absurd — how could ginger ale ever have been that sweet? As far as we can tell, this hits all the same notes as the regularly-sweetened stuff. We're still not the biggest ginger ale fans, at least as a standalone beverage, but if we're awarding points for replicating the brand's sugar original, this one shoots right to the top. You can still tell it's zero sugar because of what's on the label, but if Canada Dry decided to swap the packaging, we suspect only the most ardent ginger ale guzzlers would notice.

3. Starry Zero Sugar

We're reaching hallowed ground here, and few sodas deserve more adoration than Starry Zero Sugar — a soda you might not have even heard of. If you haven't been down the soda aisle lately, Starry is Pepsi's latest hack at trying to compete in the lemon-lime soda market. The regularly sweetened version is fine, but Starry Zero Sugar, on the other hand, is arguably the best lemon-lime soda on the market right now. We've still got it ranked behind regular Sprite in that regard, but to be this good as a zero-sugar soda is actually remarkable. 

Perhaps it's something about Starry's formula that lends it more seamlessly to aspartame sweetening, or maybe we're just a sucker for a good brand launch (though we'll miss recently retired Sierra Mist). The lemon and lime flavors are balanced perfectly here, outdone by what can only be described as an obnoxious level of carbonation — and we think that's a good thing. Lemon-lime sodas should be extra-bubbly, and Starry Zero Sugar delivers that and the flavor to back it all up.

2. Virgil's Zero Sugar Root Beer

Like Zevia, Virgil's Zero Sugar Root Beer is sweetened in part with stevia leaf extract, and despite being differently flavored, there's one striking similarity — the scent. This stuff smells mostly like a regular ol' root beer when you crack the bottle, which is no small feat. Our sense of smell is responsible for upwards of 80% of our perception of taste, so making your naturally-sweetened soda look and smell like the sugar-filled version is literally more than half the battle.

When it comes to taste, though, Virgil's Zero Sugar Root Beer separates from both Zevia and the only other root beer on this list. Its sweetener blend (stevia leaf, monk fruit extract, and erythritol) rounds out the flavor surprisingly well. The brand's cane sugar-sweetened root beer is a mainstay in our ranking of best root beer brands, and we think the sugarless iteration absolutely belongs in the conversation. Whenever you can replicate the sweet sudsiness of root beer without controversial sweeteners, you've accomplished something special. And yes, extra points for branding here, too — there's nothing like a burly fella serving gigantic root beer mugs to a couple of overly excited children, one of whom is holding a husky puppy. As far as we're concerned, it's a work of art within a work of art.

1. Dr Pepper Zero Sugar

Dr Pepper can be a divisive soda. Some people swear by the stuff while others can't stand the sight of it. That's perfectly understandable, too — Dr Pepper is hard to pin down. It's well known for having 23 flavors, and the way they're mixed together doesn't tickle everyone's tastebuds quite the same.

We love Dr Pepper, though, so we had high hopes for its zero-sugar version ... and as it turned out, the doctor was in. It's actually striking how much this stuff smells and tastes like the regularly-sweetened beverage, and it makes sense when you think about it. When conjuring the idea for what became Dr Pepper, pharmacist Charles Alderton, the drink's inventor, set out to create a beverage with a flavor that replicated the smell of a soda shop. In other words, he was trying to conjure a flavor that didn't actually exist. Dr Pepper was artificially designed from its very inception, and that inherent artificiality probably explains why Dr Pepper Zero Sugar (and Diet Dr Pepper — if you know, you know) doesn't taste like a sugarless beverage at all. Dr Pepper lovers might disagree, but we're convinced that if you switched from the regular stuff to the zero-sugar version you'd stop noticing in a matter of a few days. And when it comes to zero-sugar sodas, you won't find one better.