Letter from the UK: Diesel is making a comeback?
You will appreciate this, because a disaster happened not long ago that swept the automotive world like a global tsunami.
Volkswagen had been caught cheating. The news slowly seeped out as country after country declared war against them.
German diesel tailpipe emissions were not as we had been led to believe. The industry and the public had been mislead by clever engineering and frankly, blatant lying.
Heads rolled at VW headquarters, and the new “men of motors” who replaced them, vowed we would never see this underhand trickery again. Branches of the VW empire – Audi, Skoda – pulled their corporate heads in like terrified turtles but the damage was done. Worse still, owners were told their vehicles could be adjusted but – and this is the crucial thing – their VWs would never be quite as good again.
Many European nations charge some form of tax for the use of vehicles on public roads, a form of legal highway robbery that is at its worst in the United Kingdom. Here, vehicles are taxed on exhaust emissions primarily. Fortunately, at the time of writing at least, the governors of Europe have yet to adjust upwards the amount of tax that offending cars will have to pay.
Nevertheless, this cheating has had an effect on the sales of new diesel-powered cars.
Diesel fuel and cars have always attracted price premiums anyway based purely on the fact that a diesel will always provide more miles-per-gallon than the equivalent, unleaded petrol engine.
But now the tide has turned.
When you consider that a gallon of the precious fluid in the UK costs the equivalent of $6.79 you can understand why British car buyers are conscious of these things. Perhaps I should pause here to let the American motoring public pick themselves up off the floor and let their heart rates go down?
Customers at dealerships are increasingly taking an interest in the new era of petrol engines; little blocks that can stand on a piece of A4 paper and have life-giving power blown through them by small turbochargers. Increasingly, these tiny power-packs, often of only three cylinders, are matching the performance figures of the larger and heavier oil-burners. Now though, the diesel engine is fighting back and in the vanguard of the battle are the French – and that’s not something you’ll read very often.
The European PSA Group which encompasses names such as Citroen and Peugeot have, for several decades, produced generally lack-luster and dull cars. Like a disappointing sandwich that looks edible but offers no taste sensation, their cars have spent years in the deserts of mediocrity but, just lately, they have got their act together.
The Peugeot 208 BlueHDi 75 S&S
Peugeot has, for a while now, been producing diesel engines under the trade term of BlueHDi – the name given to the company’s latest generation of fuel and environmentally efficient diesel engines. BlueHDi complies with Euro 6 emission standards to deliver a driving experience rich in power and performance, but with exceptional fuel economy and CO2 emissions. A three stage cleansing process specifically targets the pollutants of diesel combustion, removing hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, reducing nitrogen oxides by up to ninety percent, and eliminating 99.9% of particulates.
The thing is – it works.
The Peugeot 208 BlueHDi 75 S&S is the latest example. On a decent run and with making no effort to achieve any hyper-mileage records (Seriously, who really has time for that?) this diminutive product of France delivered 76 miles from just one gallon of diesel. That’s impressive and something that most equivalent petrol engines can only dream of. A truly careful driver could probably squeeze a little more out, like toothpaste from a tube.
With typical hyperbole, Peugeot reckons this car can achieve 94 mpg but, as we all know, just not in the real world. The 208 only emits 79g/km of the “nasty stuff,” however. The system of emission measurement in the United States is different but it amounts to the same thing: this little 1.6 litre unit delivers the ecological goods.
In Great Britain this car is road tax free. Could it be that diesel will once again claim the hearts of the drivers of Europe? We can only wait and see.
*Geoff Maxted is an automotive writer, photographer, and author of our "Letters from Britain" series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite
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