This paper describes the combustion optimizations of heavy-duty diesel engines for the anticipated future emissions regulations by means of an electronically controlled common rail injection system. Tests were conducted on a turbocharged and aftercooled (TCA) prototype heavy-duty diesel engine. To improve both NOx-fuel consumption and NOx-PM trade-offs, fuel injection characteristics including injection timing, injection pressure, pilot injection quantity, and injection interval on emissions and engine performances were explored. Then intake swirl ratio and combustion chamber geometry were modified to optimize air-fuel mixing and to emphasize the pilot injection effects. Finally, for further NOx reductions, the potentials of the combined use of EGR and pilot injection were experimentally examined. The results showed that the NOx-fuel consumption trade-off is improved by an optimum swirl ratio and combustion chamber geometry as well as by a new pilot concept. However, the combination of pilot injection and EGR had little advantages in further improving NOx-PM trade-off since smoke increases especially in low load conditions.