Back in July 2004, I blogged about how I couldn’t understand how manufacturers would spend their time marketing their high powered diesels as performance cars. After all, I figured, they may be fast in a straight line, but you’re never going to extend your diesel to its (low) red line just for the sheer pleasure of it…
Well, I guess you are expecting me to eat my words now. I mean, my Rover 75 CDT puts out (a claimed) 160bhp and 251lb/ft, and can now live with anything upto a BMW 323i in the outside lane fight. And it still manages to average 43mpg on a day-to-day basis.
So, I am converted?
Well, no, not really…
Allow me to explain. The 75CDT is a very impressive car, and on my favourite B660 thrash (I mean, commute), from Peterborough to Kimbolton it is a very capable steer. Effortlessly rapid, there is seldom any need to drop into anything lower than fourth gear on this mixed B-road. Overtaking is a doddle, too – look for a gap, drop into fourth, wait half a second for the turbo pressure to build up, and away you go… Zap! Another car nailed.
I think it has the really charming
trait of accelerating in a way that
is totally mismatched with the
noises coming from under the bonnet
– the only way you can tell you’re
accelerating rapidly, is by glancing
at the speedo, and seeing the needle
climb the scale at an amusing
rate of knots…
But what it is that makes the 75 so impressive on the B660, is not its very capable BMW lump with its impressive set of statistics, but its chassis. You see, I still believe that what Gaydon’s engineers achieved with the 75 is well nigh-on a miracle. For one, it rides extremely well. Damping is tight, suspension travel ample, and grip levels impressive. It is a natural understeerer, but you have to be pretty ham-fisted to get the 75 to misbehave in such a way. Beyond that, road noise is masterfully obliterated – giving the driver a real sense of isolation from the outside world, but with the added bonus of enough communication through the helm to keep you informed about what’s going on at ground level. I did trade off a fraction of ride comfort at the last tyre change – going from Michelin Pilot 195/65VR 15s to Dunlop SP 205/60VR 15s – but the improved steering response and keener turn-in was a worthwhile trade-off in my book.
So, as you can see, my car isn’t impressing me for its performance – but for its chassis.
But with all that power on board, surely I must find pleasure it driving it quickly – as I would my BX 16 Valve… Well, no not really. Of course, I go quickly in it (where it is safe and legal), but only because the rest of the car is more than capable of handling higher speeds. I think it has the really charming trait of accelerating in a way that is totally mismatched with the noises coming from under the bonnet – the only way you can tell you’re accelerating rapidly, is by glancing at the speedo, and seeing the needle climb the scale at an amusing rate of knots…
So, it’s no performance car… Quick, perhaps. But effortless. And therefore, it can’t stimulate my nerve endings like a true performance car.
And I’m sure that’s the same for the other über-diesels out there, such as the Skoda Fabia VRS or VW Golf TDI 150.
Of course, in the real world, diesels now offer such a compelling mixture of abilities, it is hard to see how petrol engined cars can continue to compete. There is now no real power advantage in any given engine capacity for a normally aspirated petrol fuelled car. The traditional 2-litre market is dominated by diesels – and it is easy to see why, when they put out just as much power, much more torque, and sip fuel at a lower rate. So, the petrol engine has had its day in the mass market?
Nope, not in my books. Give me a high rev-range, and a zingy engine note any day. Bugger the economy…