17 November 2012

Sriram Narayanan on diesel cars

Petrol-heads! There’s some seriously good news for you. Or wait. Is it bad?

Sriram Narayanan
Car image

"I think you should do a column." Those words in this place mean only three things. One – they think I’m wise enough to cobble a few lines together without actually reviewing something. Not very likely. Two – they’re running short of content to fill pages. But going by the amount of stories we have dropped and 10-pagers we have cut down to six to make everything fit in one issue, that doesn’t seem very likely, either. Which only means alternative three – they found out about the excess office time I spend on Solitaire and reading comics, and they think I should be given something to do.

Fair enough. Because I am extremely disappointed in what I have become. An evangelist for diesel cars. Unless anyone’s interested in a V8 or a V12, I recommend people a diesel car. Not because petrol is expensive. Well, that too. But more because diesels give you nearly double the range on a full tank. It’s available everywhere in India. Diesel engines are less sensitive to fuel quality. And they don’t shudder or explode anymore.

But if you’ve grown up on that 7000rpm note of a Honda City 1.5VTEC or the 1.3 Rocam of a Ford or the 1.6 on a Palio GTX, a diesel is difficult to digest. If you attended any of last year’s VW Polo Cup races where 1.6-litre 130bhp diesel racecars were droning around, you’ll know what I mean. Good thing the series has shifted to petrol this year.  

Now, thanks to some back-of-the-envelope number crunching we did – lead by Manish, our road test ed – turns out the economics of a car-buyer on a budget actually favours the petrol-head over the, well, diesel-head. Taking into account the Rs 74-78 per litre price of petrol, and the extra money you pay to buy a diesel car, you’d need to do about 70,000-80,000km in your car to break even on that premium showroom price.

Even if you do 100km every single day of the year, you’d have still done only 36,500km in one year. And you’d never do that much unless you drive something with a fare meter. So you’d need at least three to five years to start enjoying the fuel economy and low-price benefits of diesel. By which time, you’d have grown bored of your car, or your car would have grown bored of you and you’ll be selling it anyway.

So, you don’t have to put up with a dreary soundtrack. You don’t have to make do with low rpm gear changes. And you can rev the life out of your engine in second or third gear. Because despite petrol being much more expensive, you wouldn’t save much by buying a diesel car. So go buy that petrol car you’ve always wanted.

But then, I don’t see any affordable fun petrol cars around. The new 1.5-petrol in the new Ford Fiesta makes some 110bhp, but it goes like it’s got some 30bhp kept away for later in a biometric bank locker somewhere. Honda has got the VTEC back in the City with 118bhp. And you get a freakish 12-14kpl in the city.

I bet that amazing fuel economy has come after many of those 118 horses have been specifically tuned to lie low. Quite simply, most modern small petrol engines are as much of a killjoy as ACP Dhoble at a party. The only fun, affordable petrol cars remaining are some Marutis and the Linea T-Jet. And even the T-Jet sounds horrible.

Small-capacity diesels work out better comparatively. Sure, they have that turbo-lag but once past 1500rpm, it’s a diesel that you want for quick overtaking. It’s a diesel you want for that shove in your back. It’s a diesel you want for that low-end torque. It’s a diesel you want for that smile on your face. Just cover your ears.

Oh, great. I begin my columnist life with a column that essentially says if you are on a budget, get a petrol. And if you want fun and have some extra cash, buy a diesel. If you can’t digest that, you know what to do on our Facebook page. I wouldn’t mind getting back to Solitaire and comics.

Tags: diesel, petrol, sriram narayanan



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