January 7, 2013 5:28 PM  |  Posted By: Stephen Dobie
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Related Categories: Random car stuff

Would you buy a diesel performance car? It’s a genre that’s growing by the month, with turbodiesels even powering cars with BMW M and Audi S badges nowadays.
Being honest, I’ve never championed diesel cars. Unless you cover monster miles every year, many are a false economy. And I’ve driven none that are as fun, involving or emotional as their petrol-powered equivalents.

There’s one diesel car that has impressed me in recent years, though: the Volkswagen Scirocco BlueMotion. The VW group makes some of the best small diesel engines out there, and the Scirocco’s sharp looks and polished dynamics are a great home for one capable of a real-world 50mpg.
Still, taking a car home for the night and covering less than 100 miles might be enough to conjure up some Twitter-length opinions or over-exposed Instagram snaps (if you follow me on either medium, you’ll know I over-use both) but it’s not enough to really suss something out. And so I twisted VW’s arm into giving me a diesel ‘Rocco for the Christmas break…
…cue obligatory ‘boot full of presents’ shot

My 138bhp BlueMotion R-line may have been specced to bursting point (check out its Scirocco R-inspired bodykit and sizeable 19in alloys) but it was a relevant car to borrow: in 2012 VW sold nearly 5200 Sciroccos in the UK, and out of the 11 possible engine and gearbox combinations, a staggering 46 per cent of them were six-speed manual BlueMotions like this (with diesels accounting for nearly three quarters of sales overall). The next most popular model, the entry-level 120bhp petrol TSI, accounted for a much titchier 12 per cent slice.
This Scirocco isn’t a full-strength BlueMotion model, so forgoes low-rolling-resistance tyres and any aero tweaks, but its 2-litre TDI engine is helped to a claimed 62.8mpg by stop/start and energy recuperation under braking. I didn’t get close to that figure, but an indicated 49.9mpg still hugely impressed: my 1019 miles were a mix of urban driving, ‘typical’ motorway cruising speeds and the odd cross-country blat, while at least half of them were with several passengers or a boot filled with festive paraphernalia.

Not too much standing around in the cold necessary

But is it a performance car? Well, it surrenders to understeer far earlier than if a lighter 2-litre TSI petrol sat up front and the exceedingly narrow band of maximum torque (236lb ft @ 1750-2500rpm) will curb your enthusiasm somewhat. Like all Sciroccos, though, it possesses slick, precise controls and is a satisfying car to hustle along an interesting road. Put some thought into your gears (the involving upside of spurning DSG) and it’s easy enough to stay near its peak power and make respectably quick progress.
This well-trimmed R-line model costs £26,485. An equivalent 2-litre TSI petrol is nearly a grand pricier and, over 12,000 miles, will use nearly £600 more in fuel. And away from undulating B-roads, the diesel will barely be any less fun to drive.

But… as accomplished, frugal and all-round talented my Christmas chariot was, I fear I’m too much of a car enthusiast to be able to own one as my only car. I’d need something sportier and – crucially – petrol-powered to satisfy my need for a truly thrilling drive or trackday every now and then.
Scour the price lists and a similarly stylish Renaultsport Megane starts at £24k and is 123bhp more powerful, not to mention more dynamically able. The saving made against the Scirocco’s steeper RRP would pay for a couple of years of extra fuel and higher tax bills. Hugely likeable the Scirocco may have been, but unless my annual mileage was sky-high, I couldn’t ignore that comparison.
It poses some interesting questions, though. Would you drive a diesel performance car? And perhaps more debatably, can you call something TDI-powered a performance car?

Sunrise and fuel pics: Adam Shorrock/Action pic: Otis Clay

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n1ck at 9:17 PM April 11, 2013

So this particular diesel will save around £600 over 12,000 miles? I wonder if you factor in the average repair bills of a diesel compared to a petrol whether you would still be financially better off? I would say marginally. Enough to make me want to buy a diesel? Not a chance.

StevenCalinou at 2:35 PM March 18, 2013

All comments about noise and smoke are just snobbery.

dominik025 at 2:01 PM March 13, 2013

Performance diesel means that they are eficient. They are almost as fast as petrol engine but when you are looking on mpg figures ,petrol engine consume much more fuel. Yes it's true that we love petrol engine , yes it's true that petrol engine are more passion. But cost of running performance petrol engine are so high today ...

O at 11:39 AM March 10, 2013

Ferrari will never make a diesel. There's never going to be much of a market for a mid-engined - or even just a 2 seater diesel. Diesel engines are heavier and less powerful than their petrol equivalent.But the real world demands compromise. I have a family, limited funds and limited time. When I bought my 330d M Sport, I test drove a number of cars including an RX8 and a used E55 AMG. The RX8 revved to 8500rpm but those revs were neither dramatic nor exciting. The AMG was insane but would have bankrupted me if I survived long enough.The 330d is fast, frugal and I really love the way it growls, barks then roars as you are forced back into your seat and the numbers build. It didn't lose much to the AMG and gains reliability and economy. Diesels will never make epic supercars. Diesels do make magnificent muscle cars.

Rotrax at 10:20 PM February 12, 2013

Up until a few years ago the thought of owning a diesel appalled me. But after having my arm twisted to the point of breaking I finally gave in and bought a very lowly phase 2 megane diesel. Loved the handling hated the lack of power. I'm now on my first proper performance diesel of the RS megane -cup chassis & remap - variety absolutely love it, planning to run it for as long as it passes it's mot.

Manual_Man at 4:17 AM February 5, 2013

I definitely would. I'm not going to claim diesels are just as fun as petrol cars, but they're a very small compromise for having great performance without going bankrupt. For most non-performance cars I'm convinced diesels are better. Modern diesels can make great performance engines too though. I would love to see an Audi S4 with the 3.0BiTDI engine or a BMW M350d. For a daily driver I would always choose a diesel, especially if I lived in Europe where fuel prices are twice what we pay in the U.S. For a second/third car I would still get a petrol car. I would get a Golf GTD over a GTI, but if there was a diesel BRZ I would choose the petrol car over the diesel. For most driving the massive torque of a diesel is extremely convenient, so I see no reason to get a petrol daily driver.

sadlerj at 9:49 AM February 4, 2013

Yes I would....for the "wife".. If you have a rev happy V8 for play time, then a fuel efficient Torque monster 6 pot twin turbo diesel makes a perfect stablemate. One of the key features not mentioned here is the fact that you can really hustle these 'performance diesels' along without your better 1/2 even noticing from the passenger seat. Coming out of a V10 M5 into a 335d Touring was a fantastic move, the M5 I could not go much above 4,000 rpm without slow down comments from the passenger seat, but now I can pretty much drive as fast as I like, without comment. The problem I have now is there is no F31 335d yet, and thus nothing to replace it with...please please please BMW do a 350d please...

teddy_jones at 5:01 PM February 3, 2013

How can it be fun leaving a shameful trail of black smoke behind? and yes they all do it. It's embarrassing. You can get a powerful diesel engine in a smart looking body that provides decent economy. Great for going to work in.But would you ever get in it just to take it for a run round some country lanes? There's just no magic in diesel.

Bezza at 7:31 PM February 2, 2013

Seems to be a common theme here. There are performance diesels made by BMW and Audi etc, such as the 330d and 335d that give pretty fast petrol cars a run for their money. However, lower down the pecking order, a petrol powered car seems to offer more enjoyment than some narrow power banded four pot diesel. Its such a pity that its almost impossible to buy a petrol powered family sized car now. When my current Passat goes, I know I will struggle to find a petrol powered equivalent made during the last four years. Im looking at something like a Mondeo ecoboost. Economical enough but a nice smooth and wide power band! Cant understand why anyone would take a TDI scirrocco over a TSI one, unless they were doing 20,000 miles a year!

Smarty at 10:38 AM February 2, 2013

Seems we all agree on one thing... If you like your performance car to have true soul, petrol it must be! If BMW could make their 6 pot diesels rev to 5500rpm, maybe they would just about be perfect!! I'll miss my 330d M Sport when it goes soon, but look forward to the petrol powered replacement...

panosvtec at 1:20 PM January 29, 2013

I can;t forget the sound of my eg civic at 9000 rpm... but most important i can't remember any pure real- sport car in a diesel engine..

gustavb at 6:44 PM January 24, 2013

i had Civic TypeR and after 3 years i thought - hey,let's have a change. Bought a Megane RS Dci. Perfect chassis etc, but it wasn't extremely economical and with the dull sound - there was no fun. So within a year - i made only 7000km on it. then i bought Megane R26.R and while not giving it floor all the time - it wasn't absolutely less economical - maybe 20% difference, but i can live with that. and the advantages of its petrol soul with Ti exhaust - i don't have to explain i guess. so no, no more diesel in such car.

Stephen Dobie at 9:51 AM January 21, 2013

WezCup: thanks for the update. Let me know how you get along with it! Hopefully the weather is a bit torque-rich-BMW friendlier by then...

WezCup at 8:26 AM January 21, 2013

Well I took the plunge and brought myself a 330d MSport I pick it up on Wednesday. After a Z4 3.0 Coupe and a few hot hatches (TypeR and Clio RS's) I'm sure it's going to be a change. Smooth ride and great torque with plenty of toys. Hey, I can always get a cheeky remap if required.

Stu_7 at 2:14 PM January 18, 2013

This is an excellent topic and a conundrum I was faced with 18mths ago when I decided to go for a 335d M Sport Touring. Covering north of 25k miles p.a, what could I get which would give me rear wheel fun, some decent economy, comfort and some cross country fun when required? It's difficult to see past the value proposition the 335d presents. For 98% of the time I use the car, it is perfect in every way: fairly economical on the motorways, Porsche rivalling punch out of a roundabout and it will generate some comedy oversteer on a greasy roundabout on demand. On the odd occasion I take it out for a drive, I definitely miss the singing top end revs of a petrol engine without doubt. But, I didn't buy the car to be right for 2% of it's use.

Esky at 2:18 AM January 18, 2013

I have BMW 123d M-sport coupe with 2.0l twin turbo diesel. Absolutely love it. I have not modded it and it produces 160KW (214bhp) and 400Nm (same torque as M3). Brilliant balanced chassis and rear wheel drive, it is a hoot to drive. Power is available in any gear, at any speed. No need to rev it like some teen hoon. Can't wait for the 125d to come to Australia (or 225d). That engine has 450Nm of torque.

selfish ugly vehicle at 8:36 PM January 17, 2013

Markc555 re the rules - quite right - they are so biased in favour of the diesels. Bunta - an R10 TDi sounds like a volkswagen LT VAN with the exhaust removed. Recently went to Autosport and there was a stand playing an in cockpit video of an R10. They may has well have recorded a builder on his way to work. Diesel sucks big time. There is no soul, no passion and certainly never a hair standing up on the back of your neck with a diesel. Stephen I salute you for not liking "performance" diesels. It doesn't matter how fast they go. Given the choice on a spirited drive between a 330d and a Cinquecento i'd take the cinq every time.

Alpha-male at 9:03 PM January 16, 2013

Real life is always a compromise, I do a fair few miles with work and having indulged in a Civic Type R (old shape), then an E46 M3 I eventually settled on a 2.4 Jtdm Alfa Brera. It no way compares to either of the previous two in terms of revs and soundtrack but I love the looks, there are no diesel badges and with a tuning box I've had it dyno'd at 240bhp so it doesn't hang about. Most of my driving is unfortunately spent on the motorway, but I can still have some fun on the B roads on the few occasions it is safe and clear enough of caravans to do so whilst returning upto 46mpg. Having said all that if I was doing less miles I would have plumed for the V6 Prodrive version but hey..back to reallity.

Onehp at 8:44 PM January 15, 2013

I used to own a proper diesel performance car. But it had to be modified to get there. BMW 123d, a 2-litre biturbodiesel. Sorted the suspension, dialled out the understeer and modified the engine (in that order). The chassis was now well balanced, it had good torque AND power from 1500rpm to 4500rpm and it even sounded good for a four irrespective of fuel type. It had 270bhp or so. I was a very good drive and could keep company with a Boxster/Cayman, which is a pretty good reference. And of course, it averaged 43mpg over the 50k miles I did with it... it was an unbeatable package if you do that kind of mileage and still want proper small car handling to go with it. It can be done. Yet, there is nothing for sale that provides such a compromise, it's either FWD and not so big on power, or very strong but also very lardy. But a stock F20 125d is pretty close. Has evo tested one yet?

WezCup at 9:24 PM January 12, 2013

Stephen: thanks for the advise, out for a test drive weather permitted tomorrow so we'll see if petrol ends out coming top... Again

markc555 at 5:10 PM January 12, 2013

dominik025 the only reason diesels have been winning Le Mans of late is because the "formula" favours them. The formula now favours a hybrid machines hence they are winning. Not many people are giving examples of serious performance cars, more brisk medium sized saloons i.e. 3 series, A5 etc. These heavily insulated soft'ish machines are much better suited to diesel power as having decided this is the type of car you need, high driver engagement would have been well below accommodation, comfort, motorway munching etc. Very few genuinely keen drivers, me included, would chose a diesel Scirocco, TT, SLK, Z4 (soon) etc over the petrol powered version.

dominik025 at 2:27 PM January 12, 2013

Voodude ..thats what im talking about. Diesels are not so bad this is diffrent category of cars, they can be performance why not ? They are wining Le Mans why beacause they are using less fuel and the speed and acceleration are almost as good as petrol cars.

Voodude at 1:27 PM January 12, 2013

I changed to performance diesel for the 1st time after my commute grew to 24k miles a year having previously had a 350z. I opted for an Audi A5 3.0Tdi Quattro Sport with a manual 6speed; 0-60 in 5.7, limited to 155 & around 40mpg 237bhp & 369lb ft of torque. For me, the reality wasn't adjusting to speed, but the delivery of it; moving from using revs to using torque more which suits the Quattro's 'slow in, fast out' approach to corners & after getting used to this, I didn't miss the 350z (or past Imprezas etc.) as I thought I would. I achieve 30-35mpg in town, way more than the petrol cars' motorway mpg & the A5 manages to exceed 40mpg on a gentle motorway run 100mph=2500rpm. For day to day living, especially if you only have 1 car / hate having to fill up / do higher than average miles, a performance diesel does make sense as a pragmatic, logical choice & should be seen as an equal but different option to petrol performance depending on what makes sense to how you live / use your car.

Jotuns at 9:45 PM January 11, 2013

This is more question of need outweighing want. When I last changed cars, I wanted a BMW V8 645 or 540. In the end neither suited my career. I do 35-40k miles a year and their is no way I am going to stop to fill up a car every 250-300 miles. that would mean filling up twice on some journeys. I drive a BMW 530d that had 230bhp when I brought it. It now has 280bhp and it is fantastic in all situations. I have kept up with a 911 and an S5s and when I want to be sensible it will do 49mpg with a tank lasting 600 miles. Considering the state of British roads, the utopian view of screaming down a B road is rare experience and I can still do it in the BMW when I feel like it. The V8s would have given me a better emotional response but that's why the head rules occasionally.

morg at 3:50 PM January 11, 2013

The last three cars I've owned haven't even been available with disesel engines. I think that tells you something...

GJ78 at 11:59 PM January 10, 2013

Nothing in my book is more pleasing than taking an engine to its redline (above 5k!) and snatching the next gear. If you've got something with a decent sound it will always put a smile on your face. Driven diesels with plenty of punch but torque is just part of it, a fast spinning engine with a glorious sound is what makes my spine tingle.

V6UFO at 5:22 PM January 10, 2013

My personal introduction to "performance diesels" happened in 2004. The car was then new Seat Cordoba with 130hp 1.9-litre PD-engine. Only diesel I had driven before that was nat-asp w124 MB 300D (performance diesel of the 80´s x)) and Seat´s performance was a revelation. It had a mid-range pull better than any car I had driven at the time and did give me a new perspective to diesel performance. I think something like e90 330d M-sport is superior to 330i in every rating and not least in consumption figures. It is also more relaxed to drive fast in a diesel thanks to big torque on offer in the low revs. Having said all this I still prefer a good petrol compared to the good diesel. And when it comes to higher performance models (like the e92 M3) you do not usually have a diesel choice in the model range.

Big Attack at 1:34 PM January 10, 2013

Nice read. What i struggle with is the fact that the main criticism of diesel cars over the obvious rev and sound one, is the lack of "performance car" appeal. Ok a diesel block is heavier than a petrol one but dialling out that little bit of weight can be technically solved in 2013 i would assume? So why do manufacturers not offer a proper suspension for a "performance" diesel. Should be much easier to solve than the noise and rev range i would say.

Bunta at 12:16 PM January 9, 2013

I'd have an R10 TDI but otherwise no thanks.

heiskerjohn at 11:36 AM January 9, 2013

You really make me Laugh , my 330D M Sport touring (2013 model) gives an indicated 50MPG in normal driving and it will totally annihilate most so called sports cars. 0-60 in 5.4 seconds.

dominik025 at 4:25 PM January 8, 2013

There are other problems ,real MPG versus producers MPG. When you read them for diesel cars they are almost identical ( small differences) , but for gasoline they are never the same or even similar. Other thing that we are forgeting about is that producers cheating us ...they test procedures : - light off -a/c off -radio off - everything off - higher tire pressure True life procedure: -lights always on ( in some countries like Poland) - a/c let say on for a half of the year - radio of course on ;-)

Stephen Dobie at 1:07 PM January 8, 2013

Wezcup: not driven one personally, but our old motoring ed John Barker bought a 330D M Sport estate the second he needed something frugal yet fun. Just check you'll do enough miles to justify any price premiums!

WezCup at 12:06 PM January 8, 2013

I've just off the phone with my insurance company, my Z4 Coupe is a write off after an accident and the misses wants 4 seats. I'm seriously considering a 330d msport, apparently with a remap the MPG is great and power up too. What your thoughts?? It will be my first diesel as I might have to do some company miles soon.

action jack84 at 11:59 AM January 8, 2013

Yes but its an Auris and it looks like an Auris

Stephen Dobie at 11:55 AM January 8, 2013

Auris SR180 was the first press car I ever drove, on work experience at Autocar. It felt crackers fast! It'll be a car I won't ever forget.

Rotrexman at 10:46 AM January 8, 2013

I bought an SR180 Auris - definitely not a sports car, but it is a performance diesel. With a tuning box fitted and set on a medium level, it has plenty of overtaking grunt & ticks all my required boxes. The only let-down for me is that it still doesn't reach 45 MPG, even if you drive like a granny. However, a set of Eibach Pro-kit springs have reduced body roll considerably which makes it more enjoyable to drive down B-roads.

action jack84 at 10:35 AM January 8, 2013

I drive a diesel powered coupe. Whether you could call it a performance car is debatable but however the running costs are low the performance more than adequate , the driving experience gives little away to its petrol powered compatriots ( except the glorious noise of the v6 perhaps).

Gino Pilotino at 9:50 AM January 8, 2013

well, if you drive in the city a diesel could be more fun due to high torque at low rpm. But would you buy a performance car to drive it just in the city? My answer to both 2 questions, mine and the one in title, is: no thanks.

dominik025 at 10:40 PM January 7, 2013

Hm hard question , but propably YES. Why? the answer is simple : IF you got a diesel you just drive, IF you got a gasoline you always filling it on petrol station. For example this few seconds to 100kmh doesent matter at all, because the gasoline boys will loose them on petrol station.

GK1985 at 8:49 PM January 7, 2013

I've just purchased a 2009 diesel TT having had a 2003 Mini Cooper S. The difference in power delivery is like night and day. I love the TT but the MCS was a lot more engaging. I never get the chance to go drive properly though as I live near Liverpool city centre and work in the city centre and hardly ever get out of the city. For my purposes I adore the TT, but sometimes crave the manic delivery, and supercharger noise (swoon), of the MCS.

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