ONE of the hardest jobs a road tester has to do is convey the performance of a car he’s testing in a way that his reader is going to relate to. It’s all well and good talking about standing start 0-60mph times, but in this day and age, this is pretty irrelevant – especially considering our road conditions really favour mid-range punch and the ability to overtake dawdling 40mph HGVs in complete safety.
The 50-70mph benchmark is quite good, but in all honesty, how many people do you know leave their car in top gear when going for the overtake? One method I really liked was the TED (Time Exposed to Danger) test, first shown on Channel 4’s sadly-missed ‘Driven’ programme. In this test, a car would pull out and overtake a truck going 56mph, and the time taken – the TED – was taken as a measure of performance.
However, overtaking trucks is one thing – how about overtaking other cars?
Of late, I’ve noticed that in the real world, the drivers of turbo diesels seem to be the quickest from point to point, but because they’re rarely trying, and sitting in the middle of a mountain of torque, they do so with comparative ease. To maintain a similar level of performance in a petrol powered equivalent, you’d have to ring the poor car’s neck – leaving you with a hefty fuel bill. Ergo, the fastest cars on the road – in the real world – are the turbo diesels.
The quickest and most committed of the turbo diesel brigade seem to be the doyens of middle management who find themselves behind the wheel of a VW Golf TDi 2.0 – generally in black, but sometimes silver.
Sometimes, they can be a bit too quick and aggressive, but driving in Britain these days seems to be about being hard, but (sometimes) fair. What always impresses me from my vantage point (of usually driving crap cars) is these Volkswagens really shift, and their drivers take give no quarter to anyone else.
I’ve noticed that in the real world, the
drivers of turbo diesels seem to be the
quickest from point to point…
Given that the road tester’s trade revolves about telling a story in an entertaining and educational way, but be factual at the the same time, I’ve devised a new way of measuring performance. And one, that hopefully, relays real world performance on the highways and byways of the UK.
It’s called the ‘TDI Test’… and the principle is to simulate what happens when you’re on a dual carriageway behind one, and the truck in front of you has pulled over to let you past. Will you get past the Golf – or will you be breathing in black smoke indefinitely?
Basically, the car you’re performance testing is driven in convoy behind a Golf TDi 2.0 at 40mph. When you pass a point on the test track, both cars accelerate as fast as they can – the Golf stays in fifth gear, while the test car can use all ratios available. So, in a manual car, you’ll drop to third (or even second if your car is really tasty) and nail it, whereas in an auto, you’ll be relying on kickdown.
The longer it takes to best the Golf, the slower your car is. It’s a real life test, though, and one you can replicate yourself (within reason) many many times, as the drivers of these fine cars are always willing to help you with your performance testing experiments. In fact, only yesterday, when testing a Citroen C6 V6 HDi Exclusive against one willing Golf driver, I even managed a friendly hand gesture once the test was completed… well, I think it was.
Within the confines of a test track such as Bruntingthorpe, you’ll find a quick car can complete the manoeuvre in around 10 seconds – any longer than that, and you’re going to be struggling in the fast lane.
And woe betide you if you score a negative time…
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.