New diesel engines lift Opel’s game

But have the new DERVs come just as the world turns against diesel?

Opel’s new lineup of diesel-engined cars, but  have the improved models come too late for a market that is returning to petrol-powered cars?

Opel’s new lineup of diesel-engined cars, but have the improved models come too late for a market that is returning to petrol-powered cars?

 

It did feel a trifle odd, I must admit. Usually when a car maker has something new and whizz-bang to show us, we get shuttled off to somewhere warm and sunny, where the PR people hope and assume that the pleasing location will quell some of our critical faculties and make us a little more amenable to spin and marketing-speak.

But this was Wicklow, and it was cold. Of course, one tends to forget that for the rest of the world, Ireland still seems a different and interesting place, so perhaps there was nothing unusual in Opel deciding to bring the world’s motoring press to Ireland for the launch of its new lineup of diesel engines. It’s just that for us local boys, there was a slightly unreal sense of displacement, driving left-hand-drive German-registered cars on roads that we know so well.

Still, perhaps it’s a good reflection on the country as a whole. We assumed that there would be something close to carnage – all these other journalists would either fall over laughing at the state of our roads or tumble into a pothole and be lost forever. Or it would rain and everyone would be miserable. Not so though, according to Laura Condron, senior brand and PR manager for Opel in Ireland. In fact, the whole event has been so well received that Opel has been granted a “key to Ireland” by Fáilte Ireland.

“We have not had any issues with European journalists driving on this side of the road and we expect it to remain that way as the journalists who will be testing our new engines in the Mokka and Insignia would have a good level of driving experience,” Condron told The Irish Times.

“The Wicklow Mountains offer dramatic scenery and driving roads, and we’ve had really positive reports from the international media, including comments that the roads around Wicklow are the most beautiful and scenic routes that they have ever tested.”

Sentiment echoed

Italy

“We were really glad to come to Ireland. It’s a very unusual location to come to, we usually go to Spain or southern Europe. It’s very beautiful here, everyone likes the landscape very much, and some of them tried to go into Dublin to see the city. Everyone thought the condition of the roads was really great, aside from the fact that some of the country roads were a bit narrow, so we’ve had no troubles at all with driving on the left, they all got on very smoothly.”

Perhaps we’re too keen to put ourselves down a bit. That’s certainly been the case with Opel’s diesel engine lineup, at least until just recently. The old and creaky 1.7 CDTI diesel that was, for too long, the mainstay of Opel’s oil burners has finally be put out to pasture, and now we get to have the smooth and much more efficient new 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines.

The 1.6 we sampled last year in the updated Meriva, but this was our first chance to try out the new 170hp 2.0-litre CDTI unit, which is making its debut in the Insignia. Diesel technology has really moved on in recent years and this new engine reflect that. Its fuel is pumped into the cylinders at a massive 2,000-bar pressure and extra squirts of fuel, up to 10 per combustion cycle, can be called on. That helps to give better control of the fuel-air burn and that helps to liberate more power, reduce consumption and, critically, cut back on the noxious emissions that are starting to give diesel engines bad press around the world.

Certainly, it’s pleasant to drive. There’s a bit of clatter on start-up but once it’s warmed through this is a very smooth and quiet engine, and with 400Nm of torque it has enough to kick the Insignia up the metaphorical backside when you want it to.

Impressive as ever

Ford

The thing is, for all the improvements in the diesel engine tech and performance, have they come too late? We’ve seen headline after headline recently that the environmental lobby is out to get diesel now, and cities including Berlin and Paris have already begun to clamp down on older cars using city centre streets because of fears over air quality.

Dave Sheeran, Opel Ireland’s MD, reckons that the new tech will keep the oil-burning engines ahead of the torch-and-pitchfork brigade though.

“While diesel technologies are high on the agenda at the moment, our new engines eliminate the emission of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both of which have been the biggest criticism of the diesel engine. Our new engines also comply with the latest legislation that is being driven by the European Commission, Euro 6, so we would not see the tightening of restrictions as a challenge and is, in fact, good timing.”

Sheeran also says that if there is a swing back to petrol engined cars by consumers (as appears to be happening at the moment) then Opel is equally well-placed to benefit, although you’d have to say that the hefty investment needed for these new diesels might seem like a bit of a waste of time at that point.

Still, this is a step up for Opel, and while there are prophets of doom about, Ireland is still a 73 per cent diesel-heavy market, so for now at least, these engines are a welcome arrival on our shores.