Government policy is torn between hating
diesel cars, because their better economy means that
they produce less revenue from fuel taxation, and pretending
to love them because they produce less of the CO2 which
is blamed for global warming. So extra taxes are applied
to diesel cars - £10 extra on annual vehicle tax for
all the lower pollution bands, and £5 extra (£165 instead
of £160) for those emitting more than 185 g/km in exhaust
gases. There is also an additional 3 per cent to be
added to the car benefit charge for those provided with
a free company car, which is assessed as a percentage
of what the car cost when new.
Even with these
additions, diesel motoring is substantially cheaper
because the typical diesel car consumes about a third
less fuel than the equivalent petrol model. If we look
at the Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI tested in the group which
follows, the official fuel consumption figure for the
diesel with manual transmission is given as 47.9 mpg,
though on our test it did even better, returning 54.1
mpg. By comparison, the 1.6-litre petrol version is
credited with only 38.2 mpg.
in favour of diesel is not always the case, however,
and the gain of the Renault Laguna 2.2 diesel over the
equivalent 2-litre petrol model is only in the order
of 10 per cent, so one needs to study the official figures
carefully before joining the headlong rush to diesel.
benefits of diesel motoring are the much greater range
between refuelling points, which is important as more
and more roadside garages go out of business, and the
quiet, relaxed cruising which results from high gearing
to meet the diesel's reduced ability to rev fast.
have been made to diesels in recent years, so that they
are now much quieter, accelerate faster, and give out
less pollution. The result is that diesel car sales
now outnumber petrol in many European countries such
as Belgium, France, Austria and Spain, while in the
UK they are catching up rapidly and now account for
a third of all sales.
In this review we
have assessed six contenders for the executive market
at various levels and prices. Except where stated otherwise,
the fuel consumption figure given is that actually measured
on our test, excluding towing where the car has also
been tested as a tow-car. Acceleration from rest to
80 mph is given as a more representative figure than
the much-quoted time to only 60 mph. Prices are subject
to change, and may in any case be eligible for discounts,
so please check with your dealer.
Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI Elegance
For a long time the mainstay of the Volkswagen Group's
diesel cars was a very efficient 1.9-litre four-cylinder
engine, noted for quietness, smoothness and good economy.
When a 2.0-litre diesel started to appear in many of
the models, I wondered if the new power unit would be
as good, or would economy be sacrificed in the interests
of power, and was delighted to find it is even better.
In this quite large and roomy car - the new Skoda Octavia
is 4,572 mm (15ft) long, with hatchback body and a huge
boot - a remarkable 54.1 mpg was returned overall. This
is 6 mpg better than the official claimed figure.
The engine is even
quieter than the former 1.9-litre, especially at tickover
which is when many diesels are obtrusive. It pulls smoothly
and gives vigorous punch for third gear overtaking.
A six-speed gearbox is standard with this engine, giving
effortless fast cruising.
Easy and reassuring
to drive, the new Octavia has positive and pleasantly
light steering, with very manageable and predictable
handling, while the brakes are discs at all wheels,
and give good response to light pedal loads. The steering
wheel has a rather thin rim, but is neatly trimmed in
stitched leather and a large central horn pad is in
the centre boss. Beneath the wheel are lever switches
for the indicators and cruise control on the left, and
wipers with variable intermittent control on the right.
are fitted, with commendably clear marking, and there's
an easily understandable digital display for all audio
and CD functions. An informative trip computer between
the main instruments gives such information as fuel
consumption, running time and average speed.
A ratchet lever
to the right of the driving seat gives height adjustment,
and there's a large rotary knob for finely adjustable
backrest angle as well as a smaller control for squab
tension. So a really comfortable driving position can
be set, and the front passenger also has these provisions.
Below the front of the passenger seat a storage compartment
drops down, marked as having a 1.5 kg weight limit -
a good place to hide valuables from view. A drop-down
container for glasses is just to the rear of the interior
mirror. Many other stowage spaces are provided, including
a deep compartment below the centre armrest. The rear
seat is divided 40/60 to fold down readily on to the
fixed one-piece cushion, yet there's also a ski flap
through the centre of the backrest behind the folding
armrest. Seats are firm but comfortable and upholstered
in stitched leather. The luggage space is really generous,
extending so far forward that you almost have to climb
in to push something right to the end.
operated sunroof is one of the few options on the new
Octavia, but in other respects the top Elegance model
as tested is well equipped, and packaged to please the
buyer rather than to save cost wherever possible. Thus,
it has a full-size alloy spare wheel in a well under
the boot floor, and two good map lights. Combined red
warning and puddle illumination lights come on in the
bottom of the doors when any of the four doors is opened.
A reverse warning system is standard on the TDI Elegance.
A mournful gong reminds front occupants to fasten seat
If you are happy
to go without some of the luxuries and generous equipment
of the Elegance model, the TDI Classic is available
with the same engine and six-speed gearbox at £15,300.
Automatic transmission is available at just over £1,000
extra on both models. Whichever version is chosen, the
whole of the new Octavia range seems to represent very
Octavia TDI Elegance Hatchback 2.0 £16,400
Engine - 1,968 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 18.2 seconds
Maximum speed - 129 mph
Warranty - 3 years, unlimited mileage
- 10 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 54.1 mpg
CO2 emissions - 159 g/km (tax band B, £135)
Insurance - Group 9E
CitroŽn C5 HDi VTR
In September 2004, CitroŽn launched a surprise new package
at the Paris Show to bring the big C5 range up to date,
with improved styling, additional equipment, and a number
of novel features. It has not yet been possible to carry
out a full test, so the fuel consumption given in the
data panel is CitroŽn's official figure for the model,
but on the basis of a comparatively brief drive it was
possible to conclude straight away that the new C5 is
a very refined, comfortable and pleasing car, with the
whole range offered here from October at prices which
are highly competitive.
Of the three diesel
engines offered - 1.6, 2.0 and 2.2 - it was the middle
one that was chosen, and it was very impressive to find
how well this big car performs. It gives vigorous acceleration
and leisurely cruising with its standard six-speed gearbox.
In sixth, 100 mph would take little more than 3,000
rpm. This is likely to be the most popular version of
C5, though there is also attraction in the 1.6 diesel,
although it comes with only a five-speed gearbox. The
2.2 has four-speed automatic as standard.
CitroŽn has refined
its Hydro-pneumatic suspension over the years, and the
latest version called Hydractive 3 gives an excellent
blend of comfort with tautness for good roadholding.
On some versions, a sport mode can be selected to make
the ride and handling a little crisper, and there is
automatic compensation for poor surfaces, giving a little
more ground clearance, while at speed the ride height
is lowered to reduce drag, giving better fuel economy,
as well as aiding stability.
With its much more
attractive appearance, the C5 deserves a better name
than the 'New Look' designation it has been given, though
the slight penalty of the more flowing appearance is
that it is 12 cm longer. The 2.0-litre diesel comes
with VTR trim, or as the Exclusive. Body style is a
roomy five-door hatchback, or for £1,100 more an Estate
car body is available.
of the C5 are a 'wake-up' system to alert a driver who
appears to be nodding off and allowing the car to cross
the lane lines without first signalling an intention,
and headlamps which turn up to 15 deg in response to
the steering to light up the dead area when cornering.
There's also a device to prevent the car from exceeding
any chosen speed, which might appeal to those clinging
on to nine licence points and waiting for the next camera
flash to put them on the bus!
Other features available
or standard on certain models are rain sensing automatic
wipers, front and rear parking warning systems, automatic
switch-on headlamps, and a low tyre pressure warning
system. Those looking for a big and comfortable diesel
will be rewarded by a careful study of the equipment
packaging and options list, and the C5 New Look looks
set to please.
C5 HDi VTR Hatchback 2.0 £17,795
- 1,997 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 18.7 seconds
Maximum speed - 127 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
- 12 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption (official figure, combined) - 35.3
CO2 emissions - 158 g/km (tax band B, £135)
Insurance - Group 10E
Vauxhall Vectra Estate car
CDTI SRi 1.9
Several MPVs have electrically-operated sliding side
doors, and many cars and estate cars have remote unlocking
for the boot or tailgate, but the new Vauxhall Vectra
Estate goes one further: it has the option of an electrically
operated self-opening tailgate. It's certainly very
convenient to go to the back of the Vectra Estate, just
press a button, and see the tailgate open while you
wait with armfuls of shopping.
not quite as easy as that, because safety legislation
intrudes with all sorts of safeguards so that no one
could ever be hurt by it and, of course, sue the company.
So the button under the number plate plinth operates
the tailgate only under the right conditions, which
seemed to mean that the car has just been unlocked.
Another problem is that if there is any luggage in the
way, the tailgate can't complete its down cycle and
goes into a part-closed condition in which it won't
respond to any of the buttons.
The opening or closing
action is also rather slow, and a warning beeper sounds
when the tailgate is beginning to open or close. This
option costs £500.
Perhaps more impressive
than this gimmick was to find how well the new diesel
engine with capacity of only 1.9-litre copes with this
big car, giving spirited acceleration once it is revving
well. At the lower speeds it is not too happy, and a
subdued throbbing reminds the driver that this is only
a four-cylinder with high gearing, and it would be helpful
to change down. The engine is very quiet, and except
at low engine speeds it pulls smoothly and vigorously.
It's a 16-valve unit, and develops an impressive 150
bhp power output, with exhaust so clean that it meets
the tough Euro 4 emission control regulations, bringing
a useful reduction in annual tax. A less powerful variant
of this engine is available at £500 less, but I recommend
the 16-valve unit.
A six-speed gearbox
is fitted, and the change is easy to operate using an
attractively styled gear shift with stitched leather
around the front and a silvery top running down the
back. The steering is accurate, with very good directional
stability, but the suspension is not the best feature
of the car, giving a rather bumpy ride with a lot of
sharp reaction to small blemishes in the surface. The
brakes bring good response to light pedal loads, but
there is surprisingly long pedal travel.
like the new type of built-in hideaway tow-hitch, which
comes out from underneath on pulling a lever in the
side of the load space. It stows away equally easily.
This is a £600 option, and incorporates the electrical
socket for connecting the caravan electrics, though
this is of the Continental 13-pin type for which most
British caravans will need an adaptor. Fuel consumption
was 35.8 mpg when running solo, dropping to 25.8 when
towing a 4.8-metre caravan.
comfort, the seats are upholstered in leather on the
SRi, with electric adjustment for both. The driving
seat has three memory buttons to set adjustments for
different drivers. The rear seat, divided 60/40, folds
down on to the fixed one-pieced cushion.
A very attractive
interior design provides an impressive console with
an information display at the top showing time, outside
temperature, and selected items from the computer read-out.
It is also the navigation screen when this option has
There are some
surprising omissions from the standard equipment for
the SRi in view of its price of £20,590. Thus, there
are no map lights, no vanity mirror for the driver,
and no sun roof. The passenger glove box is not lockable,
and the windows are electric at the front only. But
it does have a ski-flap through the wider section of
the folding rear seat, map pockets on the seat backs,
and a useful central compartment between the seats.
Cruise control is fitted, and there is electric heating
for the front seats. An effective audio unit has single
slot loading as well as a four-disc magazine, and there
is an efficient ventilation system.
There is much to
please the owner in the Vectra Estate, and for any of
the items which one feels ought to be there, the options
list is extensive to make good the deficiencies.
Vauxhall Vectra Estate car
CDTI SRi 1.9 £20,590
Engine - 1,910 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 18.0 seconds
Maximum speed - 130 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 35.8 mpg
CO2 emissions - 165 g/km (tax band B, £135)
Insurance - Group 11E
MG ZT-T CDTi 135
In a busy week in which I covered over 900 miles with
the ZT-T, I enjoyed it all the more as the miles mounted.
There's nothing like experience of a car like the MG
ZT-T to remind one that British cars still have a great
deal to offer, can match or better their rivals on quality,
and can often beat them on price. The MG ZT-T is the
estate car version of MG's elegantly-styled model derived
from the Rover 75, and with the more powerful of two
diesel engines available, giving 131 bhp, it costs £21,595.
hard, which it does very well indeed, the engine gives
a throaty growl, but when cruising it is exceptionally
quiet for a diesel, swallowing the miles effortlessly
and tirelessly. It serves as a very relaxing long journey
There is no six-speed
gearbox, which tends to be the norm for a car in this
class, and in fifth the car speed at 1,000 rpm is relatively
low at only 29.2 mph. But in spite of this, the fuel
consumption is very reasonable, averaging 38.7 mpg overall,
and 40 is obtainable with a little restraint.
aspect of the ZT-T is the suspension which gives a lot
of recoil and plunge over undulations, with a sharp
report over any bumps or blemishes such as cat's eye
studs. The very low-profile tyres fitted accentuate
the harshness of the ride, but the pay-off is very precise
steering and a positive feel to the car on corners,
with very good grip on wet roads. The steering wheel
has audio switches on the left, cruise controls on the
right, and there are two small but fairly easily found
horn buttons. The steering column is adjustable in both
The seats wrap round
comfortably and are upholstered in velour with stitched
leather outer sections. Levers at the side enable driver
and passenger to set the seat positions for optimum
comfort without having to reach forward or under to
get at the adjusters. Both front seats have height adjustment.
The rear seat is divided 60/40 to fold down on to the
one-piece cushion, and there is a ski-flap through the
wider part. The practical interior layout includes a
safety net to hold luggage at bay in the load space,
and net pockets on the backs of the front seats.
Because the clasp
is not high enough above the seat, it is difficult to
fasten the seat belt. Only the passenger has a vanity
mirror, for which no light is provided.
Remote central locking
is provided, and the doors and tailgate lock automatically
once 5 mph is exceeded. The driver then needs to operate
the 'unlock' button near the handbrake, otherwise passengers
can't get out - a feature which some women find irritating.
A CD 6-pack unit takes up most of the space in the glove
locker on the passenger side.
I was particularly
intrigued by some of the optional equipment on the test
car, including the Highline navigation system which
provides a clear map and sensible route instructions,
and can be switched to give colour TV when the car is
at rest. This option costs £2,325. Another expensive
option for £1,195 includes rain sensing wipers, xenon
headlamps, a trip computer and the Trafficmaster Alert
With this option
pack, Trafficmaster warnings of delays appear in simple
abbreviated form between the speedometer and the rev
counter. But the most attractive option of all, for
a modest £210 extra, is the fuel-burning heater which
can be set remotely to warm the interior before you
get in - most welcome for a cold winter morning. This
is exclusive to the diesel, and of course it is only
for use with the car at rest and does not affect the
standard heating and air conditioning systems. Being
able to step into a warm car on the coldest morning
would be a special bonus.
Please note this car is no longer
available as a new purchase.
ZT-T Estate car 2.0 £21,595
- 1,951 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 19.4 seconds
Maximum speed - 115 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
- 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 38.7 mpg
CO2 emissions - 163 g/km (tax band B, £135)
Insurance - Group 10
Renault Laguna Sport Tourer
2.2 dCi PrivilŤge
Giving its Laguna estate car a more exciting title,
Renault calls it the Sport Tourer, and a very sporting
diesel estate it is, too. There's the usual Renault
palette of engines from which to choose, including a
3-litre V6 petrol, but after trying the new 2.2-litre
16-valve diesel, this would be the obvious one for any
thinking executive to select, bringing eager performance,
effortless cruising, and good but not over-impressive
fuel economy. There is also the advantage that automatic
transmission is available, and with the advantage of
Tiptronic control it makes the Laguna a very enjoyable
car to drive. Simply move the selector lever across
to the left to go into Tiptronic mode, and then a touch
rearward gives a change down, or forward to change up.
Changes are smooth and response excellent.
As with most of
the cars in this group, I was able to test the Laguna
for caravan towing, and with this automatic it proved
a first-rate tow-car, with a good reserve of power for
The Laguna is a
big and very spacious estate car, so it's not unreasonable
that fuel consumption was only 36.6 mpg when solo, dropping
to 25.1 towing.
Renaults are invariably
well-equipped, and when looking at prices one needs
to bear in mind that the Laguna comes as standard with
such features as pull-up sun blinds for the rear side
windows, a large tilt/slide sunroof, and a very impressive
console on which are neatly laid out the audio and air
conditioning controls with separate left and right adjustment
for interior temperature. The radio is combined with
a CD player and has repeater controls on a satellite
within reach of the right hand on the steering wheel.
The test car had
the special equipment package called PrivilŤge, which
includes mixed velour and leather upholstery with leather
trim on the door handles, a reverse warning system to
advise when one is getting a little too close to any
obstruction, and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
An impressively good navigation system with clear colour
mapping and providing sensible route directions is available
as an extra at £1,500. Although it works so well, it
is irritating that one has to press a button three times
to pass through its security routine, agreeing, for
example, that one will not drive over a cliff or the
wrong way down a one-way street just because the navigation
system tells one to do so! I found this a bit unnecessary,
but one has to go through the rigmarole even after just
stopping the engine momentarily.
'key' is a card, about the size of a very small pocket
calculator, and it is pushed into its slot, to put the
engine on 'stand by'. Then, a touch on the 'Start' button
triggers automatic start-up after a momentary delay
to let the cold start glow plugs heat up. This takes
only a second but might be slightly longer in winter,
and one can be fastening the seat belt while start-up
Refreshing and relaxing
to drive, with very comfortable seating and suspension,
the Laguna 2.2 dCi takes little effort at the controls,
and gives vigorous response with a lively feel on the
road. Carrying capacity is generous, and the tailgate
has a concealed electric release.
Laguna Sport Tourer PrivilŤge 2.2 dCi £21,815
Engine - 2,188 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 17.9 seconds
Maximum speed - 128 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
12 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 36.6 mpg
emissions - 204 g/km (tax band D, £165)
Insurance - Group 10
Jaguar S-Type 2.7 D
For many years Jaguar has been losing out to competitors
from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others because it
was not able to offer a diesel version, and as tax incentives
and the appalling cost of fuel have tempted even executive
company car users to contemplate diesels, something
had to be done. Now that Jaguar is part of the Ford
empire, the solution was a tie-up with PSA - the Peugeot-CitroŽn
group - and the third phase of cooperative development
produced a new 2.7-litre V6 diesel in June 2003. Earlier
phases produced a smaller 2-litre diesel for the X-Type.
in the Jaguar S-Type, the V6 is expected later to become
available in other models, and it's a twin-turbo unit
giving an impressive 206 bhp. Even on start-up, which
is when many diesels are noisy, the one in the Jaguar
is notably quiet, and much of the time when cruising
it is inaudible. There's a slight delay - no more than
a second or two - before response is felt at low speed,
then it gives vigorous punch as illustrated by the car's
ability to accelerate through the gears to 80 mph in
only 14.2 seconds.
the engine drives the rear wheels through manual or
automatic transmissions, each having six speeds. The
test car had the manual gearbox which has easy action,
though the clutch is on the heavy side.
All the lovely character
of the Jaguar is present in this diesel version of the
S-Type with very precise and extremely light steering,
well-balanced handling, and responsive brakes which
have internal venting for the discs at both front and
rear wheels. A simple chromed switch controls the electrically-operated
handbrake which is very convenient to use.
are fitted with beige leather upholstery and electric
adjustment with two memory settings to retain seat and
mirror adjustments, and the steering wheel position
is also electrically adjustable. When the engine is
stopped and the key removed, the driving seat motors
backward to its full extent to facilitate access in
The rear seat is
divided in 60/40 format and the backrests fold down
on to the fixed one-piece cushion. Release knobs for
the backrests are located in the boot so that when the
car is locked the seats cannot be folded down giving
a thief access to the boot. Individual cupholders pop
forward at the base of the rear seat, and at the front
they are in recesses between the seats, covered by a
The S-Type test
car was equipped for towing, and proved an excellent
towcar giving reassuring stability while also having
vigorous torque for acceleration and hill climbing.
The effortless cruising pace with a caravan on tow makes
a bit of a mockery of Britain's 60 mph trailer speed
limit. The average fuel consumption when solo, 36.6
mpg, was still at a very reasonable 24.4 mpg when towing
a 4.8-metre caravan.
An excellent navigation
system was fitted (costing £2,000 extra), with touch-screen
control, but it's irritating that a destination cannot
be set on the move, even if there is a passenger there
to do it, and that every time the engine is re-started
the driver must press the screen marking 'Agree' to
an unnecessary legend about observing safety legislation.
The screen is also positioned much too low.
of the interior goes to the instruments, which are ridiculously
small, and to the computer read-outs in the bottom of
the rev counter marked in black on green, which are
very difficult to read. The boot extends well forward
but is not very deep. The S-Type switches on its own
lights, but the system is not sensitive enough, often
leaving the car unlit in dull weather when dipped headlamps
need to be turned on, which can of course be done manually.
There is no automatic switch-on for the wipers, which
many less expensive cars now offer.
The S-Type is a
most rewarding car to drive, with an excellent diesel
engine, but it is spoilt by some annoying features.
Jaguar S-Type 2.7 D SE saloon
Engine - 2,720 cc twin-turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 14.2 seconds
Maximum speed - 143 mph
Warranty - 3 years, unlimited mileage
6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 36.6 mpg
CO2 emissions - 189 g/km (tax band D £165)
Insurance - Group 14