Spray and mixture formation in a compression ignition engine is of paramount importance for diesel combustion. In engine transient operation, when the load increases rapidly, the combustion system needs to handle low lambda (λ) operation while avoiding high particle emissions. Single-cylinder tests were performed to evaluate the effect of differences in cylinder flow on combustion and emissions at typical low λ transient operation. The tests were performed on a heavy-duty single-cylinder test engine with Lotus Active Valve Train (AVT) controlling the inlet airflow. The required swirl number (SN) and tumble were controlled by applying different inlet valve profiles and opening either both inlet valves or only one or the other. The operating point of interest was extracted from engine transient conditions before the boost pressure was increased and investigated further at steady state conditions. The AVT enabled the resulting SN to be controlled at bottom dead centre (BDC) from ~0.3 to 6.8 and tumble from ~0.5 to 4. The fuel injection pressure was varied from 500 bar up to 2000 bar, with increments of 500 bar, for each SN and tumble setting. No exhaust gas recirculation was used in following tests. GT-POWER was used to calculate SN, tumble, and turbulent intensity with the different valve settings. The input data for the GT-POWER flow calculations were measured in a steady-state flow rig with honeycomb torque measurement.The main conclusion of this study was that the air flow structure in the cylinder, characterized by SN, tumble, and turbulent intensity, has a significant effect on the resulting engine combustion and emissions for the investigated range of fuel injection pressures. By increasing SN above 3, while maintaining tumble at low levels, the engine could be run with richer air/fuel mixtures without further increasing smoke emissions at injection pressures 1000 bar and above. Also, NOx emissions decreased at λ below 1.3; ignition delay time decreased at higher tumble and turbulent levels; and higher levels of swirl resulted in more rapid combustion, decreasing smoke emissions at injection pressures over 1000 bar. Smoke emissions increase at higher engine speeds (above 1200 rpm) and high SN (above 6). The results of this study demonstrate that the mixing process controlled by in-cylinder flow (swirl and tumble) has a dominant effect on combustion.