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six small diesel cars assessed in 2000

Not many years ago there seemed little call for a
diesel engine in a small car, unless annual mileages
were very high; but the ominous approach of the
£4 gallon has changed all that.
There is also, as Stuart Bladon explains, the added inducement of cheaper tax for low emission
diesels, starting next month.

n the RAC/Fleet World MPG Marathon, staged over a 550-mile course just before the Birmingham Show, the winning car very nearly achieved 80 mpg! It was a Volkswagen Lupo TDI, and its actual figure was 79.35 mpg. It demonstrated what can be achieved with a modern small diesel, expertly driven, although over a tough course which took competitors through the heart of Birmingham and deep into the mountains of North Wales.

   Not everyone would want to drive so frugally, or perhaps even have the skill to do so, but with the modern small-medium size car - albeit much larger than the Lupo - you can still get over 50 mpg, while on any long journey it won't take much restraint to have your sights set on 60 mpg. With the present Government's 'soak the motorist' policy, that makes very good sense indeed.

   The more your kind of motoring involves low-speed running, perhaps commuting, or doing short trips for school and shopping runs with frequent cold starts, the greater the advantage of the diesel, which is much more efficient even immediately after a cold start. The difference diminishes in high speed cruising, though the diesel brings a further advantage here in having higher overall gearing. The result is that the engine is less busy at speed, and cruising is comparatively effortless and relaxing.

   One of the major improvements of modern diesels for cars has been the adoption of direct fuel injection into the cylinders, which is more more efficient than the former indirect injection, where combustion started first in a small ante-chamber. This was done to reduce the diesel 'knock', but manufacturers have since found better ways to achieve smoothness and quietness without compromising overall efficiency.

   As we look at a group of six very good small diesels here, we give for the first time the increasingly significant figure of how much CO2 each emits, measured in grams per kilometre. Looking at the data for each car, you will see that all of them give less than 150 g/km.

   This is very important because, from March, annual vehicle tax will be based on emissions and, for diesels giving less than 150 g/km of CO2, the annual tax rate will be reduced from the current £155 to £110 - or so it was set in the March 2000 Budget. Subsequent 'fuel cost softeners' may affect the figures, but low emission diesels still look set to benefit. If nothing else, you can always have the satisfaction that you are reducing your CO2 output, which is clearly the issue of the moment. Prices and specifications in this feature are liable to change at short notice.


CITROňN XSARA 2.0HDi LX 5-door
It has been amazing to see cars not only getting better, but also cheaper in 2000, and a typical example is the CitroŽn Xsara, now offering much better value. Outside it looks more modern and sleeker, and it is also claimed to be the first car at this level of the market to have 'curtain' airbags as an option, to provide head protection in a side impact. They cost a fairly modest £150 extra.
    Electronic brake force distribution (EBD), as well as anti-lock control for the brakes, becomes standard on all Xsara models.
   In many other ways, the new Xsara is a much improved car. The only aspect that disappointed when tried at its UK launch in the autumn was the comfort of the ride. It has been made a lot firmer, no doubt in the bid to give better handling and sharper steering response, which has certainly been achieved. The new model both handles and steers very reassuringly.
   The former 1.9-litre engine is still available, but it is well worth paying the extra £500 for the 2-litre HDi - a high pressure direct injection diesel giving exceptionally high torque and 90 bhp at 4,000 rpm. The Xsara HDi achieves performance and smoothness with such quietness that few passengers 'not in the know' would ever guess that they were in a diesel.
   It has not been possible to carry out a full test of the Xsara yet, so the figure given in the data table is the claimed average fuel consumption of the five-door HDi, at 52.3 mpg, and the Estate car is credited with 51.4 mpg.
   CitroŽn Xsara HDi prices start at £10,795 (after taking into account the £1,000 cashback scheme) for the 2.0HDi L. An extra £700 takes the buyer to the LX trim level, where the main extra features are air conditioning with automatic control and a higher grade of seat upholstery with height adjustable driver's seat.
   The Xsara in standard form is a five-door hatchback with very roomy load capacity, or a five-door Estate car body is available at £800 more. Top trim level is the SX, available for the hatchback only, introducing some added refinement and extra features, but still lacking an electric sunroof which is an option at £410 across the range. CitroŽn's navigation system is also available for £915. Regrettably, the Coupť is not offered with HDI engine.
   Already a very pleasing car, the latest Xsara is better still. It also represents impressive value, offering lots of space in a car capable of topping 50 mpg in ordinary swift driving.

CitroŽn Xsara 2.0HDi LX 5-dr - £11,495
Engine - 1,997 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph (not available); 0-62 11.6 sec
Maximum speed - 112 mph
Warranty - 1 year, unlimited mileage
               - 12 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 52.3 mpg (Official 'average' figure)
CO2 emissions - 141 g/km
Insurance - Group 8

In March this year, Ford added the new direct injection turbo diesel engine to the Fiesta range without any price increase. It certainly brings a lot more power as well as the advantages of prompt starting without pre-heating and much quieter cruising. Although 75 bhp is not a very high output for a 1.8-litre, the performance is vigorous, but the engine lacks low-speed smoothness. A lot of gear changing is needed.
   In many respects the Fiesta is a thoroughly satisfying car with easy gear change action, light and smooth clutch, and very effective brakes having anti-lock control as standard. The steering is also very good with tight turning circle, positive feel and very accurate control at speed. The wheel is also well-shaped, with fairly thick rim, but there is no column adjustment - don't try pulling the lever beneath the steering column, it's the bonnet release!
   Ride comfort is disappointing, with quite a lot of wheel thump on bumps and fairly high levels of tyre roar. The Fiesta handles well except for occasional wheel hop at the rear when cornering hard on a poorly surfaced road.
   The seats are well shaped and the driver has ratchet lever adjustment but this lifts only the cushion and the backrest height does not alter. A large handwheel on the inner side of each front seat adjusts backrest angle.
   Some pleasing touches on this Fiesta include the way that the interior light fades away when the central locking is operated, the provision of a separate button on the key to open the boot without having to put the key in the slot, and the quick-clear electrically heated windscreen for de-icing. Personally, though, I would rather do without this as the fine electric element in the glass tends to be visible all the time, especially against a grey sky.
   Air conditioning is standard, but there is no sunroof. Some may like the 'no smoker' package, with no cigarette lighter although a power take-off is provided for charging things like mobile telephones, but the lack of an ashtray might be regretted.
   An excellent radio with CD aperture has sensibly large control buttons and lettering, and a small part of the push button panel is removable for security.
   There is generous space in the Fiesta's five-door body and extra luggage room is available by folding the 40/60 divided back seat down on to the one-piece cushion, giving a reasonably level extension of the load platform.
   Following the price changes announced by Ford in the autumn, the Fiesta TDdi LX became £655 cheaper and gained the extension of the warranty to three years and inclusion of delivery.
Ford Fiesta 1.8 TDdi LX 5-dr- £10,195
Engine - 1,753 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 25.8 sec
Maximum speed - 103 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
                - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 51.3 mpg
CO2 emissions - 144 g/km
Insurance - Group 6

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Reputations change slowly in the world of cars and, just as many people are still uninformed - or misinformed - about how good the modern diesel car is, there are also many who wouldn't dream of buying a Skoda, being quite unaware that it now offers good build quality and sound Volkswagen-based engineering. The Fabia is well finished, rewarding to drive and has a roomy five-door body.
   Large for the size of car, the engine is very smooth and quiet, but the secret to the competitive pricing of the SDi is that there is no turbocharger, with the result that power is modest and acceleration rather leisurely. The engine develops only 63 bhp, but the turbo diesel engine is now available for £1,100 extra.
   Ride comfort is not the best feature of the Fabia, as the suspension gives rather too much reaction at the front, but it is good for lack of wheel thump or tyre roar. Stability and steering
are excellent and it's good to find a car at this price level offering steering with the column adjustable both vertically and telescopically.
   The brakes take fairly firm pedal loads but then respond well. Anti-lock control is not standard - it's an extra cost option but is included with the TDI engine. A sunroof is optional for all models, as is air conditioning - standard only with the Elegance trim level.
   Many of the good features one expects to find on an Audi are present also in this much cheaper relation. Thus, it has a key which neatly folds into itself and gives two-stage remote unlocking so that the first press unlocks only the driver's door. A second press unlocks everything else; this is a very desirable security measure coming to more and more cars. There are also such thoughtful details as red warning lights to come on inside the door when opened, a two-stage trip computer which resets one phase automatically after a few hours and ratchet height adjustment for the driving seat.
   The radio/cassette unit is neatly styled into the very attractive and functional facia design. Mirrors are electrically adjustable and there's a compartment for oddments under the front passenger seat, as well as usefully long door pockets and map holders on the backs of the front seats.
   Relaxing to drive, comfortable and very sensibly designed, the Fabia is a pleasing car in all respects, and offers exceptionally good value. But the extra cost of the turbocharged version is worth considering and TDI Comfort at £11,300 is still good value. Skoda used to include the cost of servicing, but this ended at the beginning of November, accompanied by £300 price reductions.

Skoda Fabia 1.9 SDi Comfort 5-dr- £10,200
Engine - 1,896 cc atmo direct injection
0-80 mph - 34.5 sec
Maximum speed - 94 mph
Warranty - 3 years, unlimited mileage
                - 10 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 55.0 mpg
CO2 emissions - 127 g/km
Insurance - Group 5

Although it was still popular and selling well, Vauxhall did not wait for the Corsa following to begin to wain and introduced a replacement just before the Birmingham Show. But is it better? In some respects, it has taken some backward steps. For example, the previous model featured an excellently clear display at the top of the console, showing date, time and selected radio programme. The new one has this as well, but the display has been much reduced in size, making it less easy to read.
   Similarly, the hand grip on the door which the front passenger may have liked to hold has been deleted and replaced by a handle which serves only to close the door, and the previously very generous legroom in the rear compartment has been reduced.
   But in many other respects this new Corsa brings wide-ranging gains, especially in terms of road behaviour and ride comfort. There is also a massive reduction of servicing requirement, now stretched to intervals of 20,000 miles. One may wonder if it is wise for a car to travel so far without a visit to the dealer for attention.
   Two 1.7-litre diesels are offered, one giving extra power. We have not yet had opportunity to carry out a full test - only impressions gained at the launch, but both diesels are claimed to return 60 mpg. The difference between them, contributing the extra perform-ance, is additional turbo boost and the provision of an inter-cooler.
   As the styling of the five-door avoids the rather unhappy look of the previous five-door Corsa, Vauxhall expects this version to account for as much as 40 per cent of their sales.
   The 1.7 DTi is certainly a responsive engine, with 16 valves, giving brisk performance, but it is appreciably noisier and harsher than some of its rivals. It also seems busier when cruising, as if it lacked the high gearing that makes many diesels so relaxing on long journeys - but in fact the gearing in fifth is fairly high.
   The new type of automatic transmission called Easytronic is not available for the diesel, but the gear change is slick and light, with easy, progressive clutch action.
   This new Corsa brings many improvements, especially on the safety front, but not everything has changed for the better. I was surprised, for instance, to find that the warning light for the hazard flashers was so weak that one could hardly tell if they were switched on or not. But apart from this and the smallness of the display, the console and instrumentation are attractively done, with the radio/CD unit completely integrated with the console, and air conditioning is standard.

Vauxhall Corsa 1.7 DTi Elegance 5-dr - £12,295
Engine - 1,686 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 23.6 sec
Maximum speed - 106 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
                - 6 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 60.1 mpg (*Official 'average' figure)
CO2 emissions - 126 g/km
Insurance - Group 5 - first year free

In contrast with the previous Renault engine, which used to be notably harsh and noisy, the revised version introduced in January this year is considerably improved. It provides good torque, smooth response at low speeds and very quiet cruising. Power output reaches 80 bhp at 4,000 rpm.
   Complex realignment of the Clio range at the same time brought three main trim packages, named Freeway, Elegance and Sport, the Sport line-up being further subdivided into Sport, Si and RSi. The new dTi engine comes only with the Si trim package, so it's essentially a sporty car with firm suspension, large instruments with black digits on a white background and well-shaped sports seats in a velour-type material, giving very good lateral location. Height adjustment is available for the driving seat but the occupant's weight must be taken off the seat momentarily to allow it to come up. There is also lumbar adjustment for the driving seat.
   The Clio Si handles and steers very reassuringly and the brakes are extremely effective, with ABS as standard.
   Unlike most of its competitors, the Si has an electric glass sunroof which opens upward and then slides back above the steel roof - an arrangement that tends to give rise to wind noise when the roof is open. Air conditioning is not available, although it is for the 1.4-litre petrol model.
   Interior stowage space is generous, with a large compartment on the passenger side and airbag above, as well as a tray for oddments such as maps beneath the driving seat. The 40/60 divided rear seat folds down and makes a very level extension of the load platform if the appropriate cushion is first tipped forward.
   A sensible Renault feature is that all doors lock automatically as soon as the car moves off. The remote central locking has an alarm which can be isolated if it is necessary to leave animals or children in the car. A surprising omission is the lack of any map reading lamps and the interior light above the windscreen gives only rather gloomy illumination; but a generous provision is the fine fitted toolkit nestling in the spare wheel below the boot floor.
   An effective radio with CD aperture is provided and there is Renault's usual very sensible feature of a remote control satellite just below the steering wheel.
   The Clio Si dTi was used to 'recce' part of the route for the RAC/Fleet World MPG Marathon, when it proved very pleasant to drive or travel in for long distances and gave a rare bonus: its distance recorder proved spot-on accurate, eliminating any need for mileage corrections when keying the route instructions.

Renault Clio Si 1.7 dTi 5-door - £11,895
Engine - 1,870 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 23.1 sec
Maximum speed - 109 mph
Warranty - 1 year, unlimited mileage
               - 12 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 48.6 mpg
CO2 emissions - 139 g/km
Insurance - Group 5

No one would ever guess, if they had not been told, that the Polo TDI has a three-cylinder engine. It uses the new high pressure pump system which Volkswagen introduced last year and develops a remarkable 75 bhp from only 1,422 cc. The engine is
an instant starter, gives sprightly response, and is extremely quiet and refined. It's only at the lower revs that some three-cylinder lumpiness becomes evident.
   In all respects, the Polo TDi is a pleasant car to drive, with easy five-speed gearbox, precise, light steering, and very manageable handling. The only disappointment is a high level of wheel thump and tyre roar, although the actual ride comfort is very good. The brakes are very effective, using discs at all wheels with internal venting at front, and anti-lock control is standard across the whole of the Polo range. The steering column is adjustable vertically.
   Apart from the slightly sombre all-black upper facia panel, the interior is inviting and the seats are well shaped. Both front seats have ratchet lever height adjustment and, in the three-door version as tried, a handle at the side allows each front seat to be tipped for easy access to the rear. If a three-door is not wanted, the Polo is available as five-door, four-door saloon or five-door Estate.
   No map lights are provided, but there is a bright roof lamp and the Polo SE has an electrically operated glass sunroof with 'programmed' action as on an Audi. Air conditioning as an alternative is available. The electric window lifts have one-touch action when the engine is running. The instruments are extremely clear and Volkswagen's distinctive subtle mauve lighting with red pointers for the instruments is an attractive feature, restful for a long night drive.
   An excellent audio unit is fitted, with clear display and large controls and lettering. It has a cassette slot above and a CD aperture below.
   Rear load space is not too restricted in spite of the short length of the Polo (12ft 3in), but a space-saver spare wheel is used. There is space for oddments in a little recess beside each front seat, while the Polo has neat arrangement for extending load space by first pulling forward and then tipping the divided rear seat cushion and then folding the backrest down, giving a very level extension of the load floor.
   The Polo is very much a 'grown up' small car, offering many features not normally available at this level of the market, such as a self-dimming interior mirror, rain sensing wipers and a navigation system with 5in. colour screen.

Volkswagen Polo TDI SE - £11,870
Engine - 1,422 cc turbo direct injection
0-80 mph - 23.7 sec
Maximum speed - 106 mph
Warranty - 3 years, 60,000 miles
                - 12 years anti-corrosion
Fuel consumption - 52.5 mpg
CO2 emissions - 119 g/km
Insurance - Group 7

Please note that prices and specifications given in this
feature are liable to change at short notice.

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Olds Citroen
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Dorset  DT1 1SS
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Simon Hartwell Ltd
236 Ringwood Road
Dorset  BH22 9AR
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490 Blandford Road
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West Bay
Dorset  DT6 4EL
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Hill Ford
Unit 2
30 Canford Bottom
Dorset  BH21 2HD
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Hine Motors
Longmead Industrial Est
Wiltshire  SP7 8PL
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Lambs of Ringwood
156 Christchurch Road
Hants   BH24 3AP
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Misterton Garage
nr Crewkerne
Somerset  TA18 8LY
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Dorset  BH20 5AA
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Rayco Ford

Ford House
Winchester Road
Hampshire  SO51 8HX
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St Michaels Garage
Valley Road
Dorset  BH19 3DX
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Dorchester Road
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Houndstone Business Park
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Granby Industial Estate
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Shoe Lane
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Summerhouse Terrace
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Breeze Volkswagen
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The Grove
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Loders VW
Houndstone Business Pk
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