Even mention of Diesel power is an anathema to keen drivers who associate such propulsion with sluggish performance, pronounced engine noise and smell. Some of these reservations are hardly justified these days, and the Golf Diesel Turbo took us to the Frankfurt Show with remarkable economy (even at a 75 mph running average in Germany) and goes a long way to overcoming all the criticisms.
The British government, greedy as ever for revenue, imposes an Excise Duty of 65.8p per gallon on Diesel fuel, compared with 78p per gallon on petrol. The margin is even closer at the filling station, where currently petrol typically costs £1.94 per gallon, Diesel fuel £1.89. Since we transport much of our goods by road the effect on the cost on the retail price index must be high, compared with other European countries where Diesel is treated much more generously (especially in Italy, where Diesel costs little more than half the price of petrol).
It’s no wonder that Diesel powered cars have been slow to gain popularity in Britain. In a total European market of 10.18 million cars (in 1984) some 1.266 million (12.2%) were Diesel powered; in Italy the proportion was as high as 26.3%, not surprisingly, yet in Britain the proportion has risen slowly to around 2.6%, or 45,400 cars and taxis out of a total of 1.76 million registrations.
In their favour, Diesel powered cars are low on smog-inducing emissions, and cheap to run; never mind the small price differential in Britain, they can actually go 10 miles further per gallon, perhaps more. Arguments against include higher initial cost – the 54 bhp Golf C 1.6-litre Diesel costs £6,772 in Britain, compared with £5,806 for the 1.3-litre C version 5-door saloon, which is petrol-engined and has similar performance, while the 70 bhp Turbo model costs £7,445.
Accepting that one buys a Diesel for low running costs, we wanted to find out whether the addition of a turbocharger, to gain decent performance, would take the owner back to square one again so far as economy is concerned. Our verdict, after nearly 2,000 lead-footed miles to Stuttgart and back, via Frankfurt, is that the owner has everything to gain, and little to lose by purchasing the Diesel Turbo version. An overall fuel consumption of 41.82 miles per gallon says it all!
The starting procedure in the morning is very simple. Turn the ignition key, wait ten seconds for the amber glow-plug light to go out, and the Diesel will clatter into life straight away. And clatter is the operative word… if you have grumpy neighbours, think twice about your choice. At idling speed the Diesel really is a noisy motor, though as soon as load is applied the clatter disappears, replaced by a thrum that’s only a little heavier in tone than that of a petrol engine.
The fact that the Golf Diesel has a KKK turbocharger in the exhaust system is neither here nor there so far as the owner is concerned. It can’t be heard, neither can it be detected, though it has the effect of increasing the Diesel’s top speed from 92 to 99 mph, and reducing its 0-60 mph acceleration from 17.7 sec to a more respectable 13.5 sec. In performance, then, it is slightly quicker than a 1.6-litre petrol engined automatic transmission model, and closer to the 1.6-litre manual than the 1.3 with which the normally aspirated Diesel would be compared.
Mid-range performance is good, and the Golf Diesel Turbo is never left behind in normal traffic situations. Before setting off to Frankfurt we covered 380 miles on 38.4-litres of Diesel fuel, an average of 44.91 mpg. This doesn’t compare with VW’s claim of a 50 mpg average, but the car was never being driven economically either in Germany, though, cruising along in comfort at an indicated 90 mph, the average dropped to 41.77 mpg and 41.08 mpg on two spot checks, falling again to 39.55 mpg on the fast haul from Stuttgart to Aachen. This included an hour of flat-out driving, mostly at an indicated 105 mph, chasing a Mercedes 190 E 2.3-16, the driver of which must have been exasperated to see the Golf closing on him each time he was held up by trucks (Germany’s derestricted autobahn system is much overrated, particularly on the predominantly “dual carriageway” sections, which are repeatedly reduced to 40 mph by ruthless truck drivers determined to overtake!)
Without conducting a back-to-back test, we doubt that a 1.6-litre petrol engined Golf would have bettered 30 mpg at these speeds, suggesting a consumption advantage for the Diesel Turbo of around 30%. Against, we’d have to rate the somewhat higher engine noise level at motorway speeds, the clatter at idling speed, and the 110 pound weight penalty, most of which is over the front wheels and can certainly be felt at parking speed.
There is little justification for buying a Diesel at all, let alone a Turbo version, unless for fuel economy, and while the majority of customers will consider that the official Urban Cycle consumption of 47.1 mpg to be a complete justification (50% better than a 1.6-litre petrol engine model), we’d conclude that the high mileage, long distance driver has most to gain – especially if he’s self-employed, and needs to watch his operating costs. – M.L.C.