Sport for oil

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The words ‘diesel’ and ‘sport’ are not commonly juxtaposed, and what memories survive of diesel-engined cars pounding around Indianapolis are somewhat distant. Nowadays, diesel is regarded in a number of ways by sweeping generalisationists: it’s an unpleasant, smelly substance that belches noxious fumes from the rear of trucks and buses; it’s what you run taxis on; it scores points for economy, but it’s harmful to trees and wildlife.

Sure, there are diesel engines which sound like a coughing fit but have about half the power. There is a more positive school of thought, however, expounded mainly by scholars who have experienced French diesel technology.

The proof? Take a look at how secondhand Peugeot 205 diesels hold their value.

Citroën, which shares a particularly userfriendly range of diesel engines with sister Peugeot, has just waded into a fresh market sector that may soon be explored by others.

Welcome to the sporting diesel.

When Citroën’s ZX first appeared, the Volcane carried the range’s sporting mantle. Although this has long been superseded by the GTi 16v as the main flamethrower in the petrol-burning ZX range, the Volcane name retains a mildly aggressive connotation. With the arrival of the ZX Volcane Turbo Diesel, the French giant has really gone to town, promoting it as a performance saloon with eco-friendly overtones (ie it uses a lot less fuel than the hatchbacks beloved of the tinted glass brigade, and is more efficient over the short journeys which are apparently typical of UK motorists).

In this application, ‘performance’ has to be taken in context. It’s not so much the figures on the spec sheet which impress (top speed is quoted as 115 mph and 0-60 mph takes 10.3s, which is more of a stroll than a sprint), as the manner of the ZX Volcane TD’s delivery.

This is an extraordinarily easy car in which to make rapid B-road progress while stopping for fuel about once a fortnight (with 39.2 mpg quoted for the urban cycle, an overall return of between 40-50 mpg should easily be attainable). It’s an oasis of tranquility on motorways, too.

The 1905cc XUD engine is noticeably smoother than the 1769cc unit which powered the popular BX DTR. In the latter, the fuel governor which cut in at around 4000 rpm had pretty much the same effect as driving into a brick wall. The ZX Volcane TD will pull a further 500 rpm before the power begins gently to ebb.

Certain BX DTR characteristics, such as excellent mid-range torque, remain. Peak pulling power is a useful 148 lb ft at a restful 2250 rpm. Of more import, almost 90 per cent of this is available all the way from 1750-3750 rpm; the result is terrific flexibility, and a relaxed cruising gait. Once the turbo is up and running, you’d never know you were in a diesel, such is the level of peace and quiet . . not to mention the welcome, and gently delivered, wallop.

The ‘sports’ trim includes uprated suspension, and while the ride may be firmer than that on milder ZXs, it is still plenty supple enough. Equally, the chassis is nothing like so superkart-sharp as the GTi 16v, but it is very well balanced, with crisp power steering that offers good feedback. All in all, it’s an excellent compromise.

Prices are £12,630 for three doors and £12,995 for five. Annual insurance is likely to be about half what it costs to put an XR3i on the road.

In recent years, the French have put forward some mightily convincing arguments for switching to diesel. The ZX Volcane TD is one of the most persuasive yet. S A

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