VW scandal: So you want an alternative to diesel?

‘Dieselgate’ is bringing back the spectre of the dirty diesel: but if you want to switch what are the choices?

The Volkswagen emissions scandal has not just spooked public confidence in the cars made by the German car giant, it has rattled drivers who have made the choice to move to diesel power over the past seven years. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The Volkswagen emissions scandal has not just spooked public confidence in the cars made by the German car giant, it has rattled drivers who have made the choice to move to diesel power over the past seven years. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

 

The Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ scandal has not just spooked public confidence in cars made by the German car giant, it has rattled to the core those drivers who have made the choice to move to diesel power over the past seven years.

Well, in reality choice was effectively made for most of us once the government of 2008 changed the tax system over to being based on the CO2 emissions of the car. Once that was done, diesel had a clear advantage, its greater thermal efficiency making sure it would always be more tax-efficient to drive a diesel than a petrol engined car. More or less overnight, Ireland three quarters of Irish car buyers switched to buying diesel and until now, we hadn’t looked back.

Now though, people are starting to feel as if diesel is not the panacea for environmental and budgetary consciences alike. But what can we do if we genuinely want to protect the ecology of the world upon which we live, and still save a few pennies at the pumps, and at motor tax renewal time?

Electric within range?

The obvious answer is to go electric. Battery-powered cars have long been seen as the saviour of private motoring, but have always been held back, unless you were buying a Tesla, by limited range.

That tide is starting to turn though - shortly, you’ll be able to buy a Nissan Leaf with a claimed 250km one-charge range (hardly long-haul but a big improvement over the 160km range it originally launched with back in 2009) and there are 500km range electric cars coming within the next two to three years from a variety of manufacturers. They will be expensive as all-get-out though, so perhaps these are really only a viable option for the exceptionally well heeled.

Petrol makes more cash sense

There is good news on the petrol front though, and that’s a far more affordable route to go. More affordable especially because a petrol-burning car is almost without exception cheaper to buy than one which runs on diesel. Why? Because the car makers told us that it was going to cost a lot more to make diesel engines that could pass stringent new emissions tests… Ahem.

The double-irony here is that the VW Group is at the forefront of developing petrol engines that are close to matching their diesel counterparts when it comes to economy and emissions.

Let’s take an example: If you were to step out of a Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI 90bhp diesel and step into a Skoda Octavia 1.2 TSI 110bhp petrol, you’d hardly notice any difference. There is but 10mpg between them on the combined fuel economy cycle and the difference is narrower again than that in real world conditions. Yes, the petrol model is more expensive to tax every year, but thanks to 114g/km CO2 emissions, it’s only be a matter of €20 annually. Besides, you’ll have saved yourself the guts of €2,000 on the purchase price, so unless you’re completing really heavy mileage, there’s no way that the petrol-engined car will ever be beaten by the diesel in terms of costs.

The same is true across a wide variety of other car makers. Most Ford Mondeo buyers will shun petrol in favour of the 2.0-litre TDCI diesel, but the 1.5 turbo petrol EcoBoost is smoother, quieter and costs just €280 a year to tax. Plus, you should be able to squeeze 45mpg out of it, and it costs, again, around €2,000 less than an equivalent 2.0-litre TDCI diesel.

PSA Peugeot Citroen has also recently introduced a new range of 1.2-litre petrol turbo three-cylinder engines and frankly we’d have no hesitation recommending them over their diesel bedfellows for anyone but the highest mileage drivers. In the 308 hatchback, the e-THP 110hp version scores a 104g/km Co2 rating and claims 61mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle. That’s actually far better than some rival diesels.

Hybrid solutions

Hybrids are basically the sainthood of the motoring world - blameless, helpful and intent on saving every soul they come across. The sin qua non of the hybrid world is, of course, the Toyota Prius and while there’s a new model coming shortly, the current car still has impressive figures of 89g/km of Co2 and 72mpg on the combined cycle.

Mind you, you have to drive it like one of those saints to be able to achieve those figures, and the outgoing model - due to be replaced in the coming months - is not much fun to drive, either.

For now you’re actually probably better off going with an Auris Sport Tourer Hybrid instead - same part-electric drivetrain, similar 71mpg economy and 92g/km Co2 emissions but with a more practical estate body and a slightly better driving experience. (Worth pointing out though that there is also a new 1.2-litre turbo petrol in the Auris, with a claimed 112g/km of Co2 and 50mpg fuel economy and it’s a bit cheaper than the Hybrid.)

Across the Toyota forecourt, you may find one of the rare Irish dealers with a Lexus section. There you’ll actually find a hybrid that’s fun to drive - the Lexus IS300h. Yes, the awful CVT gearbox lets the engine drone on a bit, but there’s a Sport setting that plays an hilariously fake V8 soundtrack in the cabin to down out the drone, and it’s as much fun to steer as any BMW 3 Series. It boasts a 99g/km emissions figure, and according to What Car magazine in the UK, it gets closer to its claimed 66mpg economy in real world driving than any of its diesel rivals.

Plug-in hybrid - best of both worlds

Or you could hedge your bets. Go for a plug-in hybrid. These claim to offer the best of both worlds - pure electric driving for short bursts (generally around 50km when you’ve fully charged the batteries from mains electricity) but with a normal petrol engine on board should you need to make a longer journey. These are generally best-sampled as an SUV right now (they have the excess space for the batteries etc) and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (relatively affordable) and Volvo XC90 T8 (relatively not at all affordable) are probably the best - spacious, easy to use, nice to drive and with the promise of a sub-50g/km CO2 figure. Plus, if you do charge them up every night, you could conceivably get from one end of the week to the other without ever using the petrol engine.

Diesel’s not dead, at least not yet. The Volkswagen scandal has certainly woken people up to its limitations though, and if nothing else, it will probably hasten the dawn of electric car ownership on a far wider scale than we’ve seen thus far. That surely has to be the ultimate goal - to utterly decouple private cars from emissions at the point of use. Until that day comes though, there are some better alternatives to diesel than you might think.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.