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A luxury drive on diesel

May 15, 2008

Diesel cars have for long been viewed as slow, ponderous, ancient, loud and “clattery”—vehicles that taxi drivers preferred to use because they aren’t bothered about any of the above problems. And with diesel being subsidised in our country, diesel cars continued to remain the choice of people who logged high mileage every month.

The Audi R8 has become a demonstrator of diesel technology
Audi R8
Actually, the subsidy on diesel was a problem in itself rather than being a promoter of diesel. As diesel prices were (and are) low, people continued to pay a high premium for diesel cars over petrol cars and manufacturers continued to offer outdated engine technology for the diesel.

But trust me, diesel engines are inherently more efficient and now, we have technologies that can utilise this potential. Diesel cars are now powerful, quieter, highly efficient and “torquey savvy”.

Audi R8's 6-litre V12 twin-turbo TDI engine
Audi R8's TDI engine
And to put all speculation about diesel cars to rest, Audi has not only won one of the most demanding and famous endurance races in the world—the 24-hour Le Mans—but has now also launched a diesel version of its super sports car, the R8. It develops a maximum of 500bhp of power and 1000Nm of torque, which means that the car can zoom to 100 kmph in just over 4 seconds and has a top speed in excess of 300 kmph. Even the small and cute Audi TT coupe now has a diesel engine.

Now that the performance aspects of diesel cars have been taken care of, there remains the question of the subsidy on them. While diesel is slightly more expensive than petrol in most European countries, it still has a market share in excess of 50 per cent. Now why would that be? Diesel engines get increased power and torque because of the advancements in technologies that make their combustion more efficient, resulting in better fuel efficiency as a consequence, with the added benefit of better driveability.

In India, such engines are now coming into their own as we move into the dieselisation of India. With Bosch setting up manufacturing in India for the components of one of the more popular of the contemporary diesel injection technologies, and both Maruti-Suzuki and Fiat-Tata setting up plants for diesel engines, more and more cars are being equipped with modern diesel engines.

Starting with the Swift at the bottom rung, with the Getz, the Fabia, the Fiesta, the Verna, the Optra, the Laura and the Passat, there is now no dearth of good diesel cars in any segment. So much so that you have to be very discerning to differentiate between a diesel and a petrol sitting in the rear of any of these cars.

There remains the question of price. Diesel vehicles are typically being sold at a price much higher than petrol versions. This is in part because diesel technologies are relatively new and require the use of some expensive materials and also the companies that have developed them need to recover their investments.

So, what should one do? Going by a thumb rule, if you are going to be driving over 2,500 km a month, then it makes sense to buy a diesel car, to even out your EMIs. Less than that, stick to petrol for the time being.

Yogendra Pratap is Editor, Auto Bild India


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