Blog: Diesels

blogdieselAren’t modern diesels good these days? Having just driven the BMW 330D, I can safely say that it is now completely possible to buy a quick(ish), nicely set-up car, with the potential to deliver well over 40mpg on an average basis. When getting in, there is very little to tell the driver that this car is powered by the smelly stuff, and it would take an eagle-eyed driver to spot that the red-line on the tachometer is lower on this car than its petrol counterpart.

Once underway, it is a similar story. There is a degree of (soft) combustion chamber clatter on cold start-up, but once there is some warmth in that straight-six, it is very difficult to tell aurally that this is a diesel engined car. Cruising on the motorway, it is all good news again – quiet, refined and long-legged. Dial-in positive steering and efficient brakes and a feeling of imperturbability seldom found in a medium-sized car, and we are looking at a very accomplished all-rounder.

So, diesel is the way forward for all of us, then?

In the Rover 75/MG ZT range’s case, the diesel version also makes a compelling case for itself. Straight line performance may not be top drawer (even in the 131PS version), but it more than holds its own, and in true diesel style, it sits on the motorway beautifully. The 70-90mph slog sees the Rover bang in the middle of a sea of boosted torque, which is nice… the upshot of which, is a sense of security and the ability to accelerate cleanly without changing down. Because the 75’s USP is that of a relaxing car to drive, that whole diesel ethos fits in well with it, although the engine note does jar at low speeds (if you’ve experienced the V6 model beforehand).

As for day-to-day running, the cost and taxation advantages of diesel powered cars has been documented enough elsewhere not to need to discuss it here. Needless to say, where a 2-litre petrol Rover 75 V6 would average 26-30mpg in daily use, a 75 CDT would attain nearer 40mpg. Over the course of a year, that really adds up.

…the whole concept of changing up at
4,500rpm – just when an engine should
be getting interesting – is not
really the trait of a
performance car.

So, it all points to the diesel being the car for everyone…

…in a way.

Perhaps I am old fashioned, but everyone I speak to who raved about their diesel engined cars tend to hurl superlatives at their cars’ economy or cruising ability, then mention performance and driving pleasure second (if they mention that at all). And that’s the thing. Yes, diesels are quick enough these days (a Golf GTi PD150 will pretty much stay with a ZS180), but they seem to lack that final finesse that marks out a “proper” performance car.

Which is why I have a problem with the concept of a “performance diesel”. Yes, they hurl you forward thanks to all that torque, but the whole concept of changing up at 4,500rpm – just when an engine should be getting interesting – is not really the trait of a performance car. There’s also the on-off nature of the modern turbo diesel, which means that accelerating smartly from the lights involves dialling 2,000rpm and acting like a boy racer. If you try it with less, it tends to chug-chug-boost-accelerate-next-gear-please, which is not my idea of fun.

Then there’s the in-gear progress you get when accelerating from, say, 40mph in third: boost-boost-4,500rpm-another-gear-please-boost-boost-4,500rpm-another-gear-please. I am not saying it’s not effective, but it’s simply not that pleasurable. You will never wind-up a diesel simply for the pleasure of it, or enjoy the linear power delivery of an effective normally aspirated petrol engine. But you would drive one fast, and not really get the sensation of speed. Where’s the fun in that?

Don’t get me wrong, I like diesels – I’ve driven a few I really like, such as the Rover 75 CDT, which in objective terms, is the best model in the range. And there is a sense that you’re beating the system when you travel 600 miles between fill-ups. And you can go fast in the better examples of the breed. But so what? Follow a swiftly driven Golf TDi or BMW 330D and there’s nothing more off-putting than seeing an ugly cloud of black soot coming out of the exhaust, as the car over-fuels yet again. So, diesels are worthy enough, and I admire those marketed for what they are: low-consumption cars. Those marketed as performance cars are where my objections lie: you can have a quick diesel, but don’t kid yourself it’s a performance car.

It isn’t one, and it never will be.

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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