Matt Greenop on motoring
Matt Greenop is editor of Driven magazine

Matt Greenop: Fuel Choice gets tougher

Petrol or Diesel? Photo / Greg Bowker
Petrol or Diesel? Photo / Greg Bowker

I'm in two minds about what the best options are for car buyers when it comes to choosing between petrol and diesel.

And it seems the New Zealand market is pondering the same question.

Diesels have been fairly dominant in the market in recent years, as turbodiesel tech has taken engines from being somewhat clunky, noisy and in some cases downright smelly, and refined them to be as acceptable in most applications as petrol. Meanwhile the boffins in R&D departments have been moving ahead at similar velocity with petrol technology.

This is in part due to the EU and its stringent emissions policies, and we can be hugely thankful that it's taken a bit of environmental awareness to spur the automotive industry into action. Europe is now very much a diesel stronghold and, while it's a far cheaper option to run an SUV or similar on diesel, it still has a few issues. There's NOx - oxides of nitrogen - which have flown under the radar to a degree.

NOx and other particulates are solid polluters and not fit for human consumption.

America has taken on sorting out the NOx issue, and despite a previously big gap between what the country's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the tough California Air Resources Board consider a clean diesel, it is now a requirement in almost all states that diesel passenger cars meet strict new regulations that include lower NOx levels.

Manufacturers are working hard on further NOx reductions and diesels are becoming cleaner again, as they did with CO2 emissions.

In New Zealand we're still also faced with diesel road user charges. We do tend to bang on about this one, and believe it would be more appropriate to apply a tax at the pump rather than forcing diesel owners to keep topping up their mileage allowance.

When diesels were mainly in trucks and tractors, it made sense. Now there are tiny hatchbacks with diesel engines and even our Maserati cover car will be available with one (although the petrol was definitely a better drive!).

Petrol engines are keeping pace with diesel developments with different approaches from different quarters - low displacement engines teamed with turbochargers, direct injection and high compression combinations - they all work and they're all dropping fuel consumption and emissions figures every time a new motor gets the green light.

Which is your pick - and why wouldn't you go the other way?

- NZ Herald

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